It can be said that with every creative couple, the ultimate dream is to one day collaborate and use their talents and ideas together to create something pretty special. Sean O’Neill and Armelle Bouchet O’Neill did exactly that with their genuine love of glass making. The O’Neills proudly run Studio Manufact and push themselves to the limits to perfect their craft and to supply well-designed glass products to their community. We received dozens of unique and clever entries for our annual Upcycling Design Challenge, yet it was Sean and Armelle’s Upcycling Glass Tumblers design that caught our eyes. The tumblers are sleek and simple, it’s a product that can be used everyday while still appreciating the actual design itself by not just looking at it, but holding it. Starting to design a new glass collection, the couple decided to scavenge glass bottles from around their neighborhood venues. Sean says, “It is really refreshing to create something unique out of something as ubiquitous as a beer bottle. We have been so encouraged by the positive response from our community that we are really excited to share our design with the wider world.” Meet The O’Neills, our Upcycled Design Challenge Winners.
What’s an Uncommon fact about you and your hometown?
Sean: I went to four different high schools in three different states.
Armelle: I grew up on a farm in the south of France. An uncommon fact about our neighborhood park is that it was designed by the Olmsted brothers, sons of the designer of Central Park. Seattle is covered in parks, over 10% of the city is either a park or open space.
Your Upcycled Glass Tumblers are an elegant and beautiful design, how did the idea of recycling bottles and to make them into a product come about?
Sean: I have been making a line of glasses I call “crinkle cups” for years, that design lent itself seamlessly to use recycled bottles as the starting point. We are planning to move into a new studio and bring our production capabilities in-house rather than continually handing over large sums of money to rent a studio for the hot glass component of our production. By designing objects that we can create using existing glass we can cut out the glass melting part of the equation. With the reclaimed bottles, we have a consistent supply of materials that would, otherwise, be destined for the waste stream. So it was a progression that came as a result of wanting to make affordable, unique designs that we could produce consistently and be able to offer them to a wider audience.
How long have you been working with glass?
Sean: I got into glass making in high school in 1997, I moved around quite a bit over the years, but I have found a way to work with glass everywhere I’ve lived since then.
Armelle: I started while I was a student in Art School in 2001 and fell in love with the material. A few years later, I went to school at the Danish Design School to specialize in glass and moved to Seattle in 2009.
Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
Armelle: We collect many objects for their texture, form and color that as inspiration for our fine art work and our business, Manufact. Working with materials and and refining processes also inspires us, so the more we work in the studio the more ideas we get. We are also really fortunate to share a space with over a dozen other makers. So being in that proximity to so many other creative people is very inspiring.
Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
Sean: Between making artwork, starting a new business and having a young family I can’t honestly say that downtime is a daily occurrence. But now that we have the wheels turning on so many facets of our life that we are passionate about, the next step is to organize them in such a way that downtime takes some priority.
How do you recharge your creativity?
Sean: If I feel like I need to recharge I make sure that I disconnect from the internet and look through my photos and sketchbooks where I inevitably find lots of ideas to revisit and explore.
Armelle: Ideally, by going on excursions, observing, and taking pictures. But lately it has been difficult to find the time to go on field trips.
Sean: As for me, in the midst of pursuing a career as a glassmaker, I started a business designing and building self-watering garden beds, mainly the byproduct of building six of them on the roof of our studio. I am also a technician in the School of Art at the University of Washington.
Armelle: We have a two year old little girl, spending time with her after working with glass is our favorite occupation. We also teach, ride our bikes, and garden!
Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works?
Armelle: I’m preparing for two group shows with my artwork, one in Seattle and one in Chicago.
Sean: I’m designing the layout and new equipment in preparation for our move into a new studio!
What are your most essential tools that you must have on your side while you design?
Sean: A camera is an essential tool for me to document and translate a lot of what I see in the world around me.
Armelle: My coffee cup, living in Seattle has made me addicted to coffee!
What was the toughest lesson you learned working with glass?
Armelle: That you can’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched, meaning that you can’t get attached to material things that has to endure such extreme and exacting processes because there are so many opportunities for something to go wrong.
Sean: The realization of the occupation that I have chosen as my path in life, working with glass takes a long time to master and it’s very energy intensive. This is one reason why the Upcycled Glass Tumblers are so exciting, with them we have found a way to offer a product that is unique and efficient by using recycled materials.
What advice would you offer the Sean and Armelle of 5 years ago?
Sean: To trust that if you pursue your passion your efforts will be acknowledged and rewarded. The most important thing is to be true to yourself and if you do that, the rest will begin to fall into place. It seems really easy to focus on the byproducts of success and attempt to attain those rather than aiming for the essence of what makes something work well and creating that for yourself.
Armelle: Do it right the first time! This advice can be applied in so many circumstances and it most often holds true. You must really take care to do things well so as not to waste time fixing them later, that way you have the freedom to move forward.
Are there any particular artists or similar businesses you look up to?
Armelle: I got my start working in a studio called Glassmedjen Denmark. They have been a model business for me ever since. In addition, there is a Finnish artsit, Anu Penttinen, who I have always looked up to as an example of what is possible if you stay true to an aesthetic and continue growing and pushing forward with your designs. Here in the states I would say I look up to Joe Cariati. He is a talented artist who has also created a successful business making really refined handmade objects.
How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Upcycling Design Challenge?
Sean: We got pretty giddy and congratulated each other but to be honest, we’re still waiting to celebrate…
What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
Armelle: “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” -Confucius
Sean: “Everybody does better when everybody does better.” I feel a little silly because I saw this quote on a bumper sticker and I’m not sure who actually said it but it really resonates with me. I think that when you thrive, those around you thrive and vice versa. It is also a reminder that you can’t wait around for other people’s success to rub off on you, you have to go out and create it for yourself.
What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Sean: I am trying hard to hone the business side of the equation these days, by spreading the word about our business and getting people excited about it and meanwhile trying to be diligent in our record keeping and the less glamorous side of working for yourself.
Armelle: I am excited about utilizing technology to compliment my handmade process, so I am learning various design programs to translate my ideas and images into the objects I create.
What are the pros and cons of being business partners and married at the same time?
Sean: We really complement each other by offering a different perspective to one another. It always helps to see something with a fresh set of eyes and that is sort of built in when you work with a partner. We both excel in different areas so we are able to cover a lot more bases than we would working alone. The cons come with the territory of sharing everything… home, business, and studio. Work is always part of our life, it is hard to stop and not think about it once we leave the studio.
What advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work to the next Upcycling Design Challenge?
Sean: Love it! Share it! Offer something you believe in and inspire other people to get behind it.