Not all small businesses have origin stories in three different cities, but that happens to be the case for L.A.-based ceramics company LGS Studio.
Thomas Renaud and Noel Hennessy first met in NYC a little over a decade ago, where they worked in the same neighborhood and rode the same subway. They met in L.A. a few years later and collaborated on art projects – Renaud focuses on ceramics while Hennessy comes from a painting background. Back then, it wasn't a business. It was all about collaboration.
After they moved to Portland, LGS Studio came to life. Now, the design and ceramic art studio has been operating out of Los Angeles for the past three years, creating functional art-like vessels, side tables, tableware, and, most recently, lighting.
But no matter the location, the duo continually explores how to create objects that combined their skill sets. They center their work around the idea of "New Relics" — items that feel somehow modern yet ancient at the same time. A lamp with a hand-tied raffia lamp shade and a textured base lends a sculptural twist to a lighting staple. It looks almost like something that you might discover out in nature. Studded pieces — like a planter made of 800 hand-applied studs — give off a more geological, futuristic look. A pendant light with a glass blown shade marries modern design with a timeless, cave-like feel.
"In the beginning, we were just focused on kind of making work and identifying sort of who we were, what we wanted to put out in the world," Renaud tells Hunker. "As that starts to grow and develop, the business side of things starts to kick in as more people are interested."
Their work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Sight Unseen, Forbes, and more. And while the studio has had interns in the past, right now they are still only a team of two. They ideate and create each piece from beginning to end; Renaud even does in-house wiring for their lighting pieces. They've spent many late nights trying to perfect their items. And they've used social media to get more eyes on what they do.
What they've seen is a kind of "slow growth" as Hennessy describes it.
"We started with one kiln in a basement studio of a home that we had, and turned that into an online business and a retail business to begin with," said Hennessy. "We started with small goods and tabletop and vases and things like that, always still trying to really have our own language in it and stay true to our design aesthetic."
During their time in Portland, Oregon, the duo also turned a garage into a gallery, showing their work to neighbors, friends, and strangers, alike.
About a year ago, the studio started getting more inquiries for hospitality projects. Connections with interior designers like Nicole Hollis have led to more commissions, both current and in the works. Most times, a designer would buy a piece or two and then approach the team for something bigger. LGS items are starting to make their way into hotels, giving the duo a different sense of creative accomplishment.
"We love the idea of kind of seeing our work in public," said Hennessy. "There's something really fulfilling about that. A lot of times we make work, [but] we don't get to see where it ends up or whose home it's in."
As the team starts to scale up, there are lots of challenges that arise as part of the growth. And part of being small business owners is the ability to stay flexible.
"You touch every single part ... You might focus in one area and all of a sudden you're putting on your accountant hat when you walk in in the morning, or you're putting on your marketing hat or you're putting on your design hat and it's just like constant evolution," said Renaud. " I feel like I'm reinventing myself every day."
Renaud said that in many ways, learning all these processes helps when small businesses start to scale, otherwise "it's hard to impress upon somebody what you actually want and what you need from them if you haven't done it yourself."
Another key part to evolving: patience.
"Things move slow, and come and go. You get excited and things might fall off your plate and actually not work," said Hennessy. "We've also had to learn to accept things that we put a lot of work into — whether that's creative meetings and creative decks and conversations — sometimes don't work out. You have to accept it."
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to scaling up in a small business comes with the risks you have to take, the duo said.
"Some of those things include having to figure out how to get bigger and better equipment and how to grow in that way," said Hennessy. "Expanding, investing back in our business — which is usually buying equipment, getting everything you need in line to be able to execute larger jobs ... kiln space is an issue as we grow. Everybody wants things bigger, so when you start to get asked for scale, it's really a challenge of how you put that in a kiln, and what size kiln."
When they're not working on the business, both Renaud and Hennessy still make an effort to nurture their own projects. Hennessy goes back to drawing and painting often, and also does styling and floral design (including projects for Hunker House!) while Renaud creates his own art as well. The duo recently moved to a new studio, giving them more space to create.
No matter the challenge, the creators keep each other inspired. At the end of the day, LGS Studio is where both of their creative minds can come together to create a piece that will soon find a new home.