Collaborative creativity, independence, singular craftsmanship. These are just some of the things that we love about smaller design studios.
Sure, assembly lines and automation can be exhilarating and hypnotic to watch. And we’re definitely not knocking the beauty or quality of fixtures produced by such means. But for those of us who enjoy a more hands-on, DIY, artisanal vibe, studio brands scratch the itch with painstaking individual attention paid to each step of the process. And design studios offer a uniquely personal look at how their products go from an idea to an installation. These smaller studios are often happy to show their work. So, you may find opportunities to peek inside the workshop via their websites or in person. You may even find the founder/owner/designer there, sleeves rolled up, assembling bespoke designs by hand.
Part of the charm of the studio brand is in its approachable, collaborative nature. Brands like Rich Brilliant Willing, Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, and Hennepin Made were founded by friends who brought their talents together to realize their shared vision with a fun, relaxed view. That’s not to say a studio brand’s standards are anything less than stellar—in fact, producing on a smaller scale leads them to ever more exacting echelons of perfection. Answering to nobody but themselves, these studios are free to innovate, experiment, and evolve in ways that can differentiate their business trajectories from that of larger companies.
Design studios offer a glimpse into the process that larger scale manufacturers often cannot. Often, the design talent stable of these studios is composed of just one or two people–often the owner-founders, and often lifelong friends.
One such example of this relationship is Graypants, whose offbeat, repurposed cardboard Scraplights exploded onto the scene after friends from school, Seth Grizzle and Jonathan Junker, thought they could do better for both decorative lighting and the environment. Lending their architecture chops to the fray, this imaginative partnership has resulted in interior, furniture, product, and lighting designs that question (and answer) just what materials are appropriate for high design.
Another take on the collaborative nature of studio design brands focuses on the end user rather than the design process. Many such brands like their customers to interact with their designs, and build customization and flexibility into their products to achieve this goal. And some brands take it a step further, with their designs not only manufactured using recycled and sustainable materials, but encouraging their customers to recycle and be mindful of their impact on the environment via their choices.
Stickbulb is one such brand that accounts for all of its materials, from reclaimed heart pine sourced from old construction sites to sustainably harvested walnut from Ohio to redwood sourced from old water towers in New York City. Their handmade lights are designed with as few parts as possible in order to be simple to assemble and maintain.
A hallmark of the small studio brand is rigorous attention to detail. These products are crafted by hand, often by the designers themselves, to ensure the highest quality at every stage of production. The pursuit of perfection is something of an art in itself, requiring highly disciplined artisans and keen eyes on quality control throughout the process. But it’s second nature for studio brands, whose personal reputations are on the line with each order. More often than not, these studios are a labor of love, and so they’re carefully monitored by the artist-designers who conceived of them.
Beyond the beautifully made products and synergetic relationships, there’s an entrepreneurial spirit that fuels the fire of a studio brand. Many beloved names in lighting design started out with an idea and a workshop, toiling long hours and tinkering away until the vision was realized, reproducible and, ultimately, recognized by the world at large. For these designers, striking out on their own, hoping that their way would be fresh, exciting, and problem-solving shows an admirable courage of conviction. This enthusiasm and confidence bleeds through into the studio brand’s line, showing us things we’d never dreamed before.
So, what exactly makes design studios so exciting? Perhaps it’s the genuine marriage of elbow grease and elegance that it takes to handcraft their designs with small teams. It could be the raw idealism shared by friends and founders that propels them to improve upon outmoded techniques and to discover new (or repurpose old) materials. And it’s certainly the reflection of the owner/designers’ unique artistic visions in everything a studio brand produces—there’s no hiding out behind the scenes. And standing up for their designs and ideals is part of the fearless, pioneering spirit we love to watch at work.
The creativity is pretty much endless. Be sure to check out many more unique lighting designs by design studios.
When she’s not polishing up promotions as a Web Content Specialist, Kelsey is practicing how to properly pronounce Danish, if only to be able to say “home is where the ‘hygge’ is.” Aside from Scandinavian design, she spends a lot of time thinking about organic gardening, mini farms, honey bees and England.