Our dear colleague Ryan Hammond from Sloan Miyasato showroom invited us to take a tour of the Phoenix Day lighting factory in Richmond. In the present, Phoenix Day designs and fabricates custom-designed lighting (a to-the-trade-only resource). However, you have probably seen their work around the Bay as they’ve been designing and fabricating elegant and iconic street lamps, chandeliers, sconces, and more since 1850.
The very first gas street lamps in San Francisco were designed and installed by Phoenix Day (then named Thomas Day), and their lighting still adorns landmarks like The San Francisco Opera House, the Garden Court of the Palace Hotel, The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, The Bohemian Club, The Fairmont, The Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel, and more.
For many decades, every Phoenix Day fixture was custom-designed and hand-drawn for clients by Milton B. Roller, who continued to work up until his passing at age 94.
As they note on their website, “Roller was a self-taught artist, who turned down an art scholarship to U.C. Berkeley to work in the lighting industry. Utilizing his design talent, book smarts, and a healthy work ethic he took on a hybrid role with Phoenix Day. He would meet with clients, including many large churches and hotels, and become an on-the-spot “sales-designer,” capturing ideas from clients and doing many of his drawings in the field.”
The company maintains a collection of his watercolor renderings, over 2,200, which inspire the tradition, artistry, and even the modern designs that this always-family-owned business continues to produce. Tony Brenta, the current owner (along with his wife Joan), is the grandson of the original owner — and whom we had the pleasure of meeting during our visit. Phoenix Day Sales Rep Clarence Calzada and Ryan Hammond were our hosts for an informative and inspiring (dare I say, de-light-ful!) tour.
It is apparent that anything a designer can dream up in metal, Phoenix Day can fabricate it, and in fact, they showed us several of their works-in-progress for notable Bay Area designers, including one piece that replicates a Milton Roller design from the archives.
For my team, seeing the process up close, handling the materials, appreciating the gorgeous watercolor archives of bespoke fixtures, was both educational and soul-nourishing.
After the tour, my staff and I went to the Farm Shop in Marin for a lovely lunch. It felt so nice to be gathering over a meal, to be able to be together like this, again. As a team, we’re all feeling resourced from spending this day together. Taking the time to be with each other as a community of women is so important, and we are more connected because of it.
A version of this article appeared in the Piedmont Post