Henderson: I’m not classically trained as a designer by any means. My degree is actually in aerospace engineering. I worked for the Air Force, Boeing, Lithonia and Kalco before launching Varaluz a year and a half ago with my partner, Jorge.
When I was at Kalco, I started in marketing and branched into sales and, eventually, product development. One thing I discovered in sales was that I could be a better champion of design—a cheerleader—if I was involved [in the design process], so I got very involved with the design team. I also discovered the importance of spending time in customers’ showrooms—watching what they are doing, finding out what they actually need and getting a sense of what they really want. To this day, I spend as much time as possible on the road visiting customers.
We try to get a lot of input and feedback from reps and clients about products we’re working on for Varaluz. Occasionally, I feel so strongly about a design that we go right to sampling or making the actual piece. But often, we get input from our design council, which is composed of reps and customers who are very design-savvy and fashion-forward. In fact, our new marketing manager, Tonja Patrick, was on the design council. She is now part of our organization and runs that council. We have a separate design Web site where we ask people to log on and give us their feedback, and we use e-mail for instant feedback.
I liken my approach to mixology. Like a good cocktail, I do like to mix things up. It is indicative of my world view, which is to take something known or expected, like a fairly typical contemporary look, and mix another style or element in—put a little twist on it. I tend to find antiques, either fixtures or the components, and try to do a modern take or add some sort of twist. And, of course, some amazing ideas take shape on bar napkins.
Many of our customers look to us for casual iron fixtures that are contemporary but don’t hit you over the head with the fact that they’re contemporary. Two of our best-sellers coming out of the January Dallas Market were Modisty and Two If by Sea. They are both iron with interesting glass. The Two If by Sea Series is, at heart, a colonial design but brought into the contemporary realm. You look at it, and you’re not quite sure what to make of it. If you ponder it long enough, you start to see that the shade is reminiscent of an old colonial lantern. The basic frame shape is typical of colonial chandeliers. In my mind, it is this interesting packaging that makes it unusual, and fun.
Modisty is also a twist, but on contemporary design. Often, contemporary designs tend to be very hard and precise and come off feeling cold. My twist on the style is to mix it with something that is a little rougher and handmade with a lot of variations in it. In the case of Modisty, the flaws in the glass shades are accentuated against this very precise rectangular metal form.