Meet the designer behind the new luxury lamp company that has fast become the darling of prestigious retailers.
The buyers at Horchow and Neiman Marcus know his name, and so do top interior designers all over the country. The secret is out. If you’re looking for classic lamps with fresh appeal, the man to see is Memphis resident Todd Sawvelle. His name might sound familiar to fans of home décor and lighting company Vintage Verandah, where Sawvelle was on the marketing and design team for 10 years. Seven months ago, in June 2011, Sawvelle launched his own lamp company aptly named Couture.
Yet design wasn’t his first choice as a vocation. Instead, he was intrigued by areas as diverse as political science, architecture, and law. “I changed my mind about my career path on a regular basis,” Sawvelle recalls. “My interests ran a wide gamut. It wasn’t until I was in my first year of college that I found myself around some terrific mentors, particularly a married couple where the husband was a visual merchandiser and his wife was an interior designer. Together they had a good bit of influence in bringing out my creative side, and once it was unleashed political science went out the window quickly!”
Not many people deliberately set out to become lamp designers and Sawvelle was no exception. During the 1990s, a friend he had worked with before took a post as creative director for Vintage Verandah and the two stayed in touch over the years. “When the company was looking for an additional designer, she asked if I was interested. I had no experience with designing lamps and frankly couldn’t even fathom doing this for a living, but timing is everything.”
In late 2001, Sawvelle joined Vintage Verandah at a time when business was booming. “After being there just a few months, it was decided that I could fill a niche by working with a different type of customer base than they were used to: high-end retailers,” he explains. “It was business that they wanted to do, but didn’t know how to get – nor did they understand how to design for it. The thought process was that I could take this distribution channel and, using the efficiencies of a larger organization, create custom higher-priced goods that would have tremendous value in this part of the marketplace.”
The timing was perfect. By 2006, the higher-end segment of the business was profitable even though it wasn’t particularly high volume.
Sawvelle’s innate talent for understanding the needs of the upper-end market was a jumping off point for his decision to go out on his own and aim for the luxury sector. He has another secret of success: the ability to mix modern and retro sensibilities in a unique way.
“People always assume when they meet me that I love contemporary design,” Sawvelle states. ”While I do have an appreciation for contemporary, I am deeply respectful of history and pop culture from the past – especially the mid-century modern era.”
The result is an eclectic mix of the past and present. “My design aesthetic is based on bridging the freshness of what’s current with classic elements from the past. I guess this explains why you can get into my Mini Cooper (the classic updated design) and hear Rosemary Clooney or Doris Day at any time of day,” he quips.
What does Sawvelle see on the design horizon for 2012? “I think 2012 is all about freshness – with scale, texture, and the mixing of materials,” he notes. “More than color and shape, for me 2012 will mean a fresh approach to scale with larger pieces – for example, buffet lamps standing 40 to 45 inches high versus the more traditional 30- to 32-inch height,” he suggests.
“Designers regularly tell me that we are living eclectically – and for that reason I continue to devote as much time as possible to the continued mixing of old and new to create ‘modern classics,’” he says. “We also need some glam in our lives! The past few years have left us yearning for the allure of glamour, so stay tuned for some bling. “ His customers are also more conscious of natural materials. “To that end, I have found an incredible new resource for natural materials (wood, coconut bark, bamboo, horn, mother of pearl, etc.) that I am working hard to make sure that we have at the January markets,” he remarks.
Want to see the line in person during the International Lighting Market in Dallas? Visit the Elle Home & Lifestyle Showroom on the fifth floor of the World Trade Center, space #523.