Designer Crush: Hilliard LampsAuthor:Michelle Konstantinovsky
For four decades, Hilliard Lamps has produced handcrafted, luxury artisan lighting, specializing in hospitality, residential, and commercial installations. The California company began after Noel Hilliard and Janene Anderson Hilliard met in a Humboldt State University art class in 1974 and discovered they both had experience creating custom lamps. The duo soon began collaborating and Lamps by Hilliard was born a year later, eventually followed by the birth of their son Samuel who now serves as the company’s president and principal designer. Learn more in our Q+A below.
1. Tell us the origin story of Hilliard Lamps.
Hilliard Lamps was created by my parents, Noel and Janene. They met in art school in ‘74 and had an instant bond. Early on they found that they had both made lamps as a side project and coincidentally, of the same materials. They both had a drive to make art for a living and they each brought their own style to the craft. My mother was inspired by woven style stained glass mosaics and my father was into pushing the limits of kiln-formed glass. Noel made a furnace out of an old water heater and they turned their backyard into a foundry, enabling them to create bronze frames and fixtures for their glass shades. This enabled them to combine bronze frames with glass shades, and we still use that furnace today, but it’s no longer in their backyard.
2. Was it a natural path for you to take the reins of the family business, or did you consider pursuing a different professional path?
Before I took the principal role at Hilliard, I developed a line of luxury horn eyewear, Somnoir. The company was exciting because I had the flexibility to create interesting frames for people that would help them see and look great. On the downside, it was a startup that would take a lot of energy to get to the next stage in a very competitive market. There was a moment in 2014 when the lighting business began to slow and my parents were ready to fully retire. Having worked in their shop growing up and admiring everything they worked so hard to create, imagining the possibility of it ending made it an easy choice to press pause on eyewear and redirect my energy into the company my family built. Although I miss creating eyewear, my passion is to create designs that are functional and cherished; there is no shortage of this challenge at Hilliard Lamps.
3. What are the biggest challenges and biggest rewards of working with family?
I imagine all business owners have the same challenge of being able to give your mind a break from work, and if business is tough that’s all you’ll think about. When working with your family, it’s all you will be talking about as well. As a designer, the biggest reward is receiving praise from another designer in your field, and when they are your parents and founders, it’s an added bonus.
4. What differentiates Hilliard Lamps from other lighting manufacturers in the industry?
Most lighting companies don’t manufacture their own products and if they do, they usually don’t have a bronze foundry. We design and manufacture everything in house, which allows us perfect quality control and the ability to create new and custom designs true to our vision.
5. Describe a particularly memorable project and what made it so special.
I recently finished and installed three giant custom chandeliers in Tahoe City. It was an awesome collaboration with interior designer, Kristi Will. She explained the scale of what she was looking for and the materials her client was drawn to; she loved rock crystal and a jewelry-themed design, so I mocked up a five foot in diameter, double layered chandelier made of cast bronze and 126 selenite crystal tiles and it was approved. At the time, selenite was a new material for me, and my source was a vendor I had yet to meet in person. I started to question if I was in over my head and realized the only way to calm my nerves was to meet them and see the stone for myself. I flew to a small town in New Mexico to inspect a 3 ton boulder of selenite before it was sliced by a bandsaw the size of a basketball court. I asked as many questions as I could think of, wrote a big check, and left hoping it would be shipped back in blocks that I’d be able to mill into the fixture I had promised. It took 14 months between that day and the final install and I just got word that the clients love them. Stretching your abilities can be nerve racking but can also push you to make something (sigh of relief) new and great.
6. What’s your dream vacation destination and itinerary?
SFO straight to Maui alternating each day between kite surfing the waves and paragliding the mountains. Ride the wind baby!
7. Favorite childhood cereal?
Honey Bunches of Oats.
8. First celebrity crush?
9. Best binge TV show?
10. Biggest role model?
My dad Noel. He showed me what a good work ethic is if you have that, everything else will fall into place.
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