Charlie Dumais founded his company, Dumais Made, with his husband Kevin in 2017. Based in New York City and Litchfield, they have built their business based on their shared passions and interests. A classically trained interior designer and lighting designer, Charlie creates beautiful lamps, lighting and accessories. We spent some time in their incredible studio and talked about everything from Charlie’s days as an undergrad at Pratt to how a couple of pottery classes turned into a business. Part of our conversation...
Martha: Your studio is such an inspiring space.
Charlie: This is the loft we always wanted in NYC.
Martha: The loft EVERYONE wanted in NYC! And it exists in Bantam, Connecticut? The windows remind me so much of the second floor studio of Greenwich House Pottery.
Charlie: I have such wonderful memories of that place. When Kevin and I were dating we used to take an art class together every Fall. One year, we took a wheel throwing pottery class at Greenwich House with friends. I had taken a pottery class in college, so I had a head start, but Kevin and our friends didn’t know that. So, the first class they were struggling to even get the clay centered and I was making some pretty substantial vases.
Martha: That is so funny. I took my first wheel class there. I truly thought I was going to be making pots by the end of the day, which absolutely did not happen. It’s interesting that so many roads lead to Greenwich House for me.
Charlie: For an artist, walking into Greenwich House is like walking into a cathedral because you are so overwhelmed with the vibe and the creativity and the energy.
Martha: How did you go from classes to a studio at home to an actual business?
Charlie: After that wheel class, I took a slab class on the Upper East Side. I really loved working with slab because it's more predictable than throwing on the wheel. I like elemental forms, simple forms and working with planes, and that's much easier to create with slab. I started making things just for me… candlesticks, vases. Kevin suggested I sell them and he started taking some pieces to clients. After buying our weekend house in Litchfield and emerging from the renovations, I started to get more serious. Then I started experimenting with lamps and it took off from there. So we turned our Litchfield garage into a finishing studio. I figured out how to wire them and Kevin started buying lamp shades. From there, I put a website together and then Instagram. Bruce Glickman, from George, (the fabulous home store in Washington, CT), found us on Instagram, reached out and asked if we’d like to have a pop up at George, and then 1st Dibs contacted us.
Martha: So many years of work and then it all came together so quickly.
Charlie: Yes! In like two months. Then we started getting more and more orders and eventually realized we needed a studio space.
Martha: Prior to starting Dumais Made you were a lighting designer?
Charlie: I was a lighting designer in NYC and ran a 30 person studio. Most of my projects were big hospitality clients like the Beekman Hotel and Union Square Cafe and the Hudson Yards Observation Deck. My last really big project was designing the master plan for lighting for Governors Island Park, in New York. I still am a lighting designer. But truly my passion with lighting design is historical projects, residential and landscape lighting.
Martha: What is it that draws you to lighting?
Charlie: I find it very emotive. It can be inviting, or scary, or romantic. And that’s very interesting to me. I’ve always loved lamps because there’s something so personal and simple and sentimental about a lamp.
Martha: Your lamps pull in all of your experiences: interiors, lighting, clay, pattern.
Charlie: Yes, it's true. Lighting designers are trained to think about what everything looks like when the lighting is on and a space is dark. But when I’m designing a lamp, I think about making them beautiful and engaging and interesting when they are off as well.
Martha: Your lamps are beautiful in pictures, but there is so much nuance and depth and dimension. There is an obvious sense of hand when you see them in person.
Charlie: I had a teacher who said, “If you want perfect pottery, go to Pottery Barn.”
Martha: So very true, as clay is so unpredictable.
Charlie: And glazing is super unpredictable. If you put the same piece in different parts of the kiln, the glaze will react completely differently. Temperature and weather affect it. Everything affects it.
Martha: Tell me more about the sculpture you are working on. I’m so excited about the series of sculpture that will be at Milton Market this March.
Charlie: Well, it's a couple of things. Sculpture was something I always wanted to do but never had the time. I’m always sketching and drawing and wanted to use slabs in ways that I don’t typically use them. I love the idea of planes and layering surfaces. I wanted them to be wall mounted so they would catch light in different ways during the day and night. I was also inspired by the work of Louise Nevelson.
Martha: I love Louise Nevelson. My old boss Reed Krakoff had a Louise Nevelson in his office.
Charlie: In high school, my art teacher forced us to watch a very grainy documentary on her. Everyone else watching this documentary was like “what the hell are we watching, this is crazy” but I loved it. There was Louise Nevelson on a ladder with her fake eyelashes, wrapped in a black shawl, smoking a cigarette and directing this poor man who was installing her work. But her work, and that moment, really stuck with me.
For me, the sculptures are representative of places and moments in my life that are undocumented but linger on. One in particular is an art class spent painting on the Brooklyn Bridge. The memory of looking through the slats of the bridge, and seeing the piers in the distance with their triangular roofs. They are a really personal expression, and a moment of more creative freedom.
Martha: Particularly now, and in this past year, I think people are placing so much more importance on their home and the way their environment feels. There is more interest than ever in knowing who created the objects, what that story is...
Charlie: There’s nothing better than getting to create something and then having people respond to it and enjoy it. It feels really special and I’m very humbled by it. I never imagined we’d have a studio like this or that I would see my pieces in someone’s home.