Jeanette Medlin Barlow faced a dilemma when it came to her dining room. Growing up in the south, the idea of a grand formal space was important to her, but tricky to shoehorn into her historic Colonial-era Newburyport home, with ceilings that are just a bit over eight feet tall.
“I love a space that is set apart for special dinners and occasions,” Barlow says. “So I knew that one day I wanted a formal dining room, but I did not want the room to feel old and stuffy. I wanted a space that felt intimate and where people wanted to sit for hours to enjoy a good meal and some wine ... and each other’s company.”
Her vision for the room, which had been through countless iterations over its 200-plus year history, included exposing the ceiling beams and centering the space on a custom live-edge dining table, big enough to seat 12 and crafted out of a single piece of walnut.
Barlow wanted a special lighting fixture to complement the table, but the constraints of the narrow, low-ceilinged room stymied her. Until a whole lot of Google time led her to James McLeod and his company CLEOD Glass+Works. The studio crafts custom handblown glass in its Essex workshop.
McLeod has been building custom pieces for residences and restaurants and even large-scale installations for corporations like the Bank of America for more than a decade—and draws particular pleasure from helping a homeowner design a functional work of art.
“We start with the idea that anything is possible,” McLeod says, sketching ideas based on the homeowner’s wishes at full-scale on large sheets of paper—then going through iterations of design, color and texture before considering how to actually craft the piece.
That attention to detail caught the eye of Kristina Crestin, an interior designer based in Manchester-by-the-Sea. She first contacted McLeod to help with staging some homes she restored for the HGTV show “Farmhouse Fixer,” but wound up hiring him to create a custom chandelier for a home in Haverhill featured on the show.
The scope of the collaboration for Jeanette Barlow’s Newburyport dining room installation also grew as time went by. Barlow was originally just looking for someone to craft the pendants themselves, and worked with McLeod to design the fixture’s 17 globes in varying shades of clear glass, subtly layered with 15-carat gold leaf. Her husband, Caleb Barlow, who is an engineer, was planning to wire and hang them.
But when they learned that CLEOD’s capabilities included an on-site metal shop, they decided to hand the entire project over to McLeod’s team. “And I am so glad we did!” Barlow says, noting it was still a big collaboration, from preparing the room to choosing the bulbs, sockets, and even the cording. Now, with so much of herself invested in the piece, she says she’s already warned her husband that if they move in the future, that table and light fixture are going with them.
Working with CLEOD and getting something designed specifically for her home wound up less expensive than some of the lighting Barlow was considering, she says. In fact, custom pieces from CLEOD can be surprisingly affordable, with a simple pendant potentially coming in under $300. This fall, CLEOD will be selling some off-the-shelf handcrafted lighting at their stores in Rockport and Charleston, South Carolina, as well as online. Even complicated custom pieces, which cost thousands and thousands of dollars and can span months of design and fabrication, seem like good value considering the aesthetic and attention to detail that goes into every piece, yielding sculptural lighting that truly melds the desires of the homeowner with the space.
One Rockport homeowner knows that firsthand—she gave McLeod nearly free rein when designing a statement light for her stairwell. “We had some ideas, but nothing concrete, so we shared lots of images with James and his team that reflected the direction we thought we wanted to go,” she says. After an iterative process of large-scale drawings and sample glass pieces, the resulting nearly two-by-three-foot stainless steel plate, supporting dozens of glass shapes that emulate floating paper, is a work of art lit from above.
“The piece is simply stunning, offering a wonderful visual surprise as you climb our staircase,” the homeowner says. “For all the steel and glass that the piece is made of, it feels light and airy, bouncing natural light throughout the day and glowing beautifully when lit once the sun sets.”
Crafting that piece required McLeod and his team to invent some new processes, something he finds continually exciting. “We are always pushing the limits of what can be done with glass, figuring it out as we go,” he says. The result is usually special, unique, and joyful.
“It’s not something you can get in a store,” Barlow says of her dining room light. “It reflects both my vision and style through [McLeod’s] brilliant artistry and craftsmanship. Every time I turn on the light, I remember the energy around creating it and I smile.”
CLEOD Glass + Works, 978-999-5259, cleodglassworks.com