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Get those lamps while you can

Photograph of Forrest Jones by Dickie Spritzer

It’s a secret workshop tucked behind a disappearing door at the back of the store. Inside are rows and rows of jars, metal caps and electrical sockets.

But this is no mad scientist’s laboratory. From this hidden room come tasteful lamps that illuminate some of the finest homes in Pacific Heights — at prices far lower than those of lesser lamps. This is the domain of French lampmaker Philippe Henry de Tessan, who estimates he has created 12,000 lamps in this space during the last two decades.

He’s the owner — along with namesake Forrest Jones — of the emporium offering housewares and home accessories at 3274 Sacramento Street. It has been in business since 1974, and has become the place to go for unique lamps and a wide variety of lampshades.

“I started making lamps quite accidentally,” says Henry de Tessan. A porcelain importer offered a close-out on lamps, and customers snapped them up. “That’s how we got into the lamp business — totally by accident.” They were already selling Chinese artifacts — ginger jars, blue and white vases and the like — so he started experimenting by drilling holes in the bottom and converting them into lamps.

“You take a purely decorative object,” he says, picking up a vase,“and turn it into something functional.”

His creations have met a neighborhood need.

“What’s available is very limited, and can also be very expensive,” he says. “My lamps end up being half or a third of what they’d go for in department stores, and the selection is fairly broad. I have about 600 lamps in the store right now — we just counted.”

They counted because of the big yellow sign in the front window that announces big news: Forrest Jones will close in the spring. The sign announcing the retirement sale went up just after the first of the year, and all day long customers enter in disbelief, some with tears in their eyes.

“I’m shocked,” says one stunned customer who came to stock up on her favorite soaps. She shakes her head and says repeatedly, “I’m so shocked.” Another longtime customer brings a friend who wants a pair of lamps. “I am heartbroken,” she says. “What they have is taste.”

Marty Bagg has cheerfully presided behind the cash register for the last 16 years, and she’s taking quite a bit of heat for retiring.

“It’s all her fault,” says Henry de Tessan. Her desire to retire and travel, along with Forrest Jones’s declining health, led to the decision to call it quits.

Henry de Tessan still has a lot of ginger jars and vases he intends to turn into lamps, and it’s clear the accidental lampmaker is reluctant to quit, despite the freedom to spent more time in the flat he owns in Paris near his daughter.

“Who knows — maybe I’ll find another place that will want to sell my lamps,” he says. “Maybe I’ll find a more relaxed pace.”