Schoolhouse Electric employees Yoslenys Hernandez-Torres, Prithi Sarki (above) and Salvador Gomez (below) assemble fixtures in the company's Northwest Portland headquarters.
// Photos by Eric Näslund
Before there was Schoolhouse Electric, Faherty worked on the other side of the home-furnishing economy: buying, refurbishing and selling houses. This was during the restoration craze, and Faherty, who has lived in 12 houses in the past 25 years, noticed there were limited quantities of certain materials and products, especially lighting and, notably, “cool, glass schoolhouse fixtures.”
After researching the American glass-blowing industry, he stumbled on a company in upstate New York with a warehoused collection of cast-iron molds for hand-blown glass lighting. “So I bought the collection and had them restored and put back in production. I knew I had something that was the start of something. There was some authenticity around the process and the material, and that was the thing I was looking for.”
That’s how it all began. Faherty opened a small storefront on Northeast Martin Luther King Boulevard and eventually rolled out a collection of 100 pieces, putting the glass together with brass parts made in Los Angeles. As the business grew, the design evolved too; instead of fashioning look- alike period reproductions, Schoolhouse began to experiment with a more modern aesthetic, “such as Edison bulbs on sockets or grouped in nature,” Faherty says.
With only three employees, Schoolhouse Electric had no marketing department to speak of. Even today Schoolhouse remains an introverted company, Faherty says. “We don’t really know how to talk about ourselves. That’s probably because I’m sort of that way.”
But if Faherty is reticent, the home design bloggers who created a cultural zeitgeist starting around 2008 were not. Schoolhouse Electric “became the little darling” of Remodelista and Design Sponge, among others, Faherty says. And business began to take off.
The momentum inspired Faherty to expand the company to include home furnishings. “What was serving the market was big-box, corporate housewares companies, and our customer wants more authenticity. They want to know who made it and what was the inspiration.” So in 2010 Faherty purchased a four-story, 125,000-square-foot brick warehouse in Northwest Portland for about $1.5 million, remodeled it to house a flagship store, as well as a factory and office space, then launched Schoolhouse Electric as a comprehensive lifestyle brand selling home and office goods.
The catchall description for the Schoolhouse Electric style is “domestic utility,” Faherty says. “Not just pretty things, but things that are useful in everyday life.”