From the moment we discovered Caravan Pacific, we have admired the brand and all the beautiful lighting and goods that Shannon Guirl has designed and produced. Talk about dream lamps! The minimal design inspired by mid-century style combines slip-casted ceramics and turned wood to create unique fixtures in vibrant glaze options. She invited us to her spacious studio located in The Makery alongside other great Portland makers such as Pigeon Toe and Studio Olivine. Untrained in ceramics, wood turning and electrical work, Shannon left New York and her stable film editing career and headed to Portland to start a lighting company. She admits that her first lamp took about a year to figure out how to make what she envisioned, and how to source all the materials ethically. Shannon uses FSC- certified wood, American sourced electrical components and shades. Her hard work paid off and with a successful Kickstarter campaign Shannon has turned Caravan into a resilient business in only a few short years. In the land of makers the steady influx of people relocating to Portland to pursue dreams of a simpler life, it’s stories like Shannon’s and Caravan Pacific’s that inspire us to always know that anything is possible. Enjoy our studio visit with talented Shannon Guirl and her enlightening interview!
1. Why Portland? What was it that drew you to Portland or has kept you here?
Portland has always been a pretty magical place to me. I moved here a few years ago from Brooklyn to explore the maker scene and am amazed by the people I meet and what they're doing. There seems to be a limitless amount of creativity here!
2. What are your favorite things happening in Portland (design or otherwise)?
There is quite a lot that has developed in Portland since I moved here, I'm really grateful that there are so many events and venues - like Design Week Portland, XOXO, Pioneer Nation, Museum of Contemporary Craft and ADX- that pull people together and are creating dialogs with designers, makers and small-batch manufacturers here. I think this is just the start of addressing some larger issues in the business and manufacturing community (like environmentalism, fast-fashion and our impact on developing countries) and figuring out what we can do about them.
3. How did your brand start?
I still think of myself as a maker and less of a brand. I like that at the end of the day, my muscles are tired and I usually have clay under my fingernails or wood shavings all over my shirt. I feel really connected to the products and lighting we make and I love being able to talk to our customers in detail about our process.
This year, as I've hired employees to help me create our lighting collections, I'm finding ways to balance that connection with running a business - no easy feat! In the end, I want to give people a classic lighting piece that will stay with them through trends and time, that will have it's own stories attached to it, along with the one that comes from us- a small studio out of Portland, run by people who really care about American design and want to continue the history of making these lamps by hand in the USA.
4. What has been your biggest obstacle?
Time and my own learning curves. I have several notebooks full of ideas on several different types of lighting, furniture, textile and product design. In putting together our collections, I've been pretty selective about what we put out there in the past, because of the work load I can handle on my own. But hiring some great employees and collaborating with a few of my fellow designers in Portand has loosened me up a little- it's created a good environment to brainstorm and create some of these ideas.
5. What or who inspires your design?
I'm really inspired by the midcentury era of design from the late 1930s - 1960s. The designers that captivate me run from some of the more well-known like Ruth Asawa, Hans Wegner, Harry Bertoia, Constantin Brâncuși and George Nelson to some that are less well-known but truly inspiring- like Karl Springer, Aldo Londi for Bitossi, Harrison McIntosh and Roger Capron.
6.What are your favorite things about Portland?
Man, everything! I just love walking down the street and soaking in the atmosphere of this place. It has such a great vibe, especially in the summer when people are biking down the streets and the roses and dahlias are blooming. I just love the feeling of living in a small town, but actually being in a city- I wish more cities would bring that perspective into their urban planning. I hope Portland continues to build along that path as it makes it a real pleasure to live here.
7. What is your favorite part of your studio?
Definitely the assembly table, where my assembler and I put together lighting for retailers and customers. The best part of my day is assembling a lamp and knowing I've created something of value that will complement someone's home.
8. Your favorite thing about your workspace?
The people in it- I have two wonderful employees that make it a pleasure to come to work. Without them, I'd be a bit of a lonely lamp-maker!
9. Tell us two truths and a lie!
I once travelled to the Middle East with Kofi Annan.
Blueberries are horrible.
When I was in my 20s, I accidentally rolled my boss' car into a ditch.
10. 5 things you can’t live without.
My husband Ray and our neighbor's cat Gato Amigo.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream from Salt & Straw.
Berry picking on Sauvie's Island.
Camping and late night dinners under the stars with our friends & family.
Late night wildlife watching on my bike ride home - raccoons, woodpeckers, coyotes!