Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to interview a lighting entrepreneur from Asheville, NC. His lighting design start up, CaseStudy Design, has become locally popular for their unique light fixtures that are made out of … wait for it … books! If you’re as surprised as I was when I first learned about CaseStudy Design and its owner/founder/designer Chall Gray, who are engaged in the practice of upcycling old things like books into lovely light fixtures, then read on for an interesting interview with a book-lover turned lamp designer.
1. Hello, Chall, and thanks for talking with me. First, can you tell me a little about your background and upbringing?
I’m a native of western North Carolina, and grew up on a farm out in the country. Design was something that gradually became more and more central to my life and predilections the older I’ve gotten.
2. So you’ve grown up surrounded by upcyclable things. That makes me wonder: Why books? Why not make lamps out of tissue boxes, skulls, or aluminum cans?
The first light I designed stemmed from wanting a cool fixture that would work near a large floor to ceiling bookshelf in my home, but not really having any other particular style in mind. After designing a few lights and showing them to a few close friends the book lamps garnered the most comments and delight, and they’ve proven to be our best-sellers. I think that’s in large part due to the ability to personalize them: if a customer wishes to supply their own specific book (as long as it is large enough for the particular fixture they want) we can make it into a lamp for them. How many of the practical things in your home, whether lighting, kitchen wares, furniture, etc, can you say were not just chosen by you, but made specifically for you, using something that has personal meaning to you?
3. Can you tell me about your experience with commercial clients?
So far we’ve done one large completed commercial project, for a bar in Spruce Pine, NC, called Spoon, opened by award-winning chef Nate Allen. We worked together to come up with a plan based on the aesthetic he created in the bar, and we crafted some custom book fixtures that I designed just for the space. We’re currently discussing a couple of other potential commercial projects that I’m excited about, but nothing that we can announce as of yet.
4. What are your goals with Case Study Design? What does the future look like?
I currently work full-time as VP at Thirsty Monk, where we have a series of beer and cocktail bars and a brewery, so I’m only able to devote so much time to CaseStudy, but it’s a central passion of my life, and luckily production doesn’t depend on my schedule because our Production Manager crafts the lights in our shop in West Asheville. As of this week our lights will be on display in Downtown Books & News, a great used bookstore in downtown Asheville, and we’re also working on a design collaboration with a local audio company on a set of home speakers, actually, which is a fun side-project. I’d love to grow the business to having a larger retail presence over the next couple of years, but really, we’re having a blast just designing and building lights.
5. Why is Asheville a good place to do what you do?
In general, Asheville is a very supportive environment for creative endeavors, and many of the consumers appreciate the quality of a hand-made item.
6. Who are some of your favorite designers, lighting or otherwise?
My influences are pretty varied, but a few touchstones are the architect Tom Kundig, whose work I go back to time and time again, the shoe designer John Fluevog, and watchmaker George Daniels. The great modernists of the 20th Century, Frank Lloyd Wright, Saarinen, Eames, etc. And in terms of lighting, Ingo Maurer and Ilse Crawford immediately spring to mind.
Conclusion: Chall Gray and his CaseStudy Design Firm are doing impressive things with upcycled materials and edison light bulbs. It’s great to see someone turning an inspired idea into reality, especially when it comes to unique light fixtures and we at Pegasus Lighting wish Chall luck. If you haven’t seen his Etsy store, check it out here!