Anthony Funderburgh sits outside at a well-worn farm table and slides new wires coated with beeswax through the small holes in the arms of a French chandelier. The crystals sparkle with history. Every piece the Boulder man rewires shines a story.
He recovers many antique chandeliers from demolitions of palaces and mansions in the French and Italian countryside, and some of their stories are preserved along with them. He learns about the symbolism of the various shapes (for fertility or farming) and the tales of craftsmanship long abandoned for cheaper, faster production. The Italians hand-carved wax molds to cast the bronze, like a statue.
“They put their hearts into it,” he says. “It’s a lost art, and too expensive to even make them today.”
Funderburgh’s unique shop in downtown Boulder, Chantique, specializes in this kind of lighting: antique French and Italian chandeliers, as well as the original Mid-Century Modern lights from Italy. He carries about 150 different, unique light fixtures, dating from the 1880s to 1960s. In that, Funderburgh is preserving culture and history, too.
As he rewires a 100-year-old, heavy, bronze chandelier, he wonders what stories it could tell from its travels through generations of admirers. What liaisons and rendezvous, what secrets has it seen?
For Funderburgh, it holds a reflection of another one of his adventures through the Italian countryside, hunting for the chandelier treasures of Europe.
Chantique (a fusion of the words “chandelier” and “antique”) opened 15 years ago and moved to its current location, 2020 11th St., Boulder, seven years ago.
Funderburgh’s career actually began in the federal government, doing disaster assessment around the world. In his travels, he learned about antique chandeliers — the real deal, the kind that hold their value and increase over time. He eventually traded disaster sites for beauty and light.
Today, Chantique’s inventory is about 60 percent antique French chandeliers and 40 percent original Mid-Century Modern lights of Italy, where the first modern designs originated. These have fun names, like Flying Saucers, Comets and George Jetsons.
“You know Italian shoes, clothes and furniture is the best in the world,” Funderburgh says. “Same with lighting.”
He has been carrying Mid-Century Modern lights for about two years.
All lights are rewired and brought up to code.
Funderburgh travels to Europe twice a year to pick out new lights, so inventory is always changing. There’s one light from Venice made with the heaviest bronze in the world; at only 2 ½-by-2, you still can’t pick it up. The oldest lights are currently 1880 kerosine burners from a French cathedral, before electricity. There’s also a 200-pound, 6-foot-tall palace chandelier.
Look closely at the 14th- to 16th-century chandeliers and you’ll notice fertility symbols. Some are in the shape of a woman’s figure, bowing in at the “waist” and widening at the “hips.” Enclosed in the middle arms: a large crystal pendant and ball, symbolizing a man and woman.
“There’s all this symbolism that Americans don’t even know about,” Funderburgh says. “It’s lost knowledge.”
A ram’s head is another symbol of fertility. Arrows are about hunting. Wheat shapes are for the harvest. Bronze grapes represent the wine harvest. Walk through the shop and look for these symbols for a hint of the stories behind the chandeliers, hanging from the 18-foot-high rafters.
Chantique has one light from Rome shaped like Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage in hand-beaded crystal.
There have also been musical crystal chandeliers, and chandeliers in America during the time of burning gas lights that you could walk up to and flip a flint switch to light your cigar.
Chantique also carries 1890s French Baccarat crystal and bronze, hand-blown Murano, Italian hand-hammered wrought iron, 1920s Deco slip shade American lights and more.
In addition to lighting, Chantique also carries oil paintings, sculptures, 100-year-old wine doors, a lion’s head fountain, a 1,000-pound marble statue from Florence and more. But lighting is its heart.
Funderburgh says Chantique is one of the only shops of its kind in Colorado (many of the others have gone out of business), and it claims to have the state’s largest selection.
“Today, people are buying stuff made by and designed by a machine, not even made with the real products, and they have no heart of soul or spirit to them. Not at all. Not a bit,” he says.
Chantique’s warm glow, an authentic glimpse at European history as told through the art of lighting, makes this shop stand out in Boulder and beyond.
Did You Know?
- The first known chandeliers were pre-Egyptian dried clay hanging pots that burned animal fat to illuminate cave dwellings.
- In the Medieval times, the chandeliers in the castles of France and Italy were made of iron or cast bronze. Masculine in nature, they were heavy, showing the master of the castle’s coat of arms and symbolizing their strength, wealth and defensive power.
- The height of femininity in lighting was reached during the elegance of the grand ballroom chandeliers.
- One of the best periods of electric chandeliers is the Art Nouveau period (reflecting the shapes of nature). The 1890s to 1920s created chandeliers using the lost wax process casting and pure dore heavy brass or bronze materials dripping in real, 40 percent lead crystal.
- During times of trouble, chandeliers were buried in the garden to keep heirlooms safe. In addition, some people unscrewed the bottom center finial of their chandelier to hide their jewelry.