Peter Katz has been making art for almost his entire life. Most recently, he’s delved into the world of handcrafted wooden lamps.
“I guess I’m a bit obsessed with lighting,” he said, adding he isn’t inspired by many lamps he sees on the market today. “I wanted to develop my own that incorporates vibrant colors and fun subject matter.”
Katz runs his new company, Vermont Lamps, with his partner Shana Carlson out of their home in Colchester. The production occurs right in their sunroom, which provides stunning 180 degree views of Lake Champlain and no lack of inspiration for Katz’s artwork.
“I can’t think of a better and more inspirational spot than where we are,” he said.
Many of his designs feature lakes, maple leaves, moose and other Vermont scenes that encompass what it’s like to live in this northern landscape. Katz said he’s expanding into a more regional New England market with newer lobster, crab and beach designs as well.
However, some tropical images like jellyfish and palm trees can also be found on Katz’s lamps, a homage to his roots: Katz was adopted from Costa Rica as a child and was raised in Connecticut.
“The tropical stuff is in my blood,” he said.
In essence, there’s a lamp for everybody in Katz’s shop, with more designs being drawn up every day.
Additionally, many of his designs feature skiing and chairlift themes, inspired by his self-described “ski bum” years traveling around the country from mountain to mountain. He came to Vermont 16 years ago and has been living and making artwork here ever since.
Katz said he hand draws the designs first, then converts them into a digital file that can be sent to the laser cutter which stands prominently in the middle of his sunroom. The laser cutter carves out the detailed design on four pieces of either maple or birch plywood, as well as interlocking grooves on the side which help the pieces fit together.
Katz then applies the paper to the backs of the pieces, either a neutral mulberry or a colored piece, and connects the pieces into a 3D standing table lamp. He said he likes the paper backs because they emit a warm glow and avoid the “horrible white light” that he hates.
“We started off with a small one, made our prototype, and then I just started going crazy with making different designs,” Katz said. The first one he made took him eight to 10 hours; the most recent version can be created in just about 30 minutes.
“I’ve always been trying to find something that’s not just one-offs, something that we could turn into a business, something that’s replicable,” he said. “I think we’ve finally found something with these lamps.”
Katz said he can make about 75 lamps a week and hopes to get a second laser cutter so he can increase his output. Katz and Carlson mostly sell their lamps to wholesalers like Uncommon Goods, where they sold the rights two exclusive designs; Karen’s Beach House, Wayfair and an Adirondack catalogue.
The pair are traveling to several trade shows in Vermont and New England later this season to start spreading their product to a wider market.
Their retail shop is online and pretty new, Katz said. He admitted marketing is the most difficult part for the business right now, but hopes once the lamps get into more retail shops around New England, their website traffic will increase.
Carlson’s background is in criminology and psychology, not business, but she’s taking a marketing class to get up to speed.
“We’re just trying to get the word out because people love the lamps when they see them,” she said.
Once sales go up and business gets better, Katz said he wants to look into bigger and more creative projects, like taller floor lamps and room dividers. He said they also want to rent a warehouse space for the laser cutters and hire an employee or two to help with the work.
“Then I’ll have time to really have time to play around with other design ideas,” Katz said.
“It’s exciting,” Carlson said.
Katz and Carlson’s lamps can be found at vermontlamps.com.