Pattern for Sustainability
Eleek's innovative lighting combines beauty with conservation
On North Flint Avenue, nearly as many bikes as cars cruise by the open garage door at Eleek, where artisans and welders, thinkers and tinkerers create lighting and sinks, countertops and drawer pulls, switch plates and more.
Although these items may seem ordinary, there’s not a plain Jane among the products produced by Eric Kaster and his crew. Eric and his wife and business partner, Sattie Clark, would have it no other way.
But I’m getting ahead of the story.
Dial back to 1939.
As the drumbeat of World War II reverberated around the world, Eric’s grandfather, Willie Kaster, began his lifelong career as a patternmaker with Williamette Pattern Works. Patternmaking—creating wood positives from which molds for metal castings are made—was crucial to the war effort. So crucial, patternmakers were immune from the draft but worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, Eric says.
Willie stuck with it, and about 30 years later he bought Williamette Pattern Works. He trained his son Ken, Eric’s father, in the same business, and retired just before teaching Eric, who had just begun his apprenticeship.
Eric was 16 and became a journeyman in six years.
Fast-forward to 2000, when Eric and Sattie combined their pennies and opened their own shop, Eleek, in Southeast Portland. For two years, Eric continued working full time at Williamette Pattern Works, giving attention to Eleek as he could. He finally gathered the chutzpah to tell his father that he needed to make a clean break. His dream of merging his patternmaking skills with his art required his unfettered attention.
Williamette Pattern Works would have to survive without a third-generation Kaster.
Standing in the conference room at Eleek, looking at the pattern for the door handles Eric designed for The Burlington Station condo project in the Pearl District, he smiles and says there are no bad feelings between father and son. In fact, his father helped them renovate their current building.
It was a massive undertaking to get the 5,000-square-foot space operational with showroom, office and mostly workshop.
The business is run on the couple’s values of ecological and social responsibility. They purchase wind power to run the shop and offices, and use recycled materials, such as aluminum and bronze, and local resources. They are also proud of the wages they pay and the health benefits each of the 12 employees receives.
“We planned our business around sustainability from the beginning because it was part of our lifestyle,” Sattie says.
Their latest push is towards creating low-energy lighting—make that beautiful low-energy lighting.
“Lighting tends to be about 25 percent of the energy budget of a home,” Sattie explains. So reducing the energy consumed for lighting is a huge step toward energy conservation, she says.
And it would appear that their energy-efficient lighting is in the right place at the right time.
In 2005, nearby California toughened requirements for both residential and nonresidential construction. New construction and some renovation projects must have high-efficacy lighting, such as four-pin compact fluorescent fixtures that cannot accept energy-burning incandescent bulbs.
The requirement is feeding demand for Eleek fixtures.
“California is feeling like they don’t have enough access to light fixtures that are attractive, that appeal to homeowners,” Sattie says. “They are hungry for Eleek light fixtures right now.”
Oregonians are embracing their work as well, and Sattie expects other states to follow.
Eric’s designs can be seen all around Portland. The Burlington Station, The Elizabeth Lofts and the Eliot Tower condos all sport Eleek products, as does the Portland Art Museum, where Eleek was commissioned to restore the light fixtures in the newly renovated Mark building.
And there’s more to come.
When I recently toured Eleek, the crew was working on what looked like 20-foot-tall metal poles. The poles, which each house four linear fluorescent lights, will line the pier at the yet-to-be completed Riverscape properties along the Willamette River. Smaller Mini-Me versions will light up the grounds throughout the development.
Although the bulk of Eleek’s work is commercial, they do plenty of smaller residential jobs, usually being referred by architects and designers.
That’s how Laura and Gregg Takashima of Lake Oswego found the small company that’s big on design and ended up having a lamp named after them.
Eleek had been designing patio lights for the Takashimas, and people just kept calling the design “the Takashima.” It seemed to fit, so Sattie asked if it would be OK to name it after them and include the lamp in their catalog. The Takashimas were game.
“They do wonderful work,” Laura Takashima says.
Right now, lighting is 95 percent of Eleek’s business. Eric and Sattie love all of their products, but the endless design possibilities in lighting fill Eric’s mind “24/7,” he says.
Back in the small showroom dotted with wall sconces and pendant lights, a bar prep sink with a built-in colander (they have a patent pending on that), switch plates and drawer pulls, Sattie says it’s hard to name the one thing that fires them up the most.
They love their new space across from Albina Park, and they are happy that most of their employees can ride their bicycles to work and that they use local foundries, sources and glass blowers. But creating innovative, beautiful and energy-efficient lighting from recycled materials is probably the best part.
“We’re really passionate about what we do,” Sattie says.