Ron Van Empel is the debonair owner of Empel Collections, a custom lighting fixture company based out of the Netherlands. After a long career as an interior designer, Ron found himself drawn to making custom lamps and decided to turn a hobby into a full-time endeavor. I'm pleased to present an interview with the man who is just as happy in a pair of American cowboy boots, driving a vintage Lincoln as he is in his native country, the home of tulips and clogs!
Classic bouillotte lamp from Empel Collections.
1. First things first - I always wonder this of people who own successful businesses - how old are you?
2. Where did you grow up and tell me a little about your childhood, your parents, your schooling?
I was born in The Hague (where the government is seated). Had a pretty normal childhood. One older sister and a younger brother. Parents got divorced. As a child I was already very occupied by the interior and lighting of my parents houses. The mood and atmosphere of a room had an affect on me ( it could make me happy or feel depressed.) I would not want to go to peoples homes where it was 'uncozy.' I would even be putting a dimmer on the lights in our Christmas tree!! I must have developed a talent to pick up on what does make a room feel good. Later, I learned all about proportions, a factor so very important in anything of good design.
Read many interior magazines at an early age. Experimented alot on my parents home and my own room. Flew thru school. Went to the University of Leiden. After that I had to go in the army (last years of mandatory listing....bummer for me!!)
I worked two summer seasons as a counselor in American summer camps in the States. At an early age I read books on and was interested in:
Billy Baldwin....Very very good.
Dorothy Draper......Big influence in her time and now. Love her work. Real pioneer. Different in alot of ways.
Elsie de Wolf......
Also I would never miss any issue of Architectural Digest. Now I also devour VERANDA. I have a big pile of books on American Architecture and interior design.
Sconce from the New Elegance Collection: This is a new design that Empel is very excited about. Isn't it gorgeous?
3. How did you get into the lighting/lamp business?
I very decidedly choose a career in interior design. When working for a high end design firm, I designed my first lamp for one of my clients' projects. A visiting representative at our office (of all kinds of products) saw my lamp and wanted to have it in his portfolio and sell it for me. "Sure" I said, with no big commercial plans in mind. Clients would be asking for other versions and colors/finishes. That is how a small collection started to grow bigger and bigger. I would always be trying to make lamps more luxurious, not just the visual part but also the lampholders and cords/switches, etc. Soon I was making the collection and many custom pieces world wide to the 'discerning client,' consulting and making lamps for the most prestigious clients/projects. I also designed a lamp for Brunschwig & Fils.
At this point, the lamp business was still combined with the full time job. Only 7 years ago, I quit my full time job.....the collection grew even further and there was finally time for research, to explore the possibilities of all the designs I had sketched in a little book.
Rock crystal lamp for the New Elegance Collection.
4. How is your business doing these days? Are you satisfied with things?
I think because I am a relatively small company, I will always have enough business. The personal attention and the fact that everything can be custom made, keeps my clients wanting more. Every year my business is on the up. I am very happy where I stand now with my company and the wonderful clients I have. Every project is exciting, but I also love to help clients who are looking for one perfect lamp.
Custom made bouillotte lamp with painted tole shade: shades can be painted any color, of course!
5. What do you see for the future of Empel? Where do you want to take your business?
Well, for the near future/this year, I cannot wait to move into the new showroom and workroom. I cannot wait to receive clients in that new space. The new showroom for me is a relative big step (and expensive) so I think I will be very happy there for the next couple of years. We'll see what the future brings. But definitely stay small, so quality and attention to detail will be high!!!
When dreaming........because I have many American designers and clients, I wish I could have my own showroom in the States. Wish I could spend 50% of time in the States and the rest here in Europe.
Ron, we wish that too!
The very handsome Mr. van Empel. I promised him I wouldn't show the pictures he sent me of him in his playclothes, or in his American cowboy boots! I even have a picture of him with a tea-cozy on his head! Those, I will bribe him with.
The house and showroom are located at the same place. Here, is Ron's wonderful garden room. I love the clock!
The other side of the garden room, looking out towards the swimming pool and onto the Empel Collections showroom. When clients come to Empel Collections, they first sit down to tea and cakes with Ron - he wants the atmosphere to be casual and not high pressure. After small talk, he then takes his clients to the showroom - where he designs the custom lighting fixtures to his client's specifications. This low-key approach to selling is very dignified. Hard to imagine this happening in the states!
Hanging bouillotte lamp with rich green shade.
Bouillotte lamp with pink shade! Besides custom colored shades, the client can also pick out the finials and the type of silk wrapped cord.
Bronze soldiers waiting to be made into lamps.
And another one waiting - won't this make the most gorgeous lamp? Send me the picture when you're done, Ron!
This is my favorite lamp in the collection - except it has sold!!!
From the New Elegance Collection: A crystal lamp with a square shade. Note how the finial matches the crystal.
Another crystal lamp from the Yellowstone collection.
My favorite! I love these dusty blue shades with the crystal bases.
Amsterdam: The Museum of Bags and Purses (now that's SOME museum!) Empel Collections designed the lamps and sconces.
I love this combination of terra cotta and sage green.
New design: hanging fixture.
The Bel-Air chandelier with shades.
A more traditional chandelier, extra large.
And finally, the beautiful Monaco chandelier with large rock crystal.
Be sure to visit Empel Collections website for more pictures. And to read The Peak of Chic's blog on Empel Collections, go here. Ron van Empel plans to be in the United States later this year. If you would like to meet with him person, email him at email@example.com to arrange it!