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From The Inside Out: An Interview With James Schnauer Of Glow

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If you’ve ever attended a trade show, you know that there is more to the exhibition floor than the goods on display. Brands will create elaborate, temporary worlds to envelop visitors, to wow them with the pop-up display. Most of these mini-experiences are behind closed doors, by and for those of a specific industry. The creativity shown in these worlds are often missed by outsiders, a sad reality of these industries. Los Angeles can sometimes feel like this, too. It’s big and unmapped, full of captivating exteriors and carefully crafted façades intended to show off aesthetic inventiveness. Unless you have a tour guide or have lived here for long enough, the city can feel as though it is all behind closed doors.

This is a fact that James Schnauer is trying to overcome. He and his Marina Del Rey company Glow have made a name for themselves creating extravagant temporary worlds for businesses, typically in the entertainment industry. Now, he’s hoping to break out of the exhibition space and into the public. “For us it’s all about people and the interaction within a space,” he explains, seated in Glow’s colorful, relaxed conference room. “Whether that comes with a bunch of restrictions or is indoor or outdoor—or whether it’s totally open—that keeps things fresh and interesting. I’ve always worked in smaller studios where you have a bunch different jobs: that keeps you nimble, able to change your course quickly.”

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“But, it’s hard when you’re making business-to-business exhibitions, for trade shows: you have to be in that industry to try to see it—and we want people to see our work,” he says. “We’re now having a local impact, where people can see what we’re doing. It’s really important for us to continue to push—and have a positive influence on—our local community, to create something for people to interact with.”

This desire to push out of the private comes from Schnauer’s original interest: furniture. He was born and raised in New Zealand and found his design inclination turning toward interior items, which is the career path he pursued. It ultimately lead him where he is now. “I studied Furniture Design in Auckland, where I’m from. I thought I was going to be a furniture designer since I liked working with my hands and building things. But, there wasnt really really a market for that sort of thinking when I graduated.”

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“My goal was to always go to Europe,” he adds. This Eurocentric way of thinking is twofold: his push to the continent came from his studying Fine Art (“Art is always brought back to Europe, from the architecture to Renaissance paintings.”) and his love for skiing (“I was a skier…and I wanted to visit all the resorts!”). “For me, I always thought that I had to go there,” he says. “What started out as a five month trip with a return ticket evolved into twenty years of living abroad.”

After working various part time jobs, he started doing work that relates to his current career. “I stumbled upon a business in the south of France that built temporary structures for festivals like the Cannes Film Festival and even the Cannes Lion advertising festival. I took this as a really good opportunity to apply my training and get a job out of it.”

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James eventually transitioned to London while working for a company with a U.K. based office. He spent three years there doing fabrication work, exhibition design, and retail design, which brought him to the public sphere. “I spent those years doing mostly retail interiors, applying that same training in furniture and interior design and even photography. I was able to understand how to fill a space with furniture and get into the psychology of retail.”

The job eventually took him to New York—where he bridged the US market to the European market—and he eventually moved to Dublin. A chance encounter with a former co-worker in London is what brought him to Los Angeles. “I ran into an old boss at Selfridges and got wined and dined in Cannes,” he explains. “They wanted to open an office in Los Angeles and they needed someone to run it.”

“I hadn’t done LA yet so [my wife and I] figured why not do it,” he laughs.

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He’s been here ever since and, although the company went through some twists and turns, he found the city to be a great environment for work. Thus, when the opportunity presented itself for him to branch off to make his own firm, he took it. “We figured we’d been doing this long enough and decided to create our own thing—and we established Glow almost five years ago,” he says. “We’re very lucky to have had clients that we’ve worked with for years come with us and support us. We’ve grown a good size in that short amount of time, doubling our size from when we started.”

“We’ve worked predominantly in entertainment which is really why we’re here, since we work with major studios like CBS, Paramount, Viacom, NBC Universal, MGM, Lionsgate, etc.: a number of the major studios. Their creative services departments and marketing departments are who we work with, to create traditional exhibition and experiences. Most times these companies are quite large but their marketing teams are quite small. They see us as an extension of their work.”

“Really, we’re basically a design agency,” he continues. “Every single time we get a brief, we sit down and start from scratch. We think of what the client needs and what we can achieve and create something that is specific for them. There’s no compromising on the end solution—and that is important to us. We’re a fairly small agency with most of us coming from a design background: that helps with the details. From accessories to furniture, all the aspects of what we do comes together to make a great design. The core of that is exhibitions and trade shows but we’re getting more involved, making small, in-store point-of-sale units and showroom interiors to large scale landscape projects.”

“We’re doing things outside of traditional design work,” he adds. “And that speaks to the strength and skill set here: we’re able to tackle a diverse amount projects.”

That diversity mirrors what Los Angeles is now, a city that has grown into a landscape of differing ideologies. “The last five years in LA has changed so much—and it’s definitely inspired me creatively,” he says. “If you look at bar and restaurant culture on the Westside, it has changed tremendously. I’ve ridden on my bike for the past ten years and—on a street like Rose—it was once just houses and, now, there is a Whole Foods and Superba and Hosteria del Piccolo and Café Gratitude: it’s a high street.”

“That is something harder to find in LA because of the geography and car culture. Spending years in Europe, you could always walk to your nearest high street, where there are bars and restaurants. Now—in LA—you are starting to see those sorts of things evolve through necessity. Seeing this development take place—and the styles and the trends that come with that—has been an inspiration.”

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“Now, the city feels like a creative place,” he exclaims. “Even down here, in the marina!”

This new wave of thinking has helped to push Glow out, into the city. From revamping hair salons on Melrose to giving Beverly bike shop I.Martin an interior refresh, Glow is going beyond the trade room floor, reacting to what the city needs. Really, James just hopes that he and Glow can make rad stuff, by the city and for the city. “The longer term goal is not to grow it to a size where it becomes a design factory: I have no interest in that,” he says. “It’s about creating cool things and working with great people and also having a team who are all (usually) involved in the design process. We want to stay at that high end of design and not compromise, pumping out work.”
“We want to also create products from what we do,” he says, speaking directly to how Glow will get out of the trade room floor. “Currently, a lot of the environments that we make involve specialized furniture and special privacy seating and office spaces. We want to really develop what we do into something that can stand alone, as furniture or other interior elements.”

For more on James and Glow, be sure to check out their Facebook, their Twitter, and Vimeo, and blog.

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