Founded by Charlie and Kevin Dumais in 2017, Dumais Made is a pottery studio that goes beyond the basic bowls and mugs. Specializing in handmade lamps inspired by modernist sculpture, they’ve quickly become an industry favorite, sought after by top designers and collectors alike. They’ve just launched an e-commerce site, making their lighting and select accessories easier to access than ever. Today, we’re paying a virtual visit to the Connecticut studio where it all happens. Who better to tell us the story of Dumais Made than the the couple themselves?
We’d love to know more about your backgrounds. How did you first get involved in pottery and lighting design?
Kevin: I met my husband. Really though, I’ve had my interior design practice for 10 years. I have always loved ceramics, pottery, and lamps.
Charlie: When we met, I counted the ceramics he had in his studio apartment. I think there were 12 vases and over 20 candle sticks.
K: I also love chairs.
C: I think Kevin has a really refined eye. He can see how very small details or shifts in scale can elevate a piece. His aesthetic has certainly helped shape my own. I took wheel throwing as an elective in college and I also studied interior design. I enjoyed the juxtaposition between the immediate satisfaction of creating something three dimensional while on the flip side, designing hypothetical spaces on paper. I worked for an interdisciplinary studio out of school that focused on interior renovations and light fixture design (think le-Klint style drum shades folded and tabbed out of single sheets of paper). It was the latter that really inspired my interest in lighting design…testing forms and materials over different lamp sources, seeing which sources created softness or shadow and which materials best filtered or altered light. I guess it was then that I fell in love with the idea of light as an object but was also interested in exploring how that object and other sources of light work to define and transform space.
K: While we were dating a few friends of mine asked if we wanted to take a pottery class at Greenwich House, wheel throwing. None of us had ever done it.
C: I mentioned I threw in school but at this point it had been nearly 10 years so…
K: Needless to say, he was throwing tall pieces day one and the rest of us were struggling with centering.
C: Centering is tough.
K: At the time, Charlie mentioned he wanted to try hand-building.
C: Aside from making pinch-pots and coil pots in high school I never explored other methods.
K: Around the time we got married I bought Charlie hand-building classes at a studio in our neighborhood and he was hooked.
Tell us about your lightbulb moment (no pun intended). When did you first start Dumais Made, and what inspired your first collection?
K: We started Dumais Made around 2017. We didn’t really have a plan, but I had been using Charlie’s pieces, first in photoshoots and then started selling them to clients.
C: It was an experiment. It was an outlet for me and a way for us to collaborate without making too big a commitment. I was happy if I sold enough to cover the expense and I was thrilled that Kevin was so supportive.
K: One day we were shopping in New Preston and I saw an antique Japanese lamp. I turned to Charlie and said: “You could make that”.
C: So, I made a similar lamp and that was it. Our first lamp was created, aptly named the New Preston lamp. Along with that lamp I made 3 others that became our first collection. Each was inspired by a person or a place we had been. We were spending a lot of time in and around Litchfield and that had a big effect on the aesthetic, color choices and form.
How has your business evolved? You’ve just launched an e-commerce site, correct?
K: Soon after we started the business I was asked to contribute to an article about “what every room needs”. I would always say the perfect table lamp or a piece of unique pottery so then I thought about Dumais Made. We didn’t have a website, or photographs of the pieces and only a few days to put something together if we wanted to suggest something of ours.
C: So, I quickly shot the lamps and accessories we had. I created a simple placeholder website that said, “coming soon” and an Instagram account. I posted a few lamps and accessories.
K: Within a week we got a message through IG from Bruce Glickman of George Home CT in Washington Depot. I was a fan of his store Duane in NYC and thrilled he had a store near our place in CT. Bruce was interested in seeing the pottery. He visited our garage studio shortly after and offered to host a pop up at George. After that we were approached by 1st Dibs and launched on their platform in the new year. That pop up at George was a real turning point and we are very grateful to Bruce and 1st Dibs.
C: From the start I was making all the pieces in a pottery studio on the Upper East Side. It’s a teaching studio that had about 100 students. We shared tools, glazes and 2 kilns. I worked during class time and on the weekends, but there were a lot of factors out of my control. It was great to have mentors and no overhead, but it wasn’t sustainable if this were to become a legit business.
K: We turned our detached garage into a small showroom and finishing studio. This is where we would fit the lamps for shades and wire them. And by 2018 we were getting more inquiries, designers wanting to come see the pieces and our studio.
C: We started investigating what it would take to actually turn our 300 square foot garage into a working studio and then by chance, a friend and artist who had a studio space in Bantam, who knew we were in need of studio space, connected us with the Bantam Arts Factory.
K: It suddenly seemed easier to move the operation out of the city and our house to a location that was accessible, commercial, and not our home.
C: The Bantam Arts Factory was originally a carriage factory and then an electric switch factory. Now its divided into artist studio spaces.
K: We saw a few smaller spaces and then the one we eventually took. Its roughly 1000 square feet with original factory windows on the top floor. Its south facing and on the river. I knew immediately this was the space.
C: I was willing to take a damp windowless unit in the cellar.
K: We signed the lease in November of 2018 and officially opened the studio in March of 2019. It took a while to get the space together but by late winter/early spring the studio was operational, and we were in business. 2019 was a big year. We opened the studio, started showing lamps in FAIR (Brad Ford’s Showroom in NYC) in 100 Main (Bunny Williams Store in Falls Village) and participated in Field and Supply. We feel really blessed to have had so much interest and support.
C: 2020 has also been a big year. We planned for me to leave my position as principal of the lighting design company I was with and shift to working with Kevin and spending more time at the studio. The pandemic pressed fast forward, and I left my firm and began working full time at the studio.
Let’s take a virtual tour of the studio! Could you “walk us” through the space and explain a bit about the design?
K: The factory is in Bantam, CT, part of Litchfield where our home is. Our studio is one large open loft space with Southern exposure. The ceilings and windows are original.
C: The windows never had shades, so the studio was basically a greenhouse. Shades were the first things we installed.
K: The space had previously been a dance studio, and was colorful, so we painted the walls and floors white to brighten it up and installed French doors to make it more inviting. ½ of the space operates as my interior design office and a showroom. We display the ceramics and furniture I have designed and been collecting over the years. Some is sourced for current clients and the rest I collect for future projects or to sell in the studio. The other half is Charlie’s ceramic studio.
C: We were lucky the space wasn’t in too rough shape. We spent a few weeks removing detritus from the ceilings and walls and installed the kiln, sinks, shelving, and lighting.
K: Aside from the natural light, the best feature of the space is the sound of the river. It is very peaceful.
What is a typical day like in the studio?
C: I’m still a bit of a kid on Christmas morning the minute I come in. I usually immediately crack the kiln and if it is cool enough, I open it to check on the pieces and see the result. Sometimes I get coal, and then I pout.
K: We keep a detailed production schedule, so in addition to a weekly meeting with our sales manager, we review the schedule each morning and adjust accordingly.
C: One half of the day is typically spent wedging clay and rolling slabs. I use the slabs to cut templates of the pieces I plan to build the following day or that afternoon. Once the templates are cut, they are wrapped and stored so they dry enough for assemblage. Any flat, planar lamps and candle sticks generally rest for 24 hours before I build them. If I am building cylindrical pieces, I will keep templates unwrapped and build in a few hours.
K: I focus on running the interior design studio and field inquiries for custom pieces or orders.
C: Once the kiln is unloaded the pieces are inspected for any cracks or irregularities. If they are good to go, they are glazed. Depending on the piece or combination of glazes, they may be glazed one day and then the final glaze gets added the following day. The glazes are applied by dipping the pieces or pouring glaze over them.
K: Charlie generally looks to me for input on which glazes or combinations to use and for approval of finished pieces.
C: If I’m not happy with a piece, I know right away, and it gets discarded. There is a level of imperfection that adds character, and then there is the kind that is distracting.
K: I hate seeing him throw any piece away.
C: My mother would say I lack sentiment, but the truth is, as a potter you cannot be sentimental. Clay has a mind of its own.
What do you have planned next for the business?
K: With the launch of the e-commerce site Charlie has been focusing on creating inventory for the product on the website and I am helping to manage the launch of future product we have been working on. I have also been designing fully custom shades with a manufacturer in NYC.
C: This Fall we will be debuting our hardwired pendants and sconces as well as an artist collaboration we worked on with the gilder Carol Leskanic. Carol is our neighbor at the studio and during the early days of the pandemic we started working on a series of pieces that Carol gilt in 12 karat gold. We are also designing a new fixture together, which is exciting. Her work is incredible.
K: UL Listing is also next. All fittings are UL approved but we have started the process of becoming UL listed so we can offer fully UL listed items in house as an option.
C: Maybe another kiln.
K: Maybe a full-time assistant.
We have to ask — do you have any favorite pieces?
K: They are all like my children.
C: Our children.
K: I love the Truro lamp; it was one of Charlies early pieces. It has the most movement and feels the most sculptural.
C: It was sort of a happy accident. I made it, early on, before I really understood clay. I created this intense wood and taped structure to keep the leaves rigid and perfectly straight as it dried. Then in the bisque firing the leaves curved and turned and leaned clockwise. It became further exaggerated in the glaze firing.
K: They almost always turn clockwise so from the top the lamp looks like a propeller. Its graceful and the one lamp that he makes where each one feels completely unique.
C: I had to learn to embrace that it would turn in the firings and do its own thing. I do love when its glazed in matte black and lead. In that combination it looks like metal.
K: Charlie also makes little trays and containers and catchalls with slab remnants from the larger pieces he makes.
C: Every time I make one Kevin immediately asks, “Is that for me?”. Its cute, and encouraging he still likes my pottery.
Start the slideshow for a look inside the studio, and visit Dumais Made virtually here.