Gene Kessler: I started out with Franz GT Kessler Designs, which markets wooden lamps. I like working with wood in its rough, unfinished form. My favorite woods are black walnut, cherry, maple and mahogany. All the finishes I use are oils. When you hit wood with oil, it just pops and really brings out the beauty of the wood. When I’m shopping for wood, I’ll look for more interesting grains and features of the wood.
The Suzanne Thomas Lamps line was just introduced. The lamps have pottery bases, which I buy from Door Pottery in Madison, WI. Sometimes I’ll buy their finished designs, and sometimes I’ll give my own designs to the potters over there. Sometimes I’ll take pots that are short and squatty and ask the potters to stretch them and give them height — a body more conducive to being a lamp base. I make the mica shades and add the wood bases.
I start by looking for shapes that make sense to me. I may see some furniture on the Internet. Maybe it’s a piece of sculpture or the trim on a bedpost. I’ll look at the shape, shrink it down in my mind, play with it and think about how to get the proportions to be more pleasing to the eye. Then, I’ll make a few drawings and put together a prototype. That’s my process.
I am also inspired by the work of Thomas Moser, who is a successful furniture maker and designer in Maine. I agree with all his design philosophies, as I also do with Frank Lloyd Wright’s, who is another inspiration to me.
I have a real sense of freedom as a designer, and that’s what keeps me going. I enjoy the risk of putting a design out there and seeing whether or not it gains acceptance. That gives me a good feeling. For 40 years, I worked in a cubicle for corporate America and was told what I needed to do. Now I am creating something I can call my own and do so without anybody else’s influence.