Barbara Renfrow inspecting one of the chandeliers she's giving a new chance to shine.
By Jane Schneider
Step into Barbara Renfrow’s booth at the end of Aisle B at Sheffield Antiques Mall in Collierville. Look past the handsome dressers and antique buffets and you’ll be amazed by the many crystal chandeliers that sparkle from above.
Chandeliers are hot items these days, adorning unconventional places like bathrooms and closets — but you can’t order these from Amazon. Renfrow’s chandeliers are truly one of a kind, each one salvaged and revisioned by her to create a new work of art. “Chandeliers are classic,” she says. “They never go out of style.”
Renfrow’s passion for beautiful things goes back to childhood when quiet afternoons were spent attending tea parties at her grandmother’s house in Covington, Tennessee. Afterwards, an 8-year-old girl could wander through the attic and explore old steamer trunks filled with treasure. “I’d go through the trunks and pull out old hats and mink tips and books,” she says. “It was heavenly.”
For years, Renfrow worked as an executive secretary, but always kept a hand in the antiques world, renting space at Palladio’s on Central Avenue and briefly running her own shop, Auntie Em’s, where she sold jewelry and antique furniture.
She eventually left the corporate world to return to college, earning a masters degree with an emphasis on historical preservation and cultural resource management. After graduating from the University of Memphis in 2006, Renfrow worked for Shelby County’s first historian, Ellen Davies Rodgers and began writing nonfiction.
But her true passion is in building and restoring chandeliers. She was at an estate sale years ago when she spied her first fixture. “It was bare bones and I wanted to make more of it,” she says. “I knew I could add a little more oomph.” She brought the piece home and cleaned it up in her garage before taking it inside and working her magic. She was proud of the results and that chandelier still adorns her den.
Over time the garage became her workshop, a place where dingy brass chandeliers get scrubbed back to life. It takes time to develop an eye for this work, Renfrow says, to appreciate balance and symmetry, to recognize those fixtures worthy of the sweat equity required. “They don’t just pop up. They’re hard to find,” she says. “It requires patience and passion.”
After cleaning, the fixture is carted into the den with the help of her husband, Billy, who rigged his truck so the chandeliers can be carefully transported. “He’s the muscle behind me and a good cheering squad,” Renfrow says.
Inside, she’ll assess the light’s shape and dimensions before the task of dismantling begins. The column is the main frame of a chandelier. From this hang the arms and faceted crystals, often attached to the candleholder. She determines whether to lengthen the frame by adding a glass globe or another piece of brass or perhaps ropes of faceted beads that will drape from the top of the piece to each candlestick. After all, extra bling is never a bad thing.
Renfrow frequently buys chandeliers to cannibalize for parts. The trimmings, which include old crystal pendants, teardrop prisms, faceted cut balls, and crystal ropes, are the glass that gives a chandelier its sparkle and can be hard to come by. So she keeps a roller cabinet full of metal and glass parts she can pull from when looking for just the right element.
All told, a chandelier can take several weeks or even months from start to finish. But each is unique. And it’s not until a piece is just right that she’ll bring it into Sheffield and light it up for all the world to see.
Barbara Renfrow’s reinvigorated chandeliers can be found at Sheffield Antiques Mall, Dealer 336, Aisle B, 684 West Poplar, Collierville. Info: sheffield-antiques.com.
The latest articles from the print version of Inside Memphis Business — plus excerpts from our weeklyTip Sheet.
Uploaded here so you can read and share great new content from IMB.