ArtsBeatLA

Old California collabs with Would Works

Old California is known for its retro-style lighting fixtures and fine home goods. The company look to the past for inspiration, and so their product design is informed by giants in the annals of architecture and design history. The small team at their Southern California factory manufactures those designs with a combination of contemporary technology and hard-learned, hand-built craftsmanship. For over 30 years the company has served customers across North America with personalized service and care.

From the press release:

If you have lovingly restored an old Craftsman home, with its dark wood, stained glass, and hand-crafted built-in cabinets, chances are you’re not going to shop for light fixtures at Home Depot.

You’ll make the pilgrimage to Old California in Orange, which individually handcrafts home goods inspired by historical design. There you’ll find lighting, rugs, mirrors, and other finishing touches, influenced by the classic architects Charles Sumner Greene and his brother Henry Mather Greene, whose designs were among the most influential within the Arts & Crafts movement, which emphasized traditional craftsmanship over increasing industrialization. 

True to the ethos of the Arts & Crafts movement, each item at Old California is hand-crafted, honoring both the object and the dignity of the labor that went into it. It is painstaking work, requiring many skilled hands. But finding those workers is increasingly challenging, according to Joshua Scheide, Old California’s art director.

“People come into the factory lacking confidence and foundational skills. Training is a big gap for us. Certain jobs turn over a lot.”

Joshua Scheide, Old California’s art director.

Overseas manufacturing is not an option. “Customers want hand-crafted, individual design,” says Scheide. And Old California, a 30-year-old family-owned company currently run by the second generation, wouldn’t consider manufacturing offshore. So the company looked for organizations for support, to help train the kind of skilled craftspeople they were looking to hire.

They found Would Works through its social media posts. A non-profit social enterprise, Would Works provides job training in woodworking for people with high barriers to employment. Instagram posts showed artisans learning to make cutting boards, trays, stools, and patio furniture in its Downtown LA workshop, using equipment donated by woodworking tool companies including Shaper Origin, ShopBot, and Lee Valley.

Old California reached out. “Within a couple of conversations we thought ‘This is it, this is a perfect partnership,’” says Scheide. “They share our commitment to building confidence and skills. These are the kinds of changes we want to support.”

For Would Works executive director Michele Liu, it was an opportunity to challenge the artisans, many of whom were dealing with housing insecurity, disabilities, or involvement with the justice system. And it was an opportunity to broaden the market for Would Works’ hand-crafted wooden housewares, the sales of which supported the program.

They started to work together to develop a capsule collection that Old California could offer to customers on its website. It had to reflect the design elements that appealed to Old California’s audience, and it had to be something that Would Works’ artisans could achieve.

It took several sketches and meetings to hit on the right design. “We decided to lean into the classic Greene & Greene ‘cloudlift’ that is prevalent in all their designs,” says Liu. Kind of a squared arch, it’s a frequent Greene & Greene detail.

And it provided the right level of challenge for the artisans. “A lot of simple designs are complicated to execute,” says Liu. “This is more advanced than our regular product line. It stepped things up for our artisans.”

The artisans learned how to work on a Shaper Origin, a handheld digital router newly donated by Shaper Tools. The experience provided important digital fabrication skills that will help qualify them for jobs in a manufacturing industry that requires both hand skills and comfort with technology. 

This project has been a little different; there are more processes we have to go through. It’s more work but it’s more fun because we get to use a variety of machines and we’re learning something new.”

Artisan Robert McLaurin, who has been with Would Works for nine months.

McLaurin loves the exposure to woodworking. “I’m into art, and learning how to make useful stuff is a good skill to have in life.”

The Would Works and Old California capsule collection includes coasters, cutting boards, and a magnetic knife rack, available online at oldcalifornia.com.

“With this capsule collection our customers can accessorize their home with functional, historically inspired art,” says Scheide. “The fact that their purchase also helps them support someone learning a new skill is the cherry on top.”

About Old California:

Old California wants your house to shine! Their handcrafted lighting—manufactured in Southern California for over three decades—illuminates historic homes across North America.

About Would Works:

Would Works is an LA-based social enterprise that employs and trains people experiencing homelessness in the craft of woodworking. Would Works artisans, who range from transition-aged-youth to seniors, often face multiple barriers to employment, including housing insecurity, justice system involvement, and mental or physical health challenges, along with institutional factors such as hiring discrimination and systemic racism. Through hands-on work with tangible outcomes, artisans build confidence and community while forging a pathway to self-sufficiency. Would Works provides a flexible, creative, and trauma-informed space to (re)engage with employment.

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.

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