Few companies rise over the current trend of disposability using a profoundly different message. But Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co., a light and home furnishings company in Portland, Oregon, is a part of a growing movement of designers producing lasting products with a timeless fashion. For Brian Faherty, the creator of Schoolhouse Electric, it isn’t just about the product itself — it is about the narrative and the work behind it. Read on for ideas from the creator and his factory showroom.
A chalkboard greeting welcomes visitors to the Schoolhouse Electric mill.
What type of work were you doing before Schoolhouse Electric?
Faherty: I was a real estate agent selling old houses on the east side of Portland in the early 1990s, when people began to restore homes. Those people were searching for materials that matched the high quality and ethos of the past, and there weren’t many possibilities for light, which I had a real passion for. So I began to do research about what had happened to each of the remarkable fixtures and the companies that had made them.
I was especially smitten with institutional-style lighting that you would find in public buildings and storefronts, like colleges and stores. I liked how practical and beautiful that the opal glass shades were, nevertheless they had all — except for a couple of ubiquitous shapes — vanished.
Above: Schoolhouse Electric began out in light, also Faherty has expanded the manufacturer to add clocks, bedding and other household accessories. The Schoolhouse Electric building now includes a complete showroom in addition to offices and production facilities.
Faherty: My research led me to American glassblowers, and after lots of digging and prodding I came across a business in upstate New York that had been in the glassblowing industry as the turn of the century, blowing the old-style shades I had been searching for. The difficulty was, they had stopped hand-blowing glass because about the time of the war.
Luckily, they had hung on to the molds. And while some had gone to the foundry for tanks and tools for the war, they had hung on to many of their finest molds, which I purchased and had restored. So our shades are blown in the first cast-iron molds in the turn of the century though midcentury.
Do we would like to purchase disposable consumables in each category? Or do we spend a bit more and purchase a product that will last, and in some specific cases get better with age? We’re more interested in repairing things than throwing them away and buying more. We adopt scratches, fading, stains, dings, tears and other signs of wear as badges of personality, artifacts of a exceptional life lived.
What is one of your favourite new things out of Schoolhouse Electric?
I really geek out within our clocks! And I am just getting started.
What prompted Schoolhouse Electric’s expansion?
My fire is suspended from the details that help make up a room. While light is our core business and has helped us get into many spaces and rooms throughout the nation, our urge to put practical and gorgeous goods in our clients’ lives is what it is all about.
This idea of national utility is essential in our company mandate. What are the most useful, beautiful, timeless, well-made, buy-it-once goods we can create that will make a difference in the way our clients live their daily lives?
Left: Crisp subway tiles and also a chalk-inscribed logo reflect the organization’s old-school and minimalistic vibe.
Who are your favourite furniture designers?
I like Florence Knoll and some of the midcentury modernists. Reed La Plant in Portland is doing a great job on design builds.
Left: A design library stays open to the general public in the Schoolhouse Electric Showroom.
What message are you trying to share with your products?
That authenticity counts. We strive to manufacture, create and source products that are not simply objects using a price tag, however they come out of somewhere and are created by somebody, and there’s normally a story to be told about the item.
By and large, you will find our products to be first, American — not in each case, but most — and iconic.
Left: Visitors can get a coffee at Ristretto Roasters and also do research in the plan library or just relax.
What would you expect people will sense when using your products?
I think people want better, not more. Things that are economical in the true sense of the word. They believe in using their time, money, space, talents and other personal resources as judiciously and responsibly as they can. People today seek products that have stories to tell, to associate with, to be a part of — and stories to build on.
Left: Anna Marra Flowers is another firm in the large factory building. Schoolhouse Electric takes up a bit over than half of the building; Portland artisans such as Reed La Plant Designs, Ristretto Roasters and Egg Press share the other half.
What types of products do you think are in the long run to get Schoolhouse Electric?
We’ve got some exciting designs and goods in the hopper, but I am not quite ready for show and tell yet.
The four-story brick mill that houses Schoolhouse Electric was built in 1910 by San Francisco firm Pacific Hardware and Steel.
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