Karen Gilbert and Paul Pavlak are two of the three co-Founders of SkLO, a hand-blown lighting and objects studio who pride themselves on the craftsmanship and unique design of their products. Each piece is hand-blown in the Czech Republic and each piece is uniquely one of a kind. We sat down with Paul and Karen to discuss their production process, their craft-influenced aesthetic and advice they’d give to their younger-selves.
Can you tell us how SkLO was conceived?
SkLO was conceived of over 10 years ago, when the SkLO partners, Pavel Hanousek, and Karen Gilbert and Paul Pavlak discovered each other in the same small town in Sonoma County. Pavel is a long-time resident of Sonoma County, and had been in the business of importing glass from his native Czech Republic for many years. Karen and Paul are a married couple, Karen is a noted American craft artist, jeweler and metalsmith, and Paul an architect. Karen’s background in glass – from living in Seattle in the 1990s and attending Pilchuck Glass School and falling in with Chihuly and the crowd in the glass scene there – gave her the ability to see the potential in access to the Czech glassblowing tradition. SkLO was born of a series of conversations between the three partners about building a lighting and accessories brand which made use of Pavel’s access to the Czech glass production, and Karen and Paul’s design vision. “Sklo” is the Czech word for “glass”. The idea to name the company SkLO is a nod to Pavel Hanousek’s Czech heritage, and the source of our handblown glass components.
Why are SkLO products hand-blown in the Czech Republic?
The Czech have one of the great glassblowing traditions in the world, and it is one of the important living historical Craft traditions. Karen’s dedication to the idea of Craft in her own work drew her to opportunity to work within a Craft tradition like Czech glass. The glass itself is of the highest quality with perfect clarity and vibrant color, and the artisans working there are the result of hundreds of years of skill and traditions passed down. It is a real honor to have the opportunity to work within this tradition, and to develop such an intimate relationship with it.
“In fact, this whole idea about origin is something that we speak quite a lot about, and as Signe puts it, the real benefit of travel”
What words would you use to describe your aesthetic, and how is it integrated into your collection?
The driving force behind SkLO and the SkLO design philosophy are Karen Gilbert and Paul Pavlak, the wife-and-husband design team at SkLO. Karen Gilbert is an American craft artist, and it is her philosophy about Craft, and her experience as a craft artist and maker, herself, that defines SkLO. While she studied glass and glassblowing, Karen is primarily a metalsmith, and her ability to understand and design with these two materials – metal and glass – is the primary design influence behind the SkLO lighting collections. Karen personally fabricates every working lighting design prototype, and that hands-on relationship that bridges the worlds of both Craft and Design in a single act Is reflected in all of the SkLO designs, and is what makes SkLO special. SkLO lighting designs often reveal the influence of Karen’s background as a metalsmith and jeweler, and her presence as an American woman-designer. Paul Pavlak is an American architect and designer. As SkLO co-designer, he contributes an architect’s ability to think and design in many different scales, as well as a belief in the honesty of materials, the importance of expressing process in design, and a minimal aesthetic. Paul also designs and oversees the graphic look and concept of the SkLO brand.
The SkLO philosophy about Craft defies tradition, putting process and design before technique. Ours is a celebration of the old traditions, but with our modern emphasis on materiality and process over form or decoration or perfection. The relationship between glass and metal and light and technology in SkLO lighting designs is unique to SkLO – There is an effort in each design to keep these relationships as simple and effortless-seeming as possible. The designs do not fall sway to being driven by technology or gimmick. Our designs show our interest in restraint, always paring back to the simplest expression of the idea, yet doing so without sacrificing the most important consideration – beauty
How does environmental sustainability factor into the production of your products?
At SkLO we cannot point to any simple manufacturing gimmick as evidence of sustainability. True, glass is one of the great recyclable materials, and some recycling does happen in glassblowing, but care must be taken not to contaminate the precious glass. The European Union regulations on emissions are much stricter than anything we have here in the US, and this even applies to the glassworks in the Czech Republic, which have some pretty sophisticated technology when it comes to the sources of energy used in production of the glass. What really is sustainable about our work is the fact that this is handmade work of the highest quality made without exploitative labor or conditions. And, by working with a historical Craft tradition, you help preserve it for generations to come.
Can you explain your process when creating a new design?
Of course, we draw, and we paint, and we discuss ideas constantly. But for us, there is always a point where you have to switch to making. You cannot simply draw something which, solely though the act of drawing, will then be able to become a successful design ready for production. The act of making things, prototyping, is a critical part of our process, which informs the design as much or more than the early sketches do. And, since Karen actually makes all of our lighting prototypes herself, the fact that she is also the designer, allows for a tremendous amount of reacting to the act of making on her part. Our goal is to investigate, invest in, and express the process. Process is everything. When we design, or especially when we are in the glassworks in person, working on new ideas directly with the glassblowers, it is important to leave yourself open to the process showing new directions to take an idea. We like to make things without knowing what the end result will be. We often try not to bring that sort of idea to the process. We sometimes intentionally make things without knowing how they will be used, what they will become, and then there is a process of playing with those parts, discovering their potential, how they can go together, which can reveal their real value and produce designs of real beauty.
Is there a different process for SkLO:OBJECT versus SkLO:LIT?
Completely, and we love both. OBJECT is a place of free experimentation for us as designers, where practical constraints bend to the imagination and we can explore the possibilities within the craft of glassblowing. The process involved in designing and developing product for our OBJECT line can be very, very open-ended. LIT brings with it all the important considerations that go into lighting design. It is a much longer process for LIT, whereas OBJECT can be very immediate. LIT can be very rewarding in a different way, bringing light to glass is an irresistible act, but one that is difficult to get just right. Metal has an equally important role in LIT, and putting these two materials – metal and glass – together without forcing the complex relationship between the two, this is what LIT is all about. Then bringing technology to this act – to produce artificial light – is another layer which must be done with great subtlety, to preserve the beauty of the original idea.
If you were to give your younger selves advice in regards to a career in product design what would it be?
An important detail is that neither of us (Karen or Paul) went to school for a formal education in “product design”. It is a reminder that design is a wide and far-reaching field, and knowing how to design or make one thing can inform how to design or make another. One’s younger years are the time to expose one’s self to as many experiences as possible, to build a foundation, so that later on when you are focusing on mastering things, you will have that varied experience to draw upon. You also need to understand how things are made in order to produce successful designs, so investing in that understanding, and investing in learning how to make yourself, is invaluable.
VIEW ALL SKLO PRODUCTS HERE.