Wednesday, May 20

Profile: Christopher Spitzmiller

I know that I am not alone in my admiration of Christopher Spitzmiller and his beautiful cerulean blue and plummy brown glazed lamps. Most of us design aficionados are enamored with his one of a kind creations. I have been corresponding with Chris for quite some time, and thanks to Amanda Nisbet we finally had the opportunity to meet last month.

If I weren’t already a fan of the prolific potter before my trip to New York, meeting Chris in person sealed the deal. Kind, charming and unassuming are all befitting descriptions and, if Anthony and my husband will forgive me one more adjective, Chris is adorable too. And, how can you not like someone with dogs named Happy and Suzy Spitzmiller? That is the icing on the cake.

With a passion for art and a desire to start his own business, Christopher graduated from St. Lawrence University and continued his fine arts study at the Rhode Island School of Design and at Central St. Martins College of Art in London. Following his dream he setup shop in an old school near Washington D.C. and worked as a summer artist in residence for Mecox Gardens in Southampton. His artistic skills soon became widely apparent, attracting commissions from Albert Hadley, Richard Keith Langham and Suzanne Rheinstein.

In the fall of 1999, after outgrowing his Washington space, Chris moved his studio to New York City. A decision he calls, “one of the most important turning points in my life.” Each of his lamps beholds a timeless appeal and luxurious quality. Unique, classically formed and vibrant make Christopher Spitzmiller lamps as appealing as the man behind the name.

What career decision you are most proud of?
Moving to New York City was probably one of the most important turning points in my life. I grew up in East Aurora, New York, which is a small rural town outside of Buffalo. I remember the first people I met living in New York – they all seemed so excited about being in the city as if it was something they had been dreaming of their whole lives. That wasn’t me. Growing up, I had no aspirations to move to the great metropolis, but now I am very glad I did.

I actually started my business in Georgetown, Washington DC. When I outgrew my studio, I needed to move to a larger space. The most sensible and most daunting decision I made was to come to New York. The first few years of settling in and finding the right people to work in the studio were hard. A year or two into it, I almost gave up. I am so grateful to have stuck it out. New York is a challenging city to live in, but it is worth the effort because of the access it grants you to so many interesting and talented people.

What is your most prized possession?
I love animals...Happy and Suzy Spitzmiller are my two Labradors and among my greatest joys. Second would be my flock of chickens. They provide constant companionship, friendship and fascination.

What is one thing in life you cannot live with out?
My boyfriend, Anthony Thompson, who provides me with more kindness and encouragement than I could ever hope for. Secondly, would be Elizabeth Satterlee, who keeps my business moving and flowing better than I ever could myself.

Who are your style icons?
John Fowler, Evangeline Bruce and Albert Hadley. They all have had important influences on my work and the design choices I value in my everyday life.

With whom would you most like to collaborate on a project?
I spent most of my early career working on my own or with decorators. But in the last few years, I have found a deep level of satisfaction collaborating with two other artists. It has been an amazing and rewarding experience¬ where we can each inspire the other in ways we might not have just working alone.

Clare Potter came into my life about two years ago; she is an extraordinarily talented sculptor in her own right with an emphasis on botanicals and other elements of nature. For projects we do together, I hand throw lamps and vases and then she adorns them with the most beautiful, lifelike ceramic flowers I have ever seen. The final creations are truly one of a kind works of art.

Last year Roy Hamilton, a potter who lived in Los Angeles for over 30 years, moved back to New York to work from my studio. Roy makes pieces that are similar to mine, however, his works are highly textured having been influenced by his early career in textiles. Each of his creations are painstakingly decorated with slip patterns unlike anything I have ever seen. I am incredibly lucky to be able to work with both Clare and Roy. I feel we complement each other very well and provide each other with constant inspiration.

What books are currently on your bedside table
I just finished Meryl Gordon’s Mrs. Astor Regrets, a Christmas gift from Anthony. I loved it. You will also find, Rick & Gail Luttmann’s Chickens in Your Back Yard. The reason I have this book needs no explanation! I also have a copy of Carleton Varney’s There’s No Place Like Home: Confessions of an Interior Designer. I have a lot of respect for Carleton’s work and his son, Sebastian, is a good friend of mine. Perfect Picnics by Gail Monaghan is at my bedside; she is an excellent chef and a close friend. Other books include, Robert Dash’s Notes from Madoo: Making a Garden in the Hamptons and Nancy Koehn’s Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earn Consumers’ Trust from Wedgwood to Dell.

What is your favorite luxury in life?
A well made bed with really good, hand ironed sheets…and time to sleep on them!

What inspires your ideas and design?
I am drawn to objects that bring comfort. While you can’t really curl up with a pair of my lamps, they do give visual comfort in their light, color and form. I love the fact that each one is traditionally created right here in New York City. My lamps are handmade and hand glazed with hand turned bases custom fit to each one. Each base is hand finished in gilt or mahogany. The lamps are then electrified with the best fittings I can get my hands on. All of these custom components come together to create an object that is very much more than the sum of its parts.

I try to make a style of lamp that can be used in both traditional and contemporary settings – a design that people hopefully won’t outgrow. I remember when my friend Liz O’Brien, a well known dealer in mid-century and modern works, paid me one of my biggest complements. As she was describing me to someone, she said, “Chris makes lamps that I will be buying and selling for years to come.”

What is your idea of earthly happiness
In winter, I love being by a fireplace with real wood burning; I love the warmth and smell that remains in a room even long after the fire has gone out. In the summer, I like working in my garden for long periods of time. And all throughout the year, I enjoy being at the potter’s wheel, alone in the studio with no one else there. Those are the times when I get the most done and feel the most satisfied.

Who would you most like to meet
I would have liked to have met Diego Giacometti; I have great admiration for his work. I would have loved to have met Julia Child who had an enthusiasm and gusto for life that were truly inspiring. When I went to see her kitchen, which is now installed in the Smithsonian Museum, it was like going to Mecca for me. I have met Elaine Stritch and would like to know her better; I admire her the way she has chosen to live to her life. One day, I would like to meet Barack Obama, a man who has inspired not only me, but so many others.

Profile by Ronda Carman

Photo Credit:
Photo 1 & 2 Jeffrey Hirsch (New York Social Diary)
Photo 3 Amanda Nisbet
Photo 4 Tobi Fairley


Anne said...

LOVE Christopher Spitzmiller. The most beautiful lamps on the market!

Kwana said...

Wonderful interview. Love his style and passion.

Jay said...

Fantastic interview!

pve design said...

He certainly appears to light up a room, not only with his handsome and down to earth air, but with such stunning lamps. They really do make the room a happier place. I bet he makes NY happier too.
Another fabulous interview!

Karen said...

I bought one of Christopher's single gourd lamps in Chinese red years ago -- it has moved to a couple of different houses and many rooms, but it still makes me as happy as the day I brought it home. He is also one of the true gentleman in the business. Great profile!

Blushing hostess said...

He and I share the same luxury. How I miss sleep...

Paloma {La Dolce Vita} said...

What a wonderful profile. He is so talented!

Debra said...

Great interview. Gorgeous lamps!
I love the simplicity of them and the bold colors shown here.

Tricia Mitchell said...

Lovely interview and even lovelier designer/artist/businessman. Recognized Tobi Fairly's work immediately!

Tricia - Avolli

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Every sentence very well said. I dream about his lamps.

ALL THE BEST said...

me too...i dream of one in every room.

Jenn said...

Great interview. I've always loved his lamps, but it's wonderful to see what a thoughtful, kind person is behind them.

Jen West Design said...

Those are truly the antiques of the future.

Lisa Bruckner said...

A charming article about a truly charming man. I want to move his lamps and his dogs into my home! Well thought questions and beautifully written. Well done Rhonda!