Light It Up

The bright designs by The Urban Electric Co. craftsmen are handmade and original.


Light Show (left to right) The Urban Electric Co. fixture illuminates The Ordinary in Charleston; Sword Gate fixture on Broad Street; craftsman creates a custom fixture. urbanelectricco.com.

 

CTC&G sat down with The Urban Electric Co.’s President/Founder Dave Dawson to talk about his innovative and dynamic lighting company in Charleston.

How does a lawyer born in New Jersey end up in Charleston as the owner of a lighting company?
My wife and I visited Charleston and were taken with the lifestyle: close to the water, great restaurants, great soul and grit. We bought and renovated an 1860s Charleston single house. In the process of renovation, we noticed the absence of high-quality lighting in the marketplace. We purchased a small lantern company that gave me an entré into the craft arena and what was to become The Urban Electric Co.

Charleston is known for its beautifully preserved buildings, but your line of lighting is not a slave to history.
We didn’t set out to be a company that produced historic lighting but a company that offered designs for discerning architects and designers. Our lighting has classic bones, is not overly adorned but pays close attention to scale and proportion.

And your business model is innovative as well. Tell us about it.
We work directly through architects and interior designers and not retailers. We began with iconic exterior lanterns and then expanded to both interior and exterior fixtures, and now offer 300 pieces. Even what we call standard can be customized. We have one of the most extensive one-off custom programs in the industry. I think designers understand our product and what we are trying to do; the relationship just works.

Tell us about your craftsmen.
Because our product and process are so artistic and we are a bit off the beaten path, we benefit greatly from the varied backgrounds of our folks. Jewelers, carpenters, musicians, sculptors—each person brings something different to the effort. We’re certainly a stronger company for the variety of backgrounds, experiences, outlooks and opinions. I’ve been struck over the past several years by how many of the new apprentices in our company almost universally praise our senior craftsmen for how open they are with their knowledge and how much they are willing to share. I love that. And I truly believe it is because almost no one on our team came into the business with a vast resume in what we do. Everybody learned on the job from folks willing to teach them.

Explain how you choose the professionals to collaborate on your products.
Our collaborations are very intentional, but many times almost organic. We almost always start with an existing client relationship. Many of our clients come to us consistently for one-off custom work, and over time, we may see an aesthetic that we feel is missing in the market and would also be complementary to our existing collection and design direction. To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we have returned to our lantern-making roots but with our original twist, of course. We asked outside design collaborators to design a lantern that captured their individual take on our aesthetic.

You are passionate about handmade products. Is this movement trending?
There is definitely a movement back to handcrafted products, and we are thrilled about it. Consumers seem to be much more interested in where and how their products are made. And their decision-making process has shifted a little: Is it the best quality, is it produced in a sustainable way, what does this purchase say about me? That shift in thinking, combined with more rapid prototyping techniques, has created fantastic opportunities for craftsmen and artisans.