This year marks the 15th anniversary for Schoolhouse, and this milestone has put us in the mood to celebrate everything that brought us here. Many factors contribute to making a company like this possible—more than could ever be quickly named. But a good way to map what the company is today is to look at the tastes, passions, and beliefs of Brian Faherty, the man who founded the company.
When you look at the employee culture, the design-driven aesthetic, and the commitment to getting small details exactly right, it’s easy to see his influence in every facet of Schoolhouse. Director of Operations Andrew Bohl, one of Schoolhouse’s longest tenured employees, puts it another way: “Brian’s singular specificity of detail is what has brought all this growth and opportunity for so many. His tastes have been what have driven the success.”
Brian, who founded the company in 2003, probably couldn’t have predicted the business growth that’s happened over all these years, in part because many of his goals for Schoolhouse related to the culture of the company he wanted to create, not just its unfettered expansion. “I wanted to create a place where people felt safe and appreciated, which isn’t always easy to do” says Brian. “There’s value to what a small group of people can do together.”
To this day, Schoolhouse is a family-owned business that is run completely without outside equity or venture capital funding. Employee engagement remains Schoolhouse’s number one company goal. Diversity has always been a key component of our culture at Schoolhouse and our employees here have been making important contributions since the beginning. Currently, more than 25% of the Schoolhouse workforce was born in a country other than the United States. Working with the Portland chapter of IRCO (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization) Schoolhouse has hired over 100 immigrants and refugees since 2004, including some who have been with the company for over 10 years now. As we continue down our path of growth, we will always be a company driven by a people-first culture.
Of course, every company needs something to sell. Many customers and Schoolhouse employees know the story of how Brian found cast iron lamp shade molds in a warehouse in upstate New York, and how the restoration of these molds ultimately led to the founding of the company.
That story tells how Schoolhouse was started, but it doesn’t tell why. For Brian, much of the initial inspiration for the products he wanted to create came from his time working as a real estate broker who also helped to steward clients through renovations and DIY improvements. This work honed his passion for helping old spaces come to life. However, he also found that the ubiquity of big box retailers was also leaving his clients with limited options.
“I enjoy putting things back in a house or commercial space that can stand the test of time, to return something permanent to the space,” says Brian. “Here in the Pacific Northwest, we spend a lot of time in our homes, so the lighting becomes even more important. How can we provide lighting that enhances the home that they’re spending so much time in?”
Brian’s personal design preferences inflect every collection at Schoolhouse. The Schoolhouse aesthetic—which could be described as a pastiche of industrial artifacts, mid-century furnishings, and hand-crafted lighting that encompasses traditional and modern styles—can be traced back to Brian’s relationship with the buildings he helped to renovate earlier in his career. An archivist by nature, Brian is known to hold on to things that come in the buildings he works on. For him, preserving artifacts that belonged in a space helps provide a path to what the space will ultimately become.
“I’m always fighting to keep the soul of a space. I like when a building has a sense of what it was originally intended to be. We’re not trying to white wash everything, I like the sense of being. I love being challenged by design and architecture,” he says.
While Schoolhouse has expanded its product offerings over time, lighting remains one of Brian’s most fervent passions. Executing a complex vision is the hard part. Having a great deal of control over every detail has always been the way Schoolhouse has accomplished this. “I like the idea of a vertically integrated business because the more things you have control over in house, the essence of whatever you’re making will be stronger,” says Brian.
We still keep almost every aspect of the business under one roof. Products are designed, prototyped, painted, sewed, assembled, packaged, marketed, and shipped from our Portland Factory and showroom. Even our customer service is done in house, meaning our customers always have access to people who can witness our product first hand.
“That’s the thing no one else has that we have. I’m not concerned about someone coming along and stealing our model because no one would ever do something this hard. But how we are manufacturing and what we are creating here in the U.S. is worth it.”
As important as Brian’s vision has been, no business can function, let alone find success, without people who are enthusiastic about what the company brings to their world. Brian credits our social media community for bringing #schoolhouseliving into their homes.
“Once people started taking pictures of our products in their homes and businesses, a whole new thing opened up,” says Brian. “Our customers are stewards of our brands and our products. Their homes and their looks, they outdo us! That’s pretty cool.” The last decade and a half of Schoolhouse has brought incredible opportunities and milestones, along with more memorable moments than we could name. And 2018 isn’t even over yet. Keep watching because there's more Schoolhouse coming you way in just a few short months.
On behalf of everyone here at Schoolhouse, thanks for being part of this journey.