Walk onto the fourth floor of the Schoolhouse factory and you’ll enter a real, honest-to-goodness manufacturing center. Workers in full-body coveralls push around carts full of parts from station to station. One rack might have a dozen tubular Landau Lamp shades awaiting a dip in the patina bath. Another might have row after row of spherical Studio Floor Lamp shades uniformly lined up to dry.
A major portion of this floor is dedicated to part finishing, which includes painting, lacquering, patina, and powder coating. This is generally the last collection of processes necessary to complete before products are assembled elsewhere in the factory and shipped out to customers. Since many products use multiple types of finish in conjunction, a single component, such as a light shade, can take up to seven days of work to complete. But keeping these processes in-house is another way that we can keep every detail meeting our exacting standards. Below, we’ve pulled the curtain back on our factory processes to give you an idea of how much work goes into achieving a perfect finish.
Paint is handy because the color and finish options are extremely flexible. Paint also provides a protective coating to help keep the underlying material in the best shape possible. Sergeant Green, Industrial Yellow, Factory White—these are just some of the custom colors that Schoolhouse has created to give products a distinctive visual identity.
Getting a coat of paint to lay correctly is more labor intensive than you might expect. The parts must be totally clean and free of dust or debris. The surfaces receiving paint must be appropriately prepped with buffing or sandblasting. Then, workers must mask off every surface that isn’t receiving paint. Many items get a coat of primer to provide a perfect surface to which the paint can bond. Spraying an even layer that doesn’t run or bead is a skill that takes practice. Fixtures such as our Factory Lights also receive hand-painted detailing for extra precision.
Powder coating serves a similar function to paint in that it provides a beautiful finish and protects the product from the elements. The main tradeoff between paint and powder coating is that while powder coating is more labor intensive, it also provides a stronger finish. For products that might potentially be used outside or that will receive substantial wear and tear over their lifespan, powder coating is usually the preferred finish.
Powder coating starts with a very fine powder that’s made of synthetic, plastic-like compounds. This powder sticks to the part via static electricity. Once the part being powder coated has a uniform coating, it’s baked at 400 degrees in a massive, walk-in oven. This melts the powder, which then coats the part in a thin film. When the part cools, this film hardens into a complete coating that protects the part from the elements.
Almost every brass part that ends up in a Schoolhouse product must receive a trip to the patina bath. Patina is a process that mimics the natural aging of brass, allowing the “cooks” (our informal title for patina station workers) to determine the final color of the metal.
The patina station is made of several pools of different chemical solutions and rinsing baths. All of these baths help to prepare the parts for the final bath, which is the actual patina solution. In the patina bath, a number of chemical compounds attach to the brass. The longer the part stays in the patina bath, the darker it will become. However, the patina bath has its limits. If a part stays in the bath too long, it will actually start to weaken and corrode.
The cook leaves the part in the patina bath until the desired color has been achieved, at which point the part is rinsed, and hand-dried. It’s extremely important to dry the part as quickly as possible and to completely avoid touching it with bare hands. Any moisture or oils from a person’s hands can leave marks on the part and change the patina. Finally, the part is sent off to the lacquer station.
The lacquer station is the final stop for all brass parts as well as parts that require a coating to protect the underlying finish, such as the Polished Aluminum for The Donna Collection. While the part will often continue to change slightly in color over time, lacquer controls the process and protects the metal from oils, water, and other forces that could change the aging process. Lacquer, like paint, is applied with a spray gun. Unlike paint, it’s not easy to see the lacquer on the final part. The coating is designed to bring out and protect the natural qualities of the metal without being the focus itself.
Keeping these processes in-house is a lot of work in terms of logistics and physical labor. But having that level of control is necessary when you want to make heirloom-quality goods. At the end of the day, we feel that the results speak for themselves.