Schoolhouse Electric's Founder Escapes From the Digital World

Brian Faherty creates a warm, off-the-grid workspace.

By Nathan Tucker January 21, 2014 Published in the Design Annual: Fall 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

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Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. founder and creative director Brian Faherty is no stranger to technology: he has built his business around the Internet, selling Schoolhouse’s retro-inspired lighting fixtures and home furnishings to enthusiastic customers around the world. But even a successful online entrepreneur like Faherty has a bit of a Luddite streak.

“I’ve always been a late adopter as far as technology goes," he says. "I had an assistant checking and sending my emails for me at first. I just wouldn’t do it myself. ‘I’d rather call somebody,’ I kept saying.”

Faherty has kept his commitment to non-digital productivity and interaction even as his company’s e-commerce business flourishes, and since Schoolhouse moved into their 125,000-square-foot headquarters in Industrial Northwest in 2011, he’s carved out a physical space dedicated to those principals. Christened the “Fire + Water” room, the refuge was inspired by Faherty’s realization that a better balance between the digital and analog activities his life made him a more effective leader and creative mind. The room serves as a retreat from the digital sphere’s tightening hold on the workplace, a place for the creative mind to work unencumbered by technology, and a space for the meetings Faherty would prefer stay uninterrupted by the distractions of smartphones and tablets. But it’s not just the disturbance of devices that the Fire + Water room offers an escape from. “The rule is, no one can come knock on that door and find me here," he says, "unless it’s my wife.”

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Faherty has filled this former shipping foreman’s office with wool blankets, vintage lamps, and furniture collected over the years from secondhand stores and estate sales. A fuzzy-sounding radio sits in the corner, tuned to KMHD. It’s a remarkable transformation: “You could tell that [the room] hadn’t been used in several decades,” he says, but it has become a well-worn and welcoming space.

The centerpiece of this analog refuge is a wood-burning stove that slowly heats the brick walls, filling the room with an inviting warmth. “If I’m in and out of meetings I try to stop in and keep the fire going. Everything is somewhat of a distraction, even if it’s analog, so I enjoy that.”

But Faherty has found that a healthy balance between the distractions in his life, electronic and otherwise, is key to both his business and personal life. “I only have so much bandwidth myself," he says, "and if too much of it gets used up doing digital things, then I don’t have any room left for the other areas that are more important to me—connecting with people, having more tangible experiences with family or friends or employees.”

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