Meet Your Neighbor: Antique repairman shares his journey

Published 10:07 am Thursday, May 23, 2019

By Nacogdoches Miller

Sun Intern

From prosthetic replacements to antique brass fittings, Alex Hein has always worked in restoration.

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Hein turned a hobby for working with brass, silver and copper into a full-time career when he switched from orthopedic sales to antique restoration.

For the last 22 years, he has cleaned, replaced and polished brass beds, lamps and chandeliers, to bring them back to life.

He owns Setzer’s Chandelier and Restoration Shop, located at 10 Court St. in downtown Winchester.

Currently working on a long-term restoration project to convert antique fixtures from a 19th Century home from gas to electric, Hien’s took a moment with The Sun to get to the “brass tax” of what got him started.

Winchester Sun: How did you get started repairing chandeliers?

Alex Hein: I just always repaired things and have been into brass copper and silver. I like it and just started it on the side years ago.

WS: What did you do before that?

AH: I was in orthopedic sales — joint replacements, knees hips, shoulders. I sold replacement parts. We did all kinds of orthopedics, from sports injuries, custom braces, all that type of stuff.

WS: What made you switch over to doing the chandeliers and other brass items full time?

AH: The Lexington area always had a big interest in just brass items you know, from Keeneland to a lot of the homes had nice early brass fixtures, door hardware.

And there were five or six shops in Lexington that restored brass, copper, silver and it was just kind of a dying art.

I previously just always repaired things and had been interested in fixing things and that’s how I got into it.

There were maybe two shops left when I started doing it in Lexington, and I don’t know if there are any others that are doing it now. Maybe, some part-timers, you know?

But, I just had a draw to it once I got into it, there’s a really big need for that type of services still.

WS: Really?

AH: It’s not something you think of for the normal, everyday, day-to-day routine, I guess. You think about how many houses are in Winchester alone or Lexington, most of the early ones have old fixtures. But of course, we work on brand-new stuff, too. But I work on mainly older stuff.

WS: What do you do in a restoration project?

AH: Some could be just refurnishing the brass, some are just rewiring.

We’re doing a large project right now for a client that has the original fixture from a 1900s house that was gas, and they’ve never been electrified, so that’s quite an ordeal to tear one apart and make it be able to be wired for electricity.

So, you know, it just kind of varies. Some are simple as replacing a socket, and some are changing the look of the fixture.

WS: How long does a project usually take you?

AH: It just varies from job to job, you know, what all’s entailed as far as if you’re restoring the finish of something or just rewiring it.

They all vary; there’s no real time frame for any certain restoration project. It depends on how big it is or if it’s just a single item.

WS: Are there any items you prefer to work on more than others?

AH: Antique lighting versus new lighting, because new lighting they don’t even half the time sell replacement parts for it. I call them ‘throw aways,’ unfortunately, and there’s a lot of it out there.

Even the high-dollar ones, there’s a lot of reproductions out there that are a lot more expensive than the real thing, people don’t realize it.

It’s amazing what’s out there, good stuff online, which a lot of people shop eBay. And stuff like that, and they bring me a fixture to redo that they find online that’s the real thing at a great price and the quality will last them their lifetime and their children’s.

Brass beds, that’s a good example. So many new brass beds are made out of inexpensive materials, and they’re not cheap to buy. A brass bed, most of them we do, are more than 100 years old. I just had a customer pick one up Thursday.

It was his great-grandfathers, and this guy was probably in his late 50s. So, his was probably a couple hundred years old. It’s just amazing to think (about).

There is a lot more quality of craftsmanship, just like everything in the earlier days. I still do several a year, the finish only lasts so long. It depends on how you take care of it a lot too. But most of them will last 15 to 20 years once they’re refinished.

WS: What’s something easy you can do for brass home décor to make it last longer?

AH: If it has a clear coat on it, if it’s lacquered, not to clean it with any household cleaners. Just dust it.

You only want to use a cotton rag on it, no chemicals of any sort.