Materials reign supreme for this Nebraska-based lighting designer

2022-08-26 08:19:20 By : Mr. Penn Peng

Jeff Nordhues believes the best designs are beautiful but “not too precious.” The co-founder and designer behind Riverdale, Nebraska–based brand Pax Lighting strives to create pieces that seem simple yet storied. “Ceramic has an earthy, organic and imperfect quality to it,” he tells Business of Home. “Every time a design comes out of the kiln, it tells a new story.”

Growing up in Kearney, Nebraska, Nordhues gravitated toward art and design at an early age. After falling in love with sculpture in high school, he enrolled in the industrial design program at the Art Institute of Colorado, where he honed both his ceramic-making and product design skills. “Lighting, to me, is the perfect marriage of utility and aesthetics,” he says. “It has to be perfectly engineered to high standards set by UL, but I like the challenge of meeting those standards in a beautiful way.”

Upon graduation, Nordhues took a job with Dessin Fournir, designing pieces for Palmer Hargrave Lighting, before leaving to pursue a master’s degree in industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design. “After RISD, I went to work for Baker Furniture and was immersed in the luxury market on a larger scale,” he says. “I learned so much but realized I missed the making part of design.”

In 2019, Nordhues and his wife, Teegan, launched Pax Lighting at the AD Design Show, where they showcased a series of hand-made terra-cotta-and-brass sconces and ceiling fixtures. “We don’t have mountains or oceans in Nebraska, but we have a lot of incredible open space and breathing room,” he says. “Our fixtures have that minimalist, breathing-room feel to them.”

All of the brand’s pieces are hand-forged using custom plaster molds as well as a terra-cotta slip and glazes blended from scratch. “The slip-casting process is one of precision and accuracy—measuring the ingredients exactly, pouring the slip into the mold, waiting just the right amount of time for the walls to thicken to the right width, pouring the rest of the slip back out, then drying the piece until it can go into the kiln,” says Nordhues. “I hand-finish all of the brass parts, which typically involves a chemical bath and applying a powder coating, depending on the client’s request.”

Above all else, materials play the most important role in each of the brand’s designs. “The reason we use terra cotta is because it’s fired at a lower temperature, which allows us to get creative about cool sculptural glazes,” says Nordhues. “And since our glazes are also recipes we’ve created ourselves, we can produce the right texture, colors and depth with a high level of consistency.”

As for finish options, Nordhues keeps the glazes as “pared down” as possible to allow the raw materials to shine. “Right now, we have a lichen glaze and a matte glaze with a lot of color options within those,” he says. “The lichen glaze gets its name by how it mimics the lichen found on trees, and the matte glaze comes out of the kiln with so much depth and interest that it’s far from the type of flat finish you might get from a lacquer on, say, metal.”

Currently hard at work on two in-house collections the brand plans to release this year, Nordhues says the studio is also collaborating with two different designers on a pair of bespoke lighting lines. “With these launches, we’ll be introducing table and floor lamps,” he says. “We’re also going to test out ceramic accessories, since both of these designers are super excited about creating decor pieces with our materials.”

If you want to learn more about Jeff Nordhues and Pax Lighting, visit his website or follow him on Instagram.

Homepage photo: Jeff Nordues at work inside the brand’s Nebraska studio | Courtesy of Pax Lighting