Amidst the throes of design studios of Seattle’s Industrial District is Graypants, the brainchild of architect and designer Seth Grizzle. After a few years of commercial and residential architectural work in Washington, D.C., the admittedly-hopeless romantic moved to Seattle with the hopes of making a lot of couples’ dreams come true—but his days as a high-end residential architect weren’t satisfying all of his creative hankerings. Grizzle wanted to work with his hands.
The hours after work saw him experimenting with any material he could get his hands on, and before long, the Scraplight was born—a round and porous light fixture made of repurposed cardboard. For about a year and a half, Grizzle continued to develop the designs before officially launching with his business partner Jon Junker on January 1, 2008. The two had been roommates in college, and both loved the idea of crafting and making. The early days were a little scrappy, but in the best way—sustainability has always been at the heart of the company, so in the beginning, the Graypants team was dumpster diving to source the cardboard for these iconic lights, and that didn’t make marketing easy. Convincing high-end clientele to consider a light made of used cardboard presented a challenge, Grizzle says. “Some people associated it as a cheaper material or something that wasn’t elegant. So I had to turn it into something people couldn’t recognize and embrace the handcrafted process behind it. We’ve always stayed true to what it is. There’s an honesty behind it.” It’s that exact inventiveness that set Graypants apart from other lighting designers—a frank transformation of a humble material.
Around 2008, Graypants was facing a growing demand—and needed to scale production. As a result, they began partnering with local Seattle businesses for more consistent cardboard, sourcing it from post-consumer waste intended specifically for Graypants fabrication—the material is treated with non-toxic fire retardants in the process, a detail that Grizzle is adamant about.
About four years later, Grizzle and his team were at a trade show in New York, booth and all, to accommodate their increasingly international customer base. It was there that Grizzle met a group of Dutch distributors that took a special interest in the scraplight. Together, they solidified a partnership that not only places a high value on the materials being used in the fabrication of these lights, but on the people making these lights as well. “We invest in people as our most valuable resource,” Grizzle explains. “With this company in Holland, we take someone with a disability, mental or physical, train them and give them a job. They sign each of the lights they make—they take a lot of pride in what they do.” Today, the Amsterdam office manages the engineering side of the Graypants brand, as well as larger-scale production for new products, while the Seattle team handles the custom work and the North American market.
For a long time, Graypants’s aim was small—the focus was on cardboard as a medium to springboard to other things. For Grizzle, it was a matter of mastering the material. Well, they’ve done just that. Today, the company produces a host of other lighting options, with custom install capabilities up their sleeves in a variety of media. Within the design space, lighting and acoustics are no longer the strangers they once were, and Graypants has taken notice. The company is developing technology at the intersection of sight and audio innovation, working to incorporate sound dampening elements into their lights. The end result makes for a product that can soften both the mood and the atmosphere of the space it illuminates, and the Kerf light does just that. It’s side panels were originally designed in FSC-certified plywood, but Grizzle and his team are at work trying to reconfigure the lights to work in an acoustic capacity as well, experimenting with both cardboard and PET felt. (For more on Kerf, check out this great video)
On the Graypants horizon, Grizzle and his team have been developing new lighting technology inspired by the innate and intimate allure of candles. “We’re drawing from the past. It’ll be like taking light with you” he explains. Modern light fixtures to date have been just that: fixed. Grizzle and his team are working to make light transportable again, but with a modern sensibility: “It combines a feeling of mobility and romanticism, taking the moments of life that we frame memories around, and bringing [them] to the modern era in an elegant way,” he says.
You can find Graypants lights on their website graypants.com. For those eager to see their lights in person, the team plans to show at the postponed Light + Building show in Frankfurt. While the brand decided to step away from New York’s ICFF this year, Grizzle hopes that more people will visit the Seattle studio, meet the team and see how the lights are made. “We’re always searching for the responsible aspect in design,” he says. “Good design is about telling stories: what goes into it, the people, the materials… It’s about reinventing something or designing it in a way that’s efficient and responsible.”