Berkeley lighting business creates winning green space

Christa Rybczynski and Lawrence Grown on the roof of Metro Lighting

Like several notable successful businesses, Metro Lighting was launched in a garage. Unlike Apple or Hewlett-Packard, however, the Berkeley company did not graduate to a sprawling corporate campus.

Instead, the couple behind Metro Lighting have fashioned a work space in keeping with the handcrafted light fixtures they create. And their commitment to design and sustainability has paid off. This month Metro Lighting’s showroom and manufacturing operation at 2240 San Pablo Avenue was awarded the Acterra Business Environmental Award for its impeccable green credentials.

Lawrence Grown and Christa Rybczynski, who met at architecture school in Cincinnati, OH, moved to Berkeley 20 years ago. Architecture work was hard to find and Grown took a job at Ohmega Salvage. It was there he formed a passion for rebuilding antique lighting and, in 1993, he and Rybczynski decided to open a business restoring and crafting light fixtures.

He named the store, a 600 sq ft pace on Delaware Street, “Organically Grown Design Work”, a nod both to his name and to his mission. However the moniker did not immediately resonate with some customers. “We used to have people coming in asking us if we sold drugs,” said Grown.


The building's roof trusses was one reason the couple liked the building that became their award-winning store

The next move was to 2121 San Pablo, into the space now occupied by Gaumenkitzel restaurant. Grown and Rybczynski cut their remodeling teeth there, but it was only when they bought their current building that they pulled out all the stops in terms of their design and architectural skills. Working with John Mora from JBM Construction and Charles Kahn from Kahn Design Associates, they set out to convert what Grown describes as a dilapidated “long, low cave”.

The pair liked the look of the roof with its truss structure, and felt the building had good bones. Their approach was green to the core: “We salvaged 90% of the demolition lumber, recycled 90% of the demolition waste, reused furnishings from our previous location, incorporated sustainable and eco-friendly materials, and became electrically self-sufficient with the installation of a new 21 kilowatt photovoltaic solar energy system,” said Rybczynski.

There are solar panels on the roof, water and energy saving systems, low-VOC paints and FSC wood. Being friends with the people behind Ecohome Improvement up the street proved fortuitous. “We are like another showroom for them,” notes Grown.

There was also a fair amount of sweat equity involved. “We are a family run business operating on a limited budget. Sustainability is a high priority for us so we did some of the work ourselves — including most of the flooring — to offset the higher cost of quality materials,” said Grown.

An open kitchen in the space showcases the company’s kitchen lighting fixtures, and sliding glass doors lead into the workshop and allow customers to observe the manufacturing process up close. Grown says they see a lot of customers who are “doing the tour” of the home design corridor on San Pablo. “People tell us they like watching the lights being made and they want to support local craftsmanship.”

Acterra is an environmental organization formed from the merger of the Peninsula Conservation Center Foundation and Bay Area Action. Its Business Environmental Awards honor Bay Area businesses for their leadership in business practices, sustainable design, and environmental soundness, and the promotion of social justice. The company hopes that its that awardees will teach by example to encourage other Bay Area businesses to incorporate environmentally sound practices.

Grown and Rybczynski, who have three children and are active in their schools, Walden and Berkeley High, will pick up their award in Palo Alto, home to Acterra, in June.