“Lumière de l’Oeil”, a museum of light

The ever so convivial Levant & Co. eatery, my Turkish neighbours’ delicatessen, led to some very interesting encounters. It is where I met Ara Kebapcioglu, the owner of a small lighting shop and museum.

Born in Istanbul from an Armenian family of amateur musicians, “Monsieur Ara”, as he is known in the neighbourhood, became familiar with French culture as well as the language very early in life. Fate would have it that after leaving his home country of Turkey to avoid military service and studying eight years in Frankfurt, Mr. Ara met his first wife, who brought him to his now all-time favourite city in the world – Paris.

Mr. Ara opened his lighting shop, called “Lumière de l’Oeil” (it roughly translates as “the light in one’s eye”) in 1981 and the uniqueness of his craft soon attracted a lot of attention, including of journalists, thanks to whom the shop and indeed Mr. Ara became more and more well known. It also helped him build up a customer base, which now even comprises professionals from the cinema industry.

The store specializes in the restoration of antique lamps but also holds a small museum in the back room, the so-called “Museum for Old Lighting”. “I really spoil my visitors. Whenever someone comes by, I share my knowledge with passion and never look at the watch,” said Mr. Ara, though he admitted he gives priority to motivated and eager guests and has gotten tired of people who are “just looking to spend a little of their time”.

This passion for lighting Mr. Ara shares and hopes to transmit to the public came into his life very unexpectedly. He started a degree on Chemistry, which ultimately gave him all the knowledge he needed to become a lighting repairman. However, after deciding not to finish the course, Mr. Ara started looking for new perspectives for the future: “I would’ve been profoundly unhappy if I had been forced to finish university. I really don’t belong in the corporate industry, and the teaching sector wouldn’t have been an alternative either.”

By a twist of destiny, Mr. Ara found a bakelite-lamp on the sidewalk in the late 70s, took it to his student room and restored it. He became the epitome of a self-made man: trips to the flea-markets became more frequent, he added more items to his collection and from there started rebuilding and repairing lamps as a hobby.

It slowly became a way for Mr. Ara to make a living, selling them on newspaper adds and in antique shops: “It was a fun job and I didn’t have to answer to anyone. What more could I have asked for at the time?” Meanwhile, he would spend hours studying books, photocopies and catalogues about his new calling, and what had originally started as a hobby, gradually became a passion. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s been 33 years and Mr. Ara indends to “keep doing my job until my hands start to shake, my eyes go blind and my bones become brittle”. Before I left the shop, he looked at me and said: “Never do anything else than what you truly love or feel like doing, because nothing will ever replace the passion and happinness of doing what you love to do, what you chose to do with your life.” Duly noted.