Designer Michelle James
When DSHOP first opened its virtual doors in September of 2013, we proudly counted Michelle James’ lighting collection amongst our earliest offerings. Since that time, I’ve personally had the pleasure of working alongside Michelle as she has meticulously crafted gorgeous fixtures for our customers around the globe. From Australia, to Brazil to New York City and back again – her finely honed eye never fails to impress, so I was thrilled when Michelle invited us for a first look at her newly completed studio in Red Hook Brooklyn. It’s quite an upgrade from her tiny basement workspace and a pretty perfect setting for customer visits. We hope you love it as much as we do!
An affinity for art deco shines bright amongst Michelle’s vintage bits and bobs.
D: Let’s start at the beginning… what was your path to establishing yourself as a lighting designer?
MJ: Being a highly visual person, first as a hairstylist then as a wardrobe stylist, led to an overall aesthetic sense that culminated in designing custom lighting fixtures for my own home. [It began] during [a 2008] renovation… unable to find lighting fixtures that I felt worked with the clean simple lines that are my preference and the details in the 1899 brownstone [I designed my own]. In May of 2010 [I put] one fixture on display at Brooklyn Designs and interest peaked. [From there] Michelle James NYC became an exciting business, realized and greatly expanded, in the seven years since the original three fixtures were made.
Axis Art Deco fixture complete with smoke-glass crystal.
Framed photos from Michelle’s portfolio line the studio gallery wall.
D: Could you tell us a bit about your design process and sources of inspiration?
MJ: I find inspiration in all areas of design; architecture, interior, industrial and fashion… I am inspired by vintage furniture, lighting, and by repurposing vintage pieces into something new and contemporary. The design process is often a collaboration with clients or designers and based on the specifications required for the project. Then a model structure is built to scale utilizing various vintage elements ranging from the most simple to very glamorous depending on the client’s interest. Each fixture becomes a sculptural work that is a unique collaboration between myself and the client or designer… one of a kind and manufactured one at a time by local craftsmen.
Pipe and plywood shelving never looked so elegant!
D: As an designer, what do you most strive to achieve?
MJ: As a designer of one of a kind fixtures… I strive to keep my work relevant, interesting and hope they are appreciated as works of sculpture that become heirlooms handed down to future generations.
Glittering fixtures in various stages of completion.
D: Please tell us about your new studio!
MJ: I am very excited about the new studio space! It has great natural light and high ceilings allowing for large structures to be created, which [was] challenging when working in the basement of my home. The studio provides me with the storage space necessary for all of the vintage elements that I have collected over the past 7 years and a nice comfortable place to meet with clients without worrying about the state of my home and whether the breakfast dishes have been cleaned and toys put away. It somehow makes my business feel more real, more relevant and more important.
Brilliant 5 Globe Chandelier with vintage jewelry elements.
Tools of the trade – a treasure trove of vintage glass, crystals, hardware and so much more.
D: What advice would you like to give your younger self or designers just starting out?
MJ: I think my advice… would be to allow yourself to have many interests and explore all of them. As a hairstylist, I remember feeling that I could not relocate because I would have to start over. That was very daunting and greatly impacted my desire to explore new adventures. Ultimately, I found the courage to take the leap and moved to Los Angeles. There I met my husband and then moved to New York. In New York, I finally left the industry of hairstyling and became involved in wardrobe styling which I hadn’t known existed! That was a very exciting and fun filled experience. I met many lovely, creative people and this position allowed me to be very creative and fostered a great appreciation for fashion and costume designers. After having my son in 2004 and taking a break from wardrobe styling, I became more interested in interior design and was very fortunate to be able to focus on this and the renovation of our home – [all of] which has led to my current position [as the founder] of my own company, creating a collection of beautiful fixtures that have received a lovely amount of attention and appreciation!
Bunny’s eye view of an Axis fixture.
Michelle at work!
D: What can we look for from Michelle James in the near future?
MJ: My hope is that I will have the opportunity to expand upon the Art Deco Collection as this is truly my favorite era of design! If I could just move into the Chrysler Building, I would be so very satisfied!
Brilliant Chandelier comprised of dreamy billows of milk glass.
Thank you, Michelle for the fantastic tour and lovely chat!
We invite you to explore the full Michelle James lighting collection over on DSHOP. To schedule a visit to the new studio at 201 Richards Street, Red Hook Brooklyn, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to see you soon! Photography by April Hannah.