Lee Rhodes selects the perfect palette for the perfect tableaux of warm, healing light.
ELVES ARRIVED EARLY this year to help Lee Rhodes decorate for the holidays. They’re expertly stacking and unpacking boxes and bins, harvesting and draping homegrown cedar boughs, and we’re all keenly aware it’s an unseasonably sunny October day, but … deadlines.
Rhodes is the founder of glassybaby, those gloriously vibrant votive holders (and drinking glasses) you’ve certainly ogled, if you don’t already own a few dozen. Rhodes owns a few dozen dozens herself, possibly many, many more, and she and her extraordinarily deadline-accommodating team are putting together the perfect palettes for room after room of perfect holiday tableaux. When you’re the founder of glassybaby, we’re guessing, you really can’t prop up a Charlie Brown tree and call it good.
Literally in minutes, Rhodes’ already-beautiful living room, overlooking oodles of trees and one major lake in Washington Park, is magically transformed into a sparkling winter wonderland of more than 100 glowing glassybaby, in seven specially selected, nature-themed shades.
“These colors have great names,” Rhodes says (“wise,” “dream,” “starry night,” “peppermint patty,” “silver lining,” “soul,” “flawless”). “The neutrals bring the outside in — they’re understated, very Northwest.”
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Ahhh. Yes. All is calm, all is bright and — O, holy night — did it just get warm in here? (There are also more than 100 tiny flickering flames from more than 100 tiny votive candles; you’ll welcome that cozy bonus during the real winter holidays.)
That’s what glassybaby do: They spread warmth. And light. And healing.
Rhodes started glassybaby in 1998, when she was recovering from lung cancer. She had three children; the oldest was 3½.
“When I was sick, I would say to the kids, ‘We need to live in the White Light,’ ” she says. “Just like the glassybaby, it just works.”
The White Light Fund, clearly not coincidentally, is the name of her company’s charitable-giving program. Ten percent of every glassybaby sale is donated “to help people, animals and the planet heal,” Rhodes says — more than $8 million overall. And for the holidays, “Every store — eight, plus the website — has a giving partner. We have $1 million or more to give away this year.”
These happy, healthy holidays, Rhodes’ children are grown up and moved out (her son, Mericos, writes for glassybaby, and her brother Bill Cummings — “I call him Billy,” she says — serves as CEO). She and her husband, Peter Seligmann (who recently retired as CEO of Conservation International, which he co-founded), live with reindeer-sized pups Azalea and Jackie in an exquisite estate on the lake. While it’s being renovated, they’re hanging out in a home on the hilltop above.
They’ve got a few things going on — and Rhodes appreciates that the rest of us do, too.
“You can decorate with glassybaby in 20 minutes,” she says. “You’ll have them forever, unless you smash them or leave a match in them. Some things in your life you should be able to change just one or two things. You can change a few things out of your collection: Put away the reds, and keep the whites out all year. We try to support people who are super-busy.”
This balmy October day, Rhodes and her holiday helpers have created living-room, kitchen and powder-room displays of simply stunning, and stunningly simple, beauty. Everywhere, groupings of glassybaby cheerily mingle with treasured mementos and family keepsakes. “I usually use glassybaby and cedar boughs, with transparent ones around the cedar,” Rhodes says.
She estimates there have been 400 to 500 glassybaby hues all together, counting those that were retired after their “color rods” became unavailable. Each glassybaby is handcrafted by artisan glassblowers at one of the company’s two hot shops, in Berkeley, Calif., and our very own Madrona. And each shade is very purposefully named (some — “peppermint patty,” “starry night” and “rudolph” — are exclusive to the holidays).
There is but one glassybaby scent — perfectly subtle (“a little bit of lemon”) and meaningfully one-of-a-kind.
“It’s from 12.29 in New York, twin girls,” says Rhodes. “They met with us and went to Paris for three weeks and stirred and mixed and gave us three to choose from. The one for glassybaby is ‘kindness,’ ‘giving back,’ ‘simple.’ We don’t want to be a scent store. Most candle stores, you can’t really breathe. We want to make sure people live with it and take that deep breath, a reminder of simplicity. We lose sight of that, and it’s really inspirational.”
Also simple: glassybaby is glassybaby, and glassybaby are glassybaby. It’s always exactly what it is, even all dressed up for the holidays.
“We feel like it should never be plural or capitalized; we never shout,” Rhodes says. “They’re not supposed to take over your life; they’re supposed to enhance it.”