Published in Modern Magazine, Spring 2018
Carolyn Cartwright has followed an unusual yet meaningful path to become a product designer. After studying ceramics, film directing, and interior design, she landed work as a set decorator—for films by the likes of Spike Lee and Wes Anderson, to name a couple—and faced a recurring conundrum: "You spend a lot of time looking for the perfect object for any given set. There were tons of gorgeous twentieth-century furniture, but where were all the accessories and lighting?" Cartwright asks. The latter, in particular, became something of an obsession.
Her other fascination, glass, arose from a chance encounter during her honeymoon in Italy: a water-taxi driver ferrying the newlyweds to Murano introduced them to a personal friend there—none other than the late, legendary Venetian glassblower Pino Signoretto. "The moment we were with Pino, the doors of Murano opened for us in this way that you cannot imagine," Cartwright recalls. They toured behind the scenes of glass studios and factories and enjoyed the hospitality of their owners. "It felt like I had just landed in this magical kingdom."
When she finally launched her own brand, Cartwright New York, the designer was able to fuse these passions and produce the intriguing modern lamps and fixtures that eluded her during her set-decorating years. Canna Candela, a lamp whose body is formed of vertical canes created through a complex, multi-step process, was part of the brand's debut at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in 2012. "I think of myself as a clarifier," Cartwright says. "I see the techniques and history of Venetian glass and I channel it through this very minimalist aesthetic." Later she solved an engineering riddle with the help of fellow designer Douglas Fanning to develop the mobile-like chandelier Otto Luce. Its radial brushed-brass arms rotate around a central axis (which also enables it to ship flat) and hold glass globes gilded with 18-karat gold leaf.
Employing master craftsman and glassblower Anders Rydstedt to realize these pieces, Cartwright New York continues to exhibit at fairs such as the Architectural Digest Home Show and to grow its offerings, each year introducing a new design or iteration, or the occasional accessory, such as a bowl or hurricane globe. No matter the scale or function, all of her creations celebrate the artistry of Venetian glassblowing and bring the designer back to her dreamy Murano trip. "That experience is still with me every time we make glass," she says.