Doreen Joslow is co-owner of Richard Scofield Historic Lighting, a manufacturer of quality reproductions. She has a love of history and beautiful objects along with a sense of responsibility to preserve knowledge of how things are made and why. She has had the opportunity to be involved for decades in her local Historical Society as well as renovating her 1836 center chimney Colonial home over a period of 29 years.
She and her husband, Jon, purchased Richard Scofield’s historic lighting business 13 years after his death. Seeing a niche for this beautiful product and the desire to keep the art of the craft alive, they have rejuvenated and grown the business into a nationally known brand to architects, designers and museums. The couple is using their combined business and arts experience to keep the knowledge alive and relevant for future generations.
Question 1: Who was Richard Scofield and why did he want to make reproduction lighting?
Answer: We met Richard 29 years ago—and at that time his passion in authentic, museum quality replication was all consuming. He would venture to Sotheby’s in New York to examine and sometimes purchase great chandeliers, sconces, pendants and lanterns for the purpose of understanding fully, how to replicate them with an artisan’s sense of preciseness and quality. His standards were very high. He totally appreciated this period and its natural beauty. He would find an old fixture and study it down to every fold, seam and embellishment He lived immersed in research, pictures, letters written, queries received, all of it was of fascination to him. Richard was a purist—it did not interest him to make large quantities of any one style—his early catalogs were written like a book—with anecdotal blurbs about the pedigree of this and that fixture. He knew the materials, the curves and how to achieve the desired patinas. People would wait a year… sometimes two, in order to have one of his creations. It was less about money than it was about the interaction with museums, places like Sturbridge Village, Deerfield, Williamsburg and other institutions where he reproduced fantastic period lighting fixtures.
Question 2: You and your husband Jon bought the business five years ago. What were your reasons for wanting to get into the reproduction lighting business?
Answer: This is a fascinating question. Our house was built in 1836 and we had collected seven Scofield fixtures during the past 24 years before the notion of purchasing this business was on our radar. The aesthetics, quality and integrity are awesome. Richard’s fixtures grace our entrance, side porch, kitchen, dining room and the walls leading up to our second floor.
So, we’ve had this passion for what is real and true, what lasts and what is of value. We enjoy what these fixtures do for us and how it impacts our lives so when the opportunity came to purchase this business, we could not refuse. At the time, the business had dwindled down to a few people after Richard died. It had lost its creative and business leader. He had left it to his employees and try as hard as they might, they were unable to return the business to its former stature. When we were offered the opportunity to get involved, we respected what he had accomplished so much that we did not want it to be lost—like so many hand crafted businesses before it. To us, there was a strong belief that it could be vibrant, relevant and active once again. We did not want to see the craftsmanship die and be lost forever. So we jumped in and have grown the business from two employees to 13 over the past five years. Not only have we preserved the past, we launched forward finding receptive ears and eyes by taking the fixtures directly to designers, architects and builders with a smaller percentage of the business to homeowners. It is working nicely.
There is something about the enduring quality and plain honesty of these fixtures that maybe defies logic: what we create can be fabricated with cheaper labor in other countries, we can use less expensive materials and hide it with painted and plated finishes, we can replace hand soldering/joinery with welding machines—there is no limit to how cheap and inexpensive these fixtures of beauty can transcend into the bold area of inexpensive, almost disposable illuminating devices. That is not our business.
We are in the business of an art. Our fixtures exude warmth and pleasing emotions as the eye finds its way to enjoy gentle curves, textured finishes and solid construction. We simply have a passion for all this—for the essence of timeless quality and beauty—it speaks to us and the values associated with it. Our fixtures have a certain integrity that resonates with us and with those who live with them. Our belief that this level of design and quality has a market has been confirmed by the business that we have received from those who understand that there is no substitute for exceptional quality and timeless design.
Question 3: Do you have any other interests in the early American period, or are you predominately focused on lighting?
Answer: Jon and I really enjoy the look and feel of hand crafted furniture but no, we do not intend to go into that business. Ours is a narrow, but deep, niche and that requires constant feeding, preparation and focus otherwise it is easy to lose touch with what we and our clients and so enjoy about this business. We like to think that our lighting helps to reveal the natural beauty of being present in one’s surroundings—whether it be indoors or outdoors. The right light can make all the difference between taking in the essence of what exists or another way, the wrong light can distract, hide and diffuse. We think that there is enough opportunity for us to bring our warm illumination to the challenges faced by our clients that to simultaneously focus on expanding to other forms of beauty would simply dilute our effort. It is in this market where we are finding plenty of opportunities to do good work and to enjoy ourselves in the process.
Question 4: All of your pieces are hand-crafted. Is it difficult finding skilled artisans to construct early American lighting fixtures in this day and age?
Answer: Skilled artisans are men and women of passion. We have worked hard to find and develop people who show an appreciation for the art of working with their hands. We have invested time in developing the skills of people with open minds with the promise of exceptional hand/eye skills. Yes, there is a challenge and finding appropriate people is an art unto itself. It takes a few years to master enough individual skills to start making fixtures. We start apprentice craftsmen on sconces then move them to chandeliers and finally with lanterns / pendants. Not everyone makes it. There is only so much training that one can receive before it takes on a life of its own. The difference between an apprentice and a craftsman—besides raw talent—is something that cannot be taught. You either have it deep inside or not and it is not always evident during the hiring process: End of day, it is about an inner passion and that is something that we can neither train nor develop. I strongly believe that you are born with it and working side by side with our craftsmen provides those with that gift to come alive. That is a beautiful set of events that are fun to experience together—and we all work closely together.
Question 5: How long does it take to construct a complicated piece -- say, a chandelier, and how many people are involved?
Answer: A beautiful and somewhat complicated piece, which is also one of my favorites, is our double tier Acanthus Leaf chandelier. The combination of a wood turning, fabricated graceful arms, cuts, folds and finishing 42 leaves, etc. requires the work and expertise of five craftsmen/artisans. This is meticulous work. For example, each leaf is treated to an aging process, then the surface is prepared to receive several coats of paint. Twenty-two karat gold leaf is hand applied and then gracefully distressed to be transported in time to a point of graceful age. It takes a good 35 or so manhours to complete the transformation from base materials to a work of absolute beauty and our typical production time when someone orders is 6 – 8 weeks.
Question 6: In addition to reproductions, do you perform any repair or restoration work on actual period pieces?
Answer: Our fixtures are built to last. The construction is solid and the materials—those used in exterior fixtures—are constructed of 16 oz copper—we never use tin or steel. They simply do not require restoration because they are built to enjoy the elements of nature. When one of our fixtures is accidently damaged, we will repair it. We are not in the business of restoring period pieces although we receive requests to do so. It is a challenge to remain focused on what we do.
Question 7: Your company offers a number of designs of chandeliers, lanterns and sconces. Do you ever introduce a new "model?" If so, can you elaborate on the process of initial design (source material, inspiration) to completed piece (fabrication and assembly)?
Answer: A growing part of our business is in the area of custom work. We are fortunate to have relationships with designers and architects across the country who come to us with concepts, cocktail napkin sketches and pictures of design elements that they would like incorporated into an existing or totally new design. Our craftsmen love to oblige. The process is typically the same although certain stages sometime require more time than others: first is the concept—our clients typically call with a general idea that is either sketched out by them or our designers. Once the overall design, proportion and features are conceptualized, we draw out the first pass at something on paper. The discussion then leads to materials, surface finish, wattage, mounting features and types of glass, candle covers, etc.
During this process we often bring our staff into the picture to ensure that the designs can be executed as envisioned. Often times, we need to engineer exactly how the final build might be carried out.
Then we proceed with a scaled drawing that may contain a mood board of design elements and detail. If needed, we will develop a detailed CAD drawing in order to ensure that the end product conforms to detailed architectural specification. Once the client signs off on the drawing, we simply execute and deliver. Of course, it never is as simple as it sounds but we take great pride in moving from concept to fixture. Watching a concept move from picture to reality is very satisfying every time. Our clients are involved in the process and also enjoy taking delivery of a beautiful fixture that has their imprint. Every fixture has a pedigree and every owner takes pride in knowing that their fixtures are made with care and attention to detail that is only possible when they are fabricated and finished by craftsmen of passion who put their hearts into every element of the production process.
Question 8: You use casein paint on almost all of your wood pieces. While we're aware that the use of casein paint is historically accurate, are there other reasons why you choose that over more modern equivalents?
Answer: There is no substitute for the richness derived from these authentic materials. We apply them in various layers with multiple techniques that result in a depth for which modern materials are hard pressed to replace. There are faster ways to approximate the impact—but the surface finish is so important to get right and although many of us are unable to immediately discern the differences between today’s interesting paints, there is a texture, a feel that is present only when authentically traditional materials and techniques are applied. In some cases, you can’t explain it, but you can feel it.
Question 9: Do have have any special or memorable projects you've done of which you're especially proud?
Answer: We get involved in so many projects for which are special for different reasons. It’s really hard to say. We spent twelve months working with Centerbrook Architects on custom exterior fixtures for the Ocean House in Watch Hill, RI. The rebuilding of this grand dame of a hotel was done with such skill and care that it was a remarkable project—every detail meticulously considered, engineered and thought out. We made a number of custom pieces for them that were really stunning. So nice to be involved with such exceptional craftsmen!
We just completed a series of very large beautiful pendants for the Southport Congregational Church—really magnificent fixtures that was the result of a collaboration with J.P. Franzen Associates.
Each project allows us to work with exceptional talent and each one is replete with unique challenges making the outcome quite special for which we are all proud. There is no one project that stands out because each is wonderful in that they address the aesthetic and practical purposes inherent in the design and execution of the plan. Everyone is unique and memorable.
Question 10: You currently have two showrooms, in Connecticut and New York. Do you have any plans to expand further, or are you happy with the level of business you currently have?
Answer: We are entrepreneurs at heart so it is not in our vocabulary to say that we won’t accept more business. On the other hand, one needs to be mindful that we are all about exceptional quality and we’ve seen businesses fail from growing so fast that they loose the ability to maintain the standards that got them to where they are.
At Scofield, everyone is responsible for quality and it is ever-present in our thinking and how we work. There are some natural limits to growth —training and developing of our people, our ability to juggle relationships and simply to get it right the first time.
We have grown every year since we purchased the business in 2006. We refocused the business from retail to trade although we will work with anyone interested in quality and beauty. Our largest growth segment, and the one we are most interested in pursuing, is within the custom business. There are a lot of reasons for this. It is the adaption of traditional materials, designs, proportion and finishes to today’s aesthetics and scale that poses really interesting and challenging opportunities to showcase our passion. Our craftsmen enjoy the diversity of experience in figuring out how best bring to life the sketches that our clients send knowing that they will one day emerge from the designer’s table to workbench to our shipping department. Growth in the volume of our permanent collection means some, but limited, economies of scale and that is satisfying. This might be a long way of saying that we enjoy our progression from small workshop to a larger, more diverse and engaging company that enjoys the challenges of creation, service and attention to detail—one can never get enough of that so, yes, we are enjoying the challenges and opportunity provided by our growth. We want it to continue.
Our showrooms are close by—one in New York and the other on site in Ivoryton, Ct where a lot of our production takes place, although it would be nice to have products available in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, DC, Philadelphia, Charleston and other major metros where people call for them. Those who visit typically make an appointment to see a sample of our fixtures up close. For the majority of our clients, which are designers, architects and homeowners, once they see the detail, finish and construction of one fixture, they know that whatever is in our catalog will enjoy the same attention to detail so it is not a key factor in our growth.
As our client base expands, it brings with it the best type of growth that one can enjoy—that of a reputation for performing on our promise of providing exceptional quality lighting fixtures. An increasing number of younger designers rely on websites to source product. Consequently it is the referrals that will continue to be our force of growth rather than physical showrooms. We are quite happy about that.