Made in the South Awards

2016 Home Category: Overall Winner

Glassblower Colin O’Reilly crafts elemental barware as singular as the whiskey it’s designed to hold

Photo: Whitney Ott

Overall Winner

Product: Glassware
Made in: Spruce Pine, NC
Est. 2016

Sometimes the most sophisticated objects appear deceptively simple. Consider the spare “Oklahoma” barware made by Terrane Glass Designs in mountainous Spruce Pine, North Carolina. The flawless whiskey decanter and matching rocks glasses have heft without heaviness, clarity save for a few carefully placed tool marks, and a meticulous balance. Unlike much hand-blown glass, which is typically highly decorated, these pieces have neither flashy colors nor elaborate flourishes to hide imperfections. Instead, the set’s classic marriage of form and function attests to the glassblower Colin O’Reilly’s skill and aesthetic vision.

The Oklahoma design began in a sketchbook in 2012. Some time later, O’Reilly reimagined the initial concept in his riverside Spruce Pine studio, tinkering with various shapes. After weeks of trial and error, he settled on an elegant, globe-topped decanter and a pair of colorless cylinders with thumbprint indentations, the better to see the amber liquid and feel its coolness—“something that for drinkers doesn’t take away from the experience of the bourbon or whiskey,” O’Reilly says.

That philosophy sounds straightforward, but it took years of apprenticeships for O’Reilly, who is thirty, to consistently produce work so elemental and refined. The Kennesaw, Georgia, native and aspiring sculptor first glimpsed glassblowing on a family trip to Santa Fe. There, he stumbled across a little hippie operation in the high desert named Tesuque Glassworks and begged the artists to teach him their craft. They agreed, allowing him to earn daily access to the furnaces and tools in exchange for cleaning the machinery and sweeping the floors.

O'Reilly begins working a piece inside his workshop in Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

Photo: Andrew Kornylak

Playing with Fire

O’Reilly begins working a piece inside his workshop in Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

Still, nobody really taught O’Reilly how to handle glass; he just experimented. And at first, he broke almost everything he touched. But he grew to love the physicality and meditative rhythm of the medium: waiting an hour each morning for the furnace to heat hundreds of pounds of glass into a viscous honey, then gathering the bright orange syrup with a hollow steel pipe and blowing just enough air to form a bubble, next carefully working the shape, and lastly manipulating scissors and tweezers and blocks to fine-tune the piece before placing the object in a special oven, where it cools ever so slowly into something useful and lovely.

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After Tesuque and a stint in California earning his bachelor’s of fine arts in glassblowing, O’Reilly briefly circled back South to take a course at North Carolina’s Penland School of Crafts. He then headed to Seattle, America’s glassblowing capital, and took a grunt job loading furnaces at the Schack Art Center, using the entry-level gig as a chance to work for—and impress—established glassblowers with national and international reputations. “He had a very calm approach to the material,” recalls the artist Janusz Pozniak. “You either have it or you don’t—and if you don’t, you have to work really hard to make up for a lack of intuitive skill.”

O’Reilly, his then pregnant wife, and their son left the Pacific Northwest about a year ago for Spruce Pine—a setting that’s influenced the fledgling Terrane line of modern barware and vases. “For Colin’s work to look as clean as it is, it’s a testament to how well it’s made,” says the sculptor John Kiley, O’Reilly’s other Seattle mentor. “Colin knows all those decorative forms. He’s choosing not to make them.” That choice has been inspired in part by the South’s subtle scenery. “I haven’t felt the need to design around brightly colored glass anymore,” O’Reilly says. “The beauty of clear glass is the beauty of this place, of letting something stand on its own.” Even his company name nods to regional identity; the word terrane refers to a rare geological feature found in Appalachia, the outcome of a piece of tectonic plate breaking and attaching to another. O’Reilly considers it a metaphor for how he and his family came to Spruce Pine.

He’s also experimenting with a series of vases that echo the topographic lines that mark the peaks and valleys of his beloved Blue Ridge. Eventually, O’Reilly hopes to open a shared studio in downtown Spruce Pine, so visitors can better access him and other artists—the least he can do, he figures, for the community that helped him reach a wider audience and a new level of artistic excellence. “It’s been unlike any other place,” he says. “It’s a place that just let us in.”

Price: from $275 (full set)

Home Category Runners-Up

Product: Bespoke Wallpaper
Made in: Witter, AR
Est.: 2011

From their remote farmstead in the Ozarks, the husband-and-wife team Christian and Heidi Batteau craft luminous wallpaper for some of the world’s pickiest clients. Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, and London Jewelers have all hired Assemblage to give their boutiques an opulent feel. The Batteaus use traditional Italian hand trowels to layer supple sheets of marble and mica plasters; the process builds a translucent stratum that reflects light and creates the illusion of depth. For their most luxurious designs, they add gold and silver leaf or crystalline jewels. The team works closely with business and residential clients no matter the size of the space, and mixes its own paints and plasters, so they can customize colors. The effect:  minimal yet striking—like an abstract painting wrapped around an entire room.

Price: $79-$310

Monolith Studio Knives
Product: Chef’s Knives
Made in: Charlottesville, VA
Est.: 2013

Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, George Washington, and other early American figures fascinated Zack Worrell growing up in Charlottesville—a city steeped in history that influenced this line of modern cutlery. The former furniture builder, who runs Monolith Studio Knives in his hometown, often grinds blades from repurposed steel and shapes wooden handles from a stash of walnut culled from a farm beside Monticello. Although rooted in colonial times, the sleek pieces take their visual cues from Japan, meaning they’re ergonomic, lightweight, and extra sharp. Worrell loves tweaking knives for professional chefs and home cooks alike. “Someone just asked me if I could make a handle out of a Nike sneaker,” he says, “and I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ It keeps the artistic exploration going.”

Price: $175-$1,000

Doorman Designs
Product: Canopy Beds
Made in: New Orleans, LA
Est.: 2013

Alex Geriner’s Josephine frame exudes all the romance of an antebellum canopy bed with none of the fussiness. Instead, the sculptural sleepers—designed to complement rooms in the Henry Howard Hotel, a circa-1867 townhouse in New Orleans’ Garden District—feature a scaled-back silhouette of black iron. In a nod to the inn’s Crescent City pedigree, Geriner added a subtle brass accent at the bed’s corners. From his Uptown warehouse, the self-taught furniture maker welds, assembles, and sands each frame before painting it a semigloss black. When he’s not working with steel, Geriner turns to reclaimed wood and antique ceiling tins. The pieces allude to New Orleans but don’t slavishly replicate its famed antiques. “What I’m trying to do,” he says, “is continue that story.”

Price: $1,875 for a queen