By June Naylor
Photos by Ralph Lauer
The creative owner of House of Tuscany flips the switch on what a lamp shop and a family business can be.
After living abroad for nearly 20 years, Melinda Alexander returned to her hometown of Fort Worth energized for a fresh start. She and husband Gary, who flew helicopters in Vietnam and followed up with a career in the State Department, made their home in Singapore, Panama and Russia before returning stateside. She remodeled their house in the historic Berkeley neighborhood and then set about turning her passion for exquisite interior details into a business. Upon opening House of Tuscany on Camp Bowie Boulevard’s bricks in 1998, Melinda and Gary soon established the handsome store as a go-to place for all manner of lighting, along with lamp repair, chandelier restoration, finials, and custom and ready-made lampshades. Thirteen years later, the store moved down the boulevard and expanded. It now bursts at the seams with extraordinary pieces of lighting, furnishings and artwork — vintage and contemporary — from area estate sales and around the globe. Melinda’s eye for finery is matched by her own artistry; among other things, she handcrafts finials and back plates for antique wall sconces. Son James Alexander, an expert in chandelier restoration whose carved plaster-of-Paris artworks have a dedicated following, joins his parents at work in the store. We caught up with Melinda to find out how she stepped into the spotlight.
817 Home Does anyone wake up one day and decide to create a destination for elegant lighting — what brought you to a path of finding and selling such spectacular pieces?
Melinda Alexander I’ve always loved old homes and antiques and would collect things when traveling in Europe and Asia. When we came home to Fort Worth, we had boxes stacked floor-to-ceiling with all the treasures I found. And after renovating our home, I needed something to do. I asked a neighbor, ‘What’s really lacking in Fort Worth?’ The answer was a truly good lamp store, so we opened the House of Tuscany.
817 You first landed in a great space on Camp Bowie’s bricks. What made you move to another place just a block away?
MA We were in the first location for 13 years and did better and better every year. When Blue Bonnet Bakery moved [to a nearby church building], we decided to take a chance and expand to gain about half again the room. The space had low ceilings covered with acoustical tile, and the original above that needed repairs. We patched and painted, but at first I thought, ‘This is too big! We will never fill it up!’
817 Gorgeous chandeliers of all descriptions hang throughout your space. Where do they all come from?
MA I love estate sales, and garage sales, too. I’ve found things in Atlanta and Pennsylvania, but plenty of beautiful things come from around Fort Worth. People call me to say that an estate sale is coming up, and sometimes I’ll get in quickly and buy as much as I know I can sell.
Some people just bring things to me. Prizes we recently acquired are chandeliers that came from the O.B. Leonard estate sale here in Fort Worth. One is a magnificent chandelier I believe is a Baccarat, with the biggest crystals you’ve ever seen. It’s a piece of Fort Worth history, and you’ll never find another one like it. We think it was made in about 1890 and was first lighted by candles, and then was wired for electricity in 1920. And while we were at that estate sale, I found out there was another chandelier in the basement, still in its crate. It’s also from France, probably from the 1920s. We restored them both, and the two are hanging next to each other in our store.
817 In the front of your store, over a dining table, there’s another chandelier festooned with newer crystals. Where did you find that?
MA My son, James — everyone calls him Jamie — made that, the whole thing. He’s a very talented artist. He’s created cast concrete lamps that are really special. And the pair of giant angels on the wall are his hand-sculpted plaster works that sell very well.
817 Artwork and antiques figure into all corners of the store. Did you collect these on your travels as well?
MA I have brought paintings home from Europe. Sometimes I buy art for the fabulous frames. I can get bored with just lighting, so we have shifted the dynamic of the store along the way. When I find something else interesting at an estate sale, and know I can do something with it, I’ll bring it here. There’s an 18th-century wood-and-gesso statue of Jesus that I think is Spanish, but my husband says is Italian. An enormous dining table in the front window belonged to Zsa Zsa Gabor. At a Westover Hills estate sale, I found a colorful statue of St. Kevin surrounded by his blackbirds — it’s just wonderful. We have an alabaster bust of Napoleon I found in my neigborhood.
817 The Asian art pieces that you’ve made into lamps — did those come from your time in Singapore?
MA My love of Asian art and decor pieces started there. The foo dogs we’ve made into lamps were mostly found at estate sales here. One is museum-quality, probably 200 years old. Another one I paired with a century-old wooden finial that I found in Wichita Falls. The foo dogs are very popular, and I like to keep them in pairs — but sometimes I get talked into selling just one. They’re known in feng shui for their protective powers. We have some beautiful Buddhas, too; one, we think, is from the 1600s. Another was made into a lamp. The blue-and-white porcelain lamps you see around the store all came from one estate sale in Pennsylvania last year. I bought them online but had a hard time finding someone to transport them here during the pandemic.
817 There’s such an assortment of lamps around the store. But some lamps weren’t always lamps, is that right?
MA Right. There is one pair of lamps we made from big pieces of Brazilian rock crystal. And there’s a giant emerald green perfume bottle that was made by the Crown Perfumery in London in 1901 and was displayed in Harrods. It was made into a lamp around 1920, and I had to bring it home.
817 Your passion for decor shows up in your seasonal tablescapes. What prompted you to create these?
MA People need inspiration, I’ve found. So I’ll bring things from home and combine them with things in the store. On the Easter table, there’s an arrangement of pink and purple and green glasses I found at estate and garage sales. There are painted wooden eggs I bought in Warsaw. Silver chargers I’ve had for years and now people are buying. Dried flowers from Singapore are suspended from the chandelier hanging above the table. And at the table’s corners are candle-lit chandeliers called girandoles — these particular ones have clear crystals and purple glass pendants.
817 So it all comes back to lighting — that’s what put you on the map. After all these years, are you here to stay?
MA The neighborhood has been very supportive to us. A group of contractors works with us, and I believe in using as many local people as we can. Lamps and chandeliers have never been more popular than now. Driving by at night, people see the chandeliers lighted, and that brings new customers in. I never thought we’d fill up this space, and now we need more room. We might even acquire the small space next door and grow a little bit again.