Some might say Schonbek is America’s best-kept secret, with the premium lighting brand’s founding in 1870 seemingly feeling like two centuries ago. But since that date, the brand has crafted products that exist at the intersection of beauty and handmade heirloom quality at its upstate New York factory and headquarters. Steeped in history and illuminating the United States for 150 years, Schonbek is one of the oldest lighting brands to reside on these shores.
InspireDesign recently spoke with Charles Poirier, director of creative, design and product development for Schonbek, who walked us through Schonbek’s rich history and its current innovations:
Schonbek has a long history in the industry. What is the company’s “secret sauce” for having endured for so long?
With over 150 years of American craftsmanship guiding Schonbek’s careful curation and creation of fixtures, our designs are conceived to stand out. The production of each fixture, which happens by hand in our Plattsburgh, NY location, reflects a level of quality that is unparalleled in today’s marketplace. When designing a premium product it is important for us to find materials of the highest quality. Quality design does not necessarily come from trends but from dedication to design and craftsmanship. This is how timeless fixtures that last are created.
Many employees working at the Schonbek factory have been here for more than 30 years. The commitment and pride of all Schonbek artisans make this place unique and gives it a special identity, which translates to our product lines. Our craftsmanship has been developed over the years, like our innovative hand finish, the dedication of the employees, and the constant research on the latest technology for modifying materials is what makes Schonbek so special and unique.
The authenticity and exemplary attention to detail that is given to the handcrafted fixtures, for which Schonbek has made its name since 1870, makes it possible to create a beautiful, distinct and lasting design impression. Understanding and listening to our customers is a big part of this as well.
What do you consider to be the most important parts of the brand’s legacy in terms of its contribution to lighting design?
The most important part of the brand’s design legacy is that the styles created by our team of dedicated designers reflect the aesthetics of our brand. Driven by a passion for lighting that is unparalleled, the fixtures we have conceived over the last 150 years truly make spaces come alive. That’s not something you can say about all lighting brands or fixtures. Notable on both the design and engineering fronts, Schonbek’s design legacy is multifaceted. Schonbek’s contribution to lighting design comes in the form of over 200 patents. Two contributions that stand out are a revolutionary bow-tie connector, which was patented by Schonbek in 1971 for crystal trim in the United States and Canada, and following, in 1984 when Schonbek patented a new method for gluing crystals together. These advancements have allowed for previously unthought-of chandelier designs to come to life.
How would you describe your design philosophy? What are the core tenets?
Our design philosophy is based on a passion for creating perfectly balanced pieces of beauty and function, and a desire to create lighting that sparks conversations and brings people together. The idea is to create timeless lighting pieces with an impact that not only lasts but adds soul and character to any space in which Schonbek’s fixtures are placed. When thought of as tenets, we think of two concepts: creating styles to talk about with fine details to remember, and creating icons to treasure, carry through life, and pass on to the next generation. We are very passionate about the design process and are our own biggest critics. We want every one of our products to showcase the true essence of Schonbek.
What’s something the industry might not know about Schonbek that they should?
We come from a tradition of crystal lighting, but make a large variety of fixtures, from traditional chandeliers to contemporary and rustic styles. In addition to the main lighting collections, our in-house team of designers, engineers and project managers relish the opportunity to take on custom projects. Working closely with architects, interior designers and individuals on projects of all sizes, we pursue each new engagement with the belief that the experience of creating a custom piece is as important as the final product.
Looking toward the future, what will you be focused on? What are your main objectives over the near term?
Looking toward the future, innovation will continue to be key. Schonbek’s team of designers have a wealth of knowledge and experience in creating designs that redefine the standards for premium lighting and will only further bring Schonbek’s product portfolio to the next level. Innovation has long been a part of our culture as a brand and continues to drive our passion and commitment to finding new, yet timeless methods for expressing design through light fixtures.
Being challenged to cultivate innovations that have a lasting impact is a part of everyday life when designing new products. Innovation thrives on creativity. Innovation is often harder when designing a traditional lighting fixture but style of design is what we push here at Schonbek.
Are there any trends or innovations in lighting design that you’re particularly excited about? Why?
The new tendencies in interior design are to juxtapose traditional pieces next to contemporary ones, therefore, resulting in a beautiful contrast that makes every element stand out. Crystal lighting masterpieces are creating such a presence in the contemporary space and they continue to fit in today’s interior design trends. We’re excited to see this trend continue to emerge, and are focused on crafting crystal fixtures that meet the needs of increasingly connected contemporary and traditional design space.
I think the Sarella family is a great example of a chandelier that has both traditional and contemporary elements. The crystal cascade around the core makes it unique and distinctive. It blends well in any environment and is ideal for any person that wants a Schonbek chandelier. The Sarella family really shows the craftsmanship of Schonbek and the remarkable design features that are inherent in a Schonbek design, which is particularly exciting.
Additionally, fixture finishes are currently an object of trend and are at the forefront of our just-launched Iconics Collection, which features some of Schonbek’s most celebrated lights in new finishes. One we’re seeing more and more of is Matte Black. It is an amazing finish option that gives a nice depth to the fixture. The black is in fact an achromatic color, meaning the absence of light. Therefore, it captures the light while the crystal reflects it, creating a beautiful balancing effect. It also works in all types of decor and environments and is my personal favorite.