As a business owner whose success revolves largely around exceptional client service, it’s exciting to collaborate with vendors who place the same value on a seamless customer experience. One such brand is The Urban Electric Co., whose heirloom-quality light fixtures have been adorning my designs for years, always lending the perfect balance of edge and sophistication. Based in Charleston, South Carolina, The Urban Electric Co. is dripping with old-school charm. Each of their exquisite fixtures are imagined, designed, and executed by a team of highly-skilled artisans, carefully crafting each piece to perfection. Leading the charge is The Urban Electric Co.’s Creative Director Michael Amato, who I am thrilled to say is my latest guest on The Finer Points. Keep reading to learn more about Michael’s creative process and what he foresees as ‘the next big thing’ in lighting.
Marie Flanigan: Serving as The Urban Electric Co.’s Creative Director must be a dream job! I would love to hear more about your career path and how it led you to where you are today.
Michael Amato: I’ve been involved with the arts, fashion, and interior design since ‘forever!’ I studied fashion design at Parsons and had a strong education in ﬁne arts before, always drawing and dabbling in painting. Interestingly, over college summer breaks and some weekends, I worked at a lighting store in town and was possibly the worst and most opinionated sales person — if i didn’t like it i couldn’t sell it. After school, I decided not to go into fashion design, but went into fashion marketing. Visual merchandising was a culmination of all of my interests and was ﬁlled with some of the most interesting people. I spent years moving up the corporate ladder in New England with G.Fox and then a well-known Hartford, Conn. department store. After they merged with Filenes, I became window director for the then downtown Boston store. I left to work brieﬂy with a New York design ﬁrm and then went on to freelance with Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman‘s home store, then a more permanent position with Bloomingdales, all the while helping friends pull together shops and working on projects with interior designer friends.
MF: You’ve been creative director for over a decade. Were you involved from the start and how has The Urban Electric Co. evolved over the years?
MA: I was with Urban from day one and even designed the logo. It’s been quite an exciting ride, amazing to watch and be a part of. It’s another spot where I get to dabble in all of my interests. We’ve evolved in so many ways — what and how we’re able to make things is the most signiﬁcant. Most pleasing to me is that, for as much as we’ve grown, we’ve been able to hold on to our original intent, which was to create a design-driven, business-backed company with amazing customer service. We’ve really created an environment that is inclusive, respectful and fair to all employees. A lot of this came to me from my retail background, knowing that good design lasts, and that we had to offer service on par with Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and L.L. Bean, mirroring the way they stand behind their goods. I know it sounds preachy, but its true. We worked towards all of this before it was hipster or trendy to make things.
MF: Of all the ﬁxtures you’ve designed, do you have a resounding favorite?
MA: I could say two! One is Chisholm Hall, which has inspired many installs and has become such a classic, which is a dream come true. The second is the Cosy, which was inspired by the early electric ﬁxtures and the ﬁne arts. Both still excite me when I visit the shop and see them coming through in inspired color and ﬁnish choices.
MF: From where do you draw inspiration for your designs?
MA: Everywhere — fashion, architecture, museums, friends. I start from many places, but always ask myself, “Do I want this? Do I need this?” It’s the Polly Mellen in my head.
MF: I had the pleasure of touring The Urban Electric Co. factory a few years back! It was so incredible to see the artisans at work. How are the brand’s southern roots woven into the craftsmanship and products?
MA: There’s a nostalgia to the south, rooted in tradition. It carries through to design, manners, code of conduct, and culture. Whether obvious or not, it can’t help but seep through daily. While we’re always looking forward, there’s an element of nostalgia to the product and the craftsmanship. It’s not every day or everywhere you see a group of people from all walks of life with varying interests and talents banding together to create something. With fewer factories in existence in the US, walking through and seeing people actually making things rings to me nostalgic.
MF: With such strong industry insight, what do you foresee as the next big lighting trend?
MA: I feel certain trends we’ve avoided stylistically at UECo are saturated in the market. I try to avoid being trendy. My goal is to have all of our designs be so classic that you can’t say it’s from a certain year or time period. My thoughts are a little more abstract, but I’d say a certain softness and diffusion are on the horizon. I went through a stage of really liking metal shades and I’d always loved solid paper shades. But lately I’m drawn to fabric shades that have a soft diffusion. Lately everything has been brass, brass, brass! It seems that once everything goes gold, it starts to go silver. Silver finishes are going to take the hot spot in the future, I think.
MF: Do you have a favorite new The Urban Electric Co. product?
MA: Cubism semi-flush mount checks a lot of boxes for me. I actually installed one myself over my bed and I love it!
MF: One of the many things we love about The Urban Electric Co. is that we have the ability to customize every detail. It’s a very special collaborative process that others in the industry don’t generally offer. How does your team balance custom craftsmanship, artistic vision, and customer service?
MA: It’s a part of our foundation, never wanting to set limitations. It’s one of the things we’ve improved upon through the years. Part of that comes from really spending time in the development process, resolving not just present but potential issues, and educating ourselves and our service teams along the way.
MF: What’s on the horizon for The Urban Electric Co.?
MA: We’re expanding the factory again, which is going to offer even more efﬁciencies and pleasantries to our daily lives. It can’t help but inﬂuence and impact our business in ways we haven’t even yet realized.
Thank you so much for joining me, Michael! Can’t wait to see the latest and greatest from your amazing team.