Siemon and Salazar
Siemon and Salazar
In the early days of building their glass business, Caleb Siemon and Carmen Salazar were pragmatic. They made things quickly to sell quickly, seldom using color because it was expensive. Then one day in 2001, they decided to have some fun.
“We said, ‘Let’s just forget about money, put a ton of color on this piece, make a really cool thing,’ ” Siemon recalls. The result was Banded, a series of striped vessels that became runaway best sellers. “Those put us on the map,” he says. “We couldn’t make them fast enough. It was a good lesson. Sometimes you follow a dream –” “And occasionally,” Salazar says, finishing his sentence, “it works out.”
Today the couple produces a diverse line of handmade bowls, vases, and lighting in their 3,000-square-foot studio in Santa Ana, California. Sold in high-end home décor stores all over the country, Siemon & Salazar designs range from colorful, funky forms to pristine, clear pendants to sculptural chandeliers. The sensibility is modern California cool, inspired by the West Coast landscape and lifestyle they enjoy – even in their hot shop, which has big windows overlooking a garden. “We love being outdoors,” says Salazar.
The pair met in their freshman year at Rhode Island School of Design. He was focused on glassblowing; she was into sculpture and architecture as well as glass.
After graduation in 1997, Siemon went to the glass mecca of Murano, Italy, for an apprenticeship, while Salazar worked with an environmental artist and a metal sculptor in San Francisco. In 1999, he returned to his native Southern California to open his own studio and persuaded her to come help him build it. Love bloomed, and they married in 2003.
They live with their son, 6, and daughter, 9, in a 1920s canyon cottage a short walk to the ocean in the artists’ colony of Laguna Beach. Just 20 minutes from the studio, “it’s a joyous place to go home to,” Salazar says. Though both partners are hands-on, having a capable team – four full-time employees and other part-time help – allows them to balance work and parenthood, and frees them to devote time to developing new designs. “We really strive to have a family here,” Salazar says of their close-knit studio environment.
Thinking creatively and staying open to change, they say, has allowed them to survive and thrive amid the ebb and flow of a changing economy. Siemon had a role model in his father, owner of a successful jewelry business. “I grew up in his factory, making jewelry and designing my own lines. From a young age, I was learning about price structure, proper markup, all the hidden costs involved in a business.” Salazar says her husband is definitely the more practical half of their partnership: “I’m still constantly drawing up things and saying, ‘Why can’t we make this?’ Caleb will rein me in.”
“Sometimes I’m Debbie Downer,” Siemon admits. “But our combination is good, because Carmen will push me to think about things that I might automatically consider unrealistic or too expensive to produce.”
“We end up rounding each other out nicely,” says Salazar. “It took two of us with a vision together to make it.”
Jewelry for the House
Hot new product: The Antler, an asymmetrical arrangement of glass globes that can hang in a vertical or horizontal configuration.
Why lighting? “At one point, people would buy a vase as a focal point for the table,” says Caleb Siemon. “Now a lot of them like to have really nice lights. They think of it as the jewelry of the house.”
But ironically: Their own house could use more lighting. “I’m constantly squinting,” Carmen Salazar laments. “Why can’t I remember to bring home a light and hang it up? It’s ridiculous. Our friends make fun of us.”
Speaking of friends:
They’re still close to their art-school posse. “We’re bonded for life,” says Salazar. “It’s really special to find people you love that much.”
Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor.