From Artist Studio to Belfast Bay Shade Company
Recently Belfast Bay Shade Company expanded to include online sales. We asked founder Dina Petrillo to share with us her story on changing over from artist to producing artisanal shades.
Who we are
Belfast Bay Shade Company is a small and quickly growing artisanal workshop that specializes in fine art lampshades and lighting located on the top floor of the historic Belfast post office. Since debuting their etching press-printed botanical shades at the New York International Gift Fair in 2013, the husband and wife team of printmaker and electrician Dina Petrillo and Ryan Herz have diversified their menu of shade designs, lamps and fixtures; and adapted their original prints to create a line of linen shades in dozens of colors and motifs in an array of sizes from tiny drums for wall sconces and vanities, to portable table and floor lamps, to pendants that range in complexity from mega drum chandeliers to simple swag cord and track installation.
While Belfast Bay’s own line of hand-crafted black and malleable iron portable lamps and fixtures adds a contemporary industrial counterpoint to softer botanical shade designs, it has developed a unique shade construction that works with commercial and up-cycled lamps as well as the lamp designs of local artisans in wood, ceramic and glass. Petrillo and Herz welcome collaborations with designers. Belfast Bay shades can be found locally in Maine galleries, gift shops, lighting and interior design showrooms spanning Portland to Mount Desert Island; in more than a dozen U.S. cities; and towns and as far away as Mantova, Italy.
Getting started on Etsy
Deciding to sell with Etsy and getting the store up and running didn’t happen overnight. Like everything else we do, it’s been a slow and circuitous journey, it’s demanded we know ourselves better as a company – where we’ve come from, what it is we do best and who we want to be in a year, 5 and 10 years down the road. I’ve been a studio artist and teacher for most of my adult life, so starting a design and manufacturing biz, wasn’t necessarily what I thought I’d be doing in my 50s, and like many of us who’ve moved here from away, we are present-ed with the dubious good fortune of having to be very flexible about how we make our livings outside of metropolitan centers. And as it turns out we’ve come to the right place …Maine’s long history of folks – who by choice or by circumstance, by hook or by crook make their ways doing a quilt work of jobs to get by. What at first produces endless frustration, can, over time reveal opportunities. I was careful to say dubious, because next steps in the journey are often unclear and the experience is more akin to turning into a skid as you find yourself careening off a familiar career path into a wilderness.
So if you can’t do what you think you should be doing, or what you’ve been trained to do…you end up doing what you’d do anyway…I mean as a person, not as a profession. And because I make things, love to make NEW things and love doing it with other people, Belfast Bay Shades or something like it was inevitable. After working out of the of the Belfast post office studio for 8 years as a sculptor and printmaker, it was my husband Ryan, an electrician with Revision Energy, who pressed for making something practical from all the “experimentation” that was going on – material permutations and various art forms and it was really his vision for transforming prints into functional ware – items that had utility…something people could USE that propelled us forward.
Our product, specifically lamp shades and then lighting has, in the truest sense of the word, grown organically and has meant broadening our knowledge base into fields, that while capitalizing on our individual disciplinary strengths has meant reaching outside our comfort zones for what we think is a fresh fusion of function and design. It’s also meant recognizing we couldn’t do it alone and we’ve put together a great team of in-studio makers for production, product development and marketing. We are now a team of 5, and interestingly all of us are either farmers or have a direct link to agriculture, the flexibility of our production schedule also means we can work with folks for whom traditional jobs would be prohibitive because of childcare and the demands of tending farms. Big shout out to Sarah Bicknell of Buckle Farm in Unity, Ashley Messner of Ewald Farm and Jessica Bickis at Chases Daily in Belfast.
While we knew we needed a larger on-line presence, making the leap was considerable. Like many cottage industries here in Maine, our focus is on the making process itself and making the best product possible. We knew initially that introducing our product to the marketplace would have to be up close and personal so that folks could experience our lampshades – our materials and the details of construction and since we launched the company in NYC in January 2013 all of our marketing has been done in person either with buyers for retail shops, designers or with end users – home-owner or whomever is placing our shades and lamps in homes, restaurants, offices, hotels, retail shops or showrooms.
Our web presence and focus on on-line marketing has been very thin so we feel really fortunate when someone does reach out to us because they’ve seen us in a home or store window (or stumbled on our website) For instance, when Ginny Wright, a senior editor from Down East contacted and said she’d like to do an interview…my first response was “really?” do you know how tiny we are? We haven’t even been in business for two years….how on earth did you find us?” And in fact she had seen us locally at Maine Gathering in Camden and at the Farnsworth in Rockland and we are grateful for the magazine’s commitment to searching out small businesses to bring them visibility. Because the ground swell of support we’ve received has been local, it has allowed us to respond with designs for custom work that has in each case expanded our designs and lighting applications while hearing feedback from those return customers we are so grateful to.
In all it has bolstered our enthusiasm and resolve to bring our product to a wider audience and marketplaces like Etsy, and joining the Etsy marketplace is the direct result of encouragement from Patricia Shea of Patricia Shea Designs. As the Maine group leader for Etsy crafters, she has supported numerous local crafters in getting their goods to market. Etsy while having a vast customer reach, operates in many ways like a shop, studio or showroom you walk into and creates a space for you to share who you are, how you make what you make and who you do it with.
We decided on Etsy because they are a marketplace where you can search for specific items like lampshades and lighting and home décor. If you are a new business like ours, it is unlikely that a visitor will seek you out by name, but will discover you by posted items and then visit your store to see more and learn about who you are. The Etsy interface is user-friendly and can be linked for easy sale and shipping while still allowing us to communicate directly with customers to answer specific questions about our product – explaining sizing, color and design options, and getting them the right attachments for the lamps that want to use our shades with.
Next Steps and the Etsy Gateway
Our next step with Etsy will be offering lamp bases and all kinds of lighting accessories so that really we can offer one-stop shopping. We’d like to begin offering coordinated fabrics for upholstery and window dressings and wallpaper as well. I think Etsy has done a great job of offering the small artisan, specifically those geographically remote from market centers an opportunity to showcase products with a relatively low investment threshold to get underway. From the standpoint of stimulating the local economy overall, shops like ours bring an awareness and visibility to the kinds of amazing talents of artisans here in Belfast, the mid coast region and Maine. We’d like to look at coordinated marketing hubs for selling works across craft disciplines that have a focus on fine home décor and well-made and unusual design accessories that are affordable and accessible.
For us it is also a great way to show off the local collaborations we have with crafts people like Bill Sanborn of Bar Harbor Woodworks, Locust Grove Woodworks, and seamstress Melanie Cole of Thorndike, while conversations are opening up for working with local ceramic and glass artist about developing unique designs for lamp bases and fabric accessories. Being small and being a hands-on print workshop allows us to be flexible and generate new designs to customize for the individual end user while developing new products with an appeal for a larger global market.
We also have a commitment to sourcing as many of the materials we use domestically, and while making a lampshade that can work with commercially manufactured lighting, our hope is that by opening markets for our products and those of other artisans we can stimulate more investment in local design and manufacturing and increase our capacity to meet what we confidently foresee is a growing demand for well-made and innovative products that are produced here in Maine.
In closing, it seems prudent to say that what makes Etsy a promising threshold, is also its detractor, it is an un-curated marketplace, so product can get lost amidst huge numbers of like items, and marketplaces with a more targeted focus may well be a better fit for us as we learn how and with whom we will do best. I do think Etsy, for us is a gateway and a way to test products and markets as we continue to explore other selling venues and collaborations with makers…it’s a beginning.
Want a bricks and mortar storefront?
Visit these Maine Stores for Shades:
Yo Mamma’s – Belfast
Northern Lights – Belfast
Richard Parks – Ellsworth
Spruce & Gussy – Bar Harbor
Kimbal Shop – Northeast Harbor
Maine Gathering – Camden
Farnsworth – Rockland
House of Lights – Scarborough