Q&A with Brian Sunderland, Bishop House Founder
We sat down with founder Brian Sunderland to talk through the motivation and manner that brought Bishop House Glass to life. Read on to learn about the man (and the story) behind this new style of stemware.
What motivated you to launch Bishop House and its first line of elevated teaware?
"A couple years back—summertime, I believe—I was sharing a few bottles of wine with a group of friends. We were sitting in the kitchen, enjoying a lively evening together, and we ended up discussing the merits of stemware—all their various types—and the magic they have to enhance the experience of a great wine. I realized that, for as much as people love hot beverages, there just wasn’t any high-end glassware out there to provide a comparable experience for tea and coffee."
"As a tea drinker and entrepreneur, this seemed like an opportunity to introduce something new. Something that would elevate that experience. I already had an appreciation for the way good design brings value to the home, so knew it had to be something exquisite and beautiful. So within the year, I launched Bishop House with the goal of upgrading the experience of drinking morning coffee and evening tea for myself—and others, of course. I’d like to see a world where tea and coffee garner the same respect and presentation as a great glass of wine."
How did you discover your passion for the art and design world?
"During my time at Lewis and Clark College, I opted to study 'abroad' for a semester. I use 'abroad' loosely because the program I was after was in Washington, D.C. It was there that I took my first art appreciation class as an elective. Truth be told, I thought it would be a bit of a throwaway—a nice, easy addition to a semester of adventure and exploration. But something in that course really stuck. It opened my eyes to the world-class art and culture surrounding me in our nation’s capital."
"I ended up spending a lot of my free time exploring the city’s monuments and cultural attractions, specifically the Smithsonian museums. While I admired their incomparable collections, I found myself equally drawn to the unbelievable buildings that held them. It’s no secret that D.C. is full of stunning architectural marvels, but at the time, everything in the city was new to me. I couldn’t get enough."
How would you describe your own design aesthetic?
"I’m primarily inspired by decorative arts from the 16th Century, as well as the French impressionists. I’m also inspired by Daum, a French Art Nouveau crystal studio from which I collect quite a few pieces."
"One of the most specific pieces of inspiration for this project, however, is the original Bishop House, the real building from which the company is named. It was constructed in 1879 for the Roman Catholic Archbishop, William Hickley Gross, as his official residence when he was moved from Oregon City to Portland. It’s this wonderful Victorian Gothic structure with a large, mitered window with flamboyant tracery. I’ve always loved vintage glass, so it’s a fitting home for my office and inspiration for this project."
What has been your biggest takeaway in launching a brand in the design world?
"Bringing these concepts to life has been full of challenges and rewards, but collaborating with a designer and sharing a vision for a finished product...that has been such an enriching educational experience."
"We were fortunate enough to work with Portland-based designer, James Owen, on this line. We couldn’t have chosen a better partner. From the earliest concepts right through to execution, James has been a creative, collaborative, and patient professional. It was important to me that James help us not only realize this vision but really put his own mark on the product. He’s also a great guy. It’s wonderful to genuinely enjoy the company of someone who has played, and will continue to play, such an integral role in bringing this vision to life."
What inspired the names of the cups?
"It was important to us that we use something nominally dramatic and mythical that communicates the spirit and emotion of the designs. So the current collection includes three glasses, each named for one of the Three Graces in Greek Mythology: Thalia, Euphro, and Aglaea. Traditionally, Thalia represented beauty, Euphro embodied mirth, and Aglaea shined with elegance. My hope is that these products live up to their names, providing a bit of additional beauty and mirth and elegance to an already wonderful morning coffee or evening tea ritual."
What do you do in your spare time?
"As my own boss, the only one who’ll get on my case for taking too much vacation is me. So, since my family and I love to travel so much, I tend to approve any and all vacation requests. Joking aside, my favorite destination is the French Riviera, without a doubt. The beachside scenery of the Ligurian Sea is fantastic. The culture is refined but not effete. And then, perhaps most importantly, there’s the fantastic wine. I’ve visited a few times, but my most memorable trip was for my 50th birthday, where we brought the whole family along to celebrate."
"Also, I’m no Olympic athlete, but I do lead a pretty active lifestyle. You can frequently find me on one of the many hiking trails near the city or out in the Columbia River Gorge. And more than anything else, I’ve been swimming since I was a kid and love to swim in open water, including the Willamette and Columbia Rivers here in the area. Additionally, I try to check out the closest swimming hole wherever I happen to be traveling. Perhaps that desire to swim in new, open waters is a reflection of my entrepreneurial ambition: throw yourself in some deep water and figure out how to swim!"
What do you see as the next step for Bishop House, after the launch of this inaugural line?
"Bishop House is a passion project that’s grown into a full-time focus, so we’re thrilled to see how the response to this first collection. There are so many talented designers in the region as well, so we anticipate future collaborations to build on our offering of glassware and to expand to other decorative objects for the home and a line of coffees and teas as well. I have a lot of hopes. Time will tell."