Paul Grüer does not sketch. He does not conceptualize. He does not design any of his lighting fixtures with plans or goals or hopes. What he does is put together wood, metal and sculpted polymer clay in forms and shapes that strike his fancy. At the end of the process Grüer literally stands back and takes a look at the creation that has sprung up out of his mind and hands.
It sounds unorthodox, but this self-taught, award-winning lighting designer’s methods result in charming, distinctive floor and table lamps and sconces. They look like fantasy tree branches and magic wands and frozen fountains overrun with icicles, but mostly they look like Grüer.
“Whether you like it or not, you can always tell it’s a Paul Grüer,” he deadpans.
Grüer is a former gallery director who veered off into designing his own line of jewelry. That was a fun job, he says, and his customers loved his work. One day, a client approached him and said she wanted a chandelier for her new house, one that looked like an earring of his design.
A chandelier based on a piece of jewelry. Never mind that Grüer had never designed lighting; never mind that his mission was to redo an earring 100 times larger. He wasn’t at all intimidated by the challenge.
“I made her a chandelier that was outrageous,” he says. “I found these huge faux pearls that were the size of golf balls, crystals … [it] wound up looking like these huge clusters of wildflowers on gnarled branches.”
And after the chandelier was complete, the client’s friends admired it and ordered chandeliers for themselves. Grüer began making more lighting fixtures and exhibited his work in shows, collecting Alpha Awards from the New Orleans chapter of the Fashion Group Inter-national along the way. Since then, he has been illuminating rooms with his irreverent styles, but he also designs accent pieces such as mirrors and tables—side and demilune. His work is available by commission, through interior decorators and at a few local shops.
Charming as it is, it isn’t for the faint of heart or the shy of décor. And that is exactly what Grüer wants.
“I’ve never approached lighting as being functional. I never say I’m going to design a truly functional lamp. They work, but it’s never, ‘This is going to be great to read by’—unless someone requests that. It’s sort of off-the-wall and wacky, and my clients love that. They don’t want normal.”
In 2004, Grüer took a break from designing lighting fixtures—two collect-ions a year—for an online company in order to concentrate on making his own one-of-a-kind pieces. This way, in his small Marigny studio, he can better control the outcome of the fixtures. Sometimes that means resizing a lamp to fit someone’s design scheme; sometimes it results in thumbprints pressed into the gold leaf. But the clients like it that way, he says.
“I’m more interested in fun, frivolous, luxurious, unnecessary pieces,” he says, suggesting that his version of a dining room table might include gold leaf, duck’s feet and ladies’ faces.
Where do these zany ideas come from? From the experience of living in New Orleans, where else?
“It’s basically just living in the French Quarter, living in New Orleans, the wild trees and the wild branches and the fun patinas on the walls. All of my work has a weathered glaze to it. If you paint a wall here in New Orleans, five days later it looks old. Everything here has patina. You’ll never see me do a stark white or a new gold. Every-thing gets glazed and umbered and aged. But it doesn’t look antique.”
And yes, you can see: It’s a Paul Grüer. •
Paul Grüer, 722-6258, paulGrüer@cox.net
This article appears in the December 2004 issue of New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles