Art doesn’t always have to hang on a wall or sit on a shelf. It can tell time, block the afternoon sun, keep you warm or serve pupu for a party. Meet 10 Island artisans who create stunning, functional pieces for the home.
Somace Lifestyle, pillows and upholstery
One look at Kaypee Soh’s pillows and you’ll spot his background in fashion. “It’s artwork first,” says Soh, who has done fashion campaigns for L’Oréal USA, Stella McCartney and other designers. “I design individual pillows. I don’t create yards and yards of material and then [mass] produce them.” Soh’s fabric designs—contemporary Pacific and tropical— are printed in Washington, four to 20 at a time, and sewn locally by a seamstress. The feather and down pillows, $120 each, have two sides, with two unique but complementary designs, and Soh’s signature is a red zipper hidden on one of the pillow’s sides. Soh’s foray into home décor resulted in So’mace Lifestyle storefront in 2004, a combination of his and the company’s managing director, Edward Macey’s, names. So’mace is also eco-friendly, using fabric from natural and organic fibers and dying them with natural inks.
In addition to his colorful nature-inspired pillows, Soh also creates upholstery designs for lampshades and chairs (chairs starting at $1,428), which are then handcrafted in California. He hopes to one day produce them locally. He also puts his photography skills to work to create art for the home with printed and canvas plant-life photos. Soh and Macey liken their design philosophy to that of a woman accessorizing her little black dress; the wall art is like jewelry and the pillows are like a handbag. 1115 Young St., 593-8780, www.somacedesign.com.
Jane Raissle is nationally known for her fused glassware; her work is recognized not only in local exhibitions but in galleries as far away as Kentucky in the Louisville Visual Art Association—for which only 14 artists are chosen nationwide. Although Raissle’s day job is as a reading specialist at Assets School, she spends her evenings and spare time creating colorful vases, Asian-style platters with upturned corners and her personal favorite, reflective bowls.
Raissle begins with sheet glass that she melts onto wire mesh over her kiln or through a flowerpot suspended over a shelf. The liquid then flows out of the pot and spreads onto the tilted shelf below; the different colors create different patterns and flow at different rates. Once the glass cools, Raissle then cuts selected pieces from the glass puddles into strips and molds them to become the focal point of the pieces. “I have more control with fusing the glass than a glassblower does,” she explains. “I play with the design and shape and mold the glass until I’m satisfied with it.” Raissle says she adds at least one transparent piece to the ware so people don’t mistake it for clay. Lastly, it is fired multiple times in a kiln where it takes its permanent shape. Her pieces range in price from $45 to $600 based on the size and design. “I hope that when people buy my pieces they won’t be afraid to use them,” she says. “I like that they enjoy looking at them, but also want them to interact with them in their home.” 254-4239, www.janeraissleglass.com.
David Reisland Fine Furniture, wood furniture
David Reisland comes from five generations of woodworkers, including a great-great grandfather who was a craftsman in Germany. Reisland started with a career in construction before turning to furniture exclusively in 1986. Two years later he moved from the Mainland to Hawaii; the Big Island has been his home and inspiration ever since. “I pick up ideas from everywhere,” says Reisland. “In architecture, plants, Japanese décor, you name it.” He starts off creating a small-scale sketch of his idea, and then draws it full scale on cardboard with chalk to balance out the front and side dimensions. The rest of the process entails what he calls “wingin’ it.”
“I rarely do detailed blueprints [of the piece],” he says. “I start itching to work with the wood.” He’s created everything from dining room sets, to office desks and chairs, to headboards and entertainment centers—the majority made with local koa and mango wood and ranging in price from $3,200 to $20,000. “The wood tells me what to do, its inclusions or special marks give me ideas, especially with koa.” His work has won awards at the Hawaii Forestry Industry Association’s annual wood shows.
Among Reisland’s specialties are his custom jewelry cabinets. “I created them in response to women’s needs for a place for their extensive amounts of jewelry,” he laughs. He notes that the average jewelry box never seems to hold all the jewelry many women acquire, not to mention in an orderly fashion. So Reisland designed a 5-foot-tall cabinet on legs with enough space for necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets, starting at $7,000. 87-459 Kaohe Mauka Road, Captain Cook, 808-328-1500, www.davidreisland.com.
An active quilter in the 200-member Hawaii Quilt Guild—Charlene Hughes stands apart from the rest. “Most of the quilters are traditional and they follow a pattern,” she says. “At the end of the quilt meetings we have a show-and-tell … and if it varies from the pattern, or is a little strange or a little bit arty, they say, ‘This is a Charlene quilt.’ I wish I could crawl under my chair!”
Hughes made her first quilt in the 1980s as an anniversary present for her parents. Quilting resources were scarce on Maui at the time so Hughes taught herself to quilt from the library’s two lone books on the subject and started the Maui Quilt Guild 10 years later. She moved to Oahu in 2000.
Hughes went from using patterns and hand stitching all of her quilts to creating the designs herself and using a sewing machine. Hughes paints and dies her fabrics, and even incorporates transferred photographs into her quilts.
Most of her art quilts are featured in local galleries and range from $500 to $600. Two of Hughes’ quilts were even included in “Quilts for Obama: An Exhibit Celebrating the Inauguration of Our 44th President,” an exhibit in Washington, D.C. “I’m passionate for people to see quilts not just as bed covers, not just as blankets, but also as fiber art up on the wall,” she says. Call Hughes at 595-3416 for gallery showings, or visit www.hawaiicraftsmen.org/CharleneHughes.htm.
Chase Designs, wood dial clocks
Frank Chase’s all-wood, entirely handcrafted clocks do more than tell time, they aid in the celestial mapping of Mercury. “I have a lot of New Age friends who are always talking about the planets,” he laughs. His dial clocks, 24-inches in diameter, are “handless,” the Roman numeral dial rotating to the top once every 24 hours to indicate the time. The Mercury clocks come complete with a small metal globe of Mercury, the large dial turning every 88 days, “the time it takes Mercury to rotate around the sun,” says Chase. The smaller dial to the right tells time.
PHOTO: Courtesy of FRANK CHASE
One look at a Chase clock and you’ll see its intricate design. “It takes me two months per clock,” say Chase, “and I make all the pieces, except for the chain, which I used to also make,” he says. He uses koa wood for dials and inlays, fashions pulleys out of ebony and uses cocobolo for the chain wheels. The clock frames and shafts are made out of English walnut, which he dyes black.
His current series ranges from $6,000 to $10,000. Chase sells primarily to clock collectors. “These clocks provide interaction with their owners,” he says. “Making them soothes my soul.” Chase has been making clocks since 1976 at his studio on the Big Island, where he also handcrafts furniture, wood motors and harmonographs—wood pendulums that create geometric designs. HCR3, P.O. Box 13561, Keaau, 808-756-6212, www.chasedesigns.com.
Terri & Greg Lee
1st Look Exteriors, indoor/outdoor decor
At 1st Look Exteriors, husband and wife Greg and Terri Lee both have backgrounds in horticulture and a knack for being resourceful and eco-conscious. Their Waipio outdoor furniture and décor showroom exemplifies their love of nature as well as art. The couple specializes in living vases—square or rectangular ceramic vases planted with small, drought-hardy plants (starting at $45). Think Chia Pet, but more abstract and with succulents. “A lot of people tell me, ‘I don’t have a green thumb, I have a black thumb,’” says Terri. “Then, this is the perfect plant for you; just water it once every two weeks.”
Greg’s outdoor landscape lights and water features complement the indoor décor. The glass for the lights and tops of the water features are fired in a kiln and fused by Greg himself. “The water features contain 90 percent recycled art glass,” he says. “So instead of working with new sheets of glass, we came up with a design using recycled glass so it’s zero waste.”
The water features, akin to a small enclosed fountain, are also ecofriendly, using less than a gallon of water recycled by pump. They start at $1,175. Greg also creates living walls: plants grown on a grid pattern of 2-foot-by-2-foot cells, equipped with an internal water drip system and lighting. 94-422 Ukee St., Suite 3, in the Waipio Gentry, 676-8988., www.1stlookexteriors.com.
Concreations, concrete countertops
Most people think of using concrete for sidewalks. But for John Foley, it also makes a tasteful, durable countertop. “In building my own house I decided to do concrete counters, something I’ve been wanting to do for years and years,” says Foley. After designing red kitchen countertops and blue ones in his bathrooms in his Kailua home, he decided to expand his company, John Foley Construction, by founding Concreations, which makes custom concrete countertops (starting at $100 per square foot).
“I’m a concrete geek,” he laughs. “The more I work with it, the more I appreciate it.” Foley is able to match virtually any paint color by mixing pigment into the concrete. He then pours the concrete into custom plywood or Plexiglas molds on top of the counters, often placing inlays, such as shells, colorful tiles or even semiprecious gemstones.
“Every time I do a piece and try something new, it opens up new possibilities,” he says. 1397 Nanialii St., Kailua, 754-7223, www.concreationshawaii.com.
Glass Rainbows, stained-glass windows
Annalee Jones took her first stained-glass class when her husband prodded her to join him. “Long story short, he didn’t like it and I just loved it,” she says. Jones was an art major in school but had spent the previous 30 years working with computers. “All of a sudden I could use my art skills that I hadn’t used in a long time.” When her company downsized and her husband passed away, she turned her rekindled passion for art into a stained-glass-window business, establishing Glass Rainbows in 1995.
Jones starts by visiting a client’s home or business, drawing window designs and then returning with glass samples. “I work with them in choosing the glass colors and textures, keeping in mind how much visibility and light they want.” Jones creates another drawing on her computer and prints out the full-size design, copying it onto heavy paper and later gluing it on the glass.
“Each sheet of glass has a lot of variations in it,” she says. “We also look at the [pattern] flow of the glass.”
Jones keeps an inventory of $25,000 worth of large glass sheets, all handmade, from China, France, Germany, England and the U.S. She primarily makes entryway, bathroom, stairwell and skylight windows, specializing in native Hawaiian plants and ocean scenes. Each window takes about two months to complete; prices range from $125 to $1,000 per square foot. 47-376 Lulani St., Kaneohe, 239-7978, www.glassrainbows.net.
Paradise Lights, copper light fixtures
What started out as frustration over a lack of locally made light fixtures turned into a profitable business for Leighton Lam. Lam and his wife, Lani, were nearing completion on their three-story custom home and studio for Lam’s jewelry line, but they fruitlessly hunted for Island-themed outdoor entryway lights. “None [of the lights we saw] felt Hawaiian enough,” says Lam. “So, being an artist, I thought, ‘I’ll just make my own.’”
His first light-fixture designs were of heliconias and waves, and, after friends and contractors pressed him to make lights for their homes as well, he seized the opportunity and created Paradise Lights in 1992.
While Lam says the complete process for making the lights is a trade secret, he starts by creating detailed drawings of the different design elements of each light. The drawings are then transferred in a metal cutting process to create a design template. The designs are cut into copper, brass, aluminum or stainless steel—copper being the most popular. “We want the lights to last forever. Copper will last longer than any metal in Hawaii,” says Lam. To get the green effect of the lights, Lam uses an industrial-based exterior paint, and, for an aged look, simply puts the fixtures in his swimming pool for three days.
Paradise Lights come in five different designs, each created with a left and right side. The fixtures are sold as a set for $680 or a single side for $350 and come in three different sizes, with a fourth size scheduled to be available soon. 4974 Poola St., 373-3317, www.paradiselights.com.