Designer Interview: SULU by Susan Lutjen O’Connor

Posted by Barrie

This is the genius behind Sulu Designs:

Susan Lutjen O'Connor

This sweet, kind woman has been the mastermind behind Sulu Designs for some eight years now and I’d like to speak on behalf of everyone right now and say, thank you Susan for being so amazing!

Since the b&i brick and mortar shop opened over a year ago we’ve been carrying Sulu from the start. Her designs are always a surprise yet I can always tell its a Sulu piece. Earrings and necklaces that range from simple fox-tail chain with a few small beads to colorful, chunky statement pieces that’ll really make your outfit POP!

With such a broad design range I thought it’s be nice to get to know a little more about Susan, her life, and why she’s so awesome.

The Sulu necklaces currently carried at b&i. These babies are hot hot hotcakes!

Name: Susan Lutjen O’Connor

Age: Turning 36 this month (I celebrate birthmonths, not just birthdays)

Favorite Getaway: If I have one night, camping on Mount Hood. If I’ve got a few nights, any National Park will do, but Big Bend is probably my favorite. If I’ve got a week (and a bankroll), Southern Italy.

Favorite Restaurant: Impossible, impossible, impossible for me to pick just one. This city has the best food anywhere in the country. You can catch me at least one night a week at my local watering hole, Moonshine, with a beer and a bowl of chili and tamales. Happy hour at Clyde Common is a weekly ritual, too. I love the simplicity of Luce. And the romance of Le Pigeon. I could go on…

Favorite Part About Fall: Did I mention this is my birthmonth?

Best Stress Reliever: I’m a total gym rat. I’m really into weight training and cardio workouts, so if I need to blow off some steam you’ll find me sweating it out.

Favorite Hobbies: I spend lots of my free time walking around with my husband with cameras in hand, snapping photos of everyday Portland scenes. For a long time, I worked on a series of earrings inspired directly by the photos I took on my daily walks (you can see the series, called Original Intent, here). I like to cook. I love to eat. And I’m big into nesting – I love arranging things in our home, scouting out vintage finds, and generally making our place as comfortable as possible.

How long have you lived in Portland? I’ve lived in Portland for five years. Prior to that I’d lived in New York City for 13 years where I was an elementary school teacher in the South Bronx. Before that, I had a brief stint working construction in Miami, Florida. And I was lucky enough to spend a semester abroad in Rome, Italy. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio.

When/why did I start the brand? I started making jewelry eight years ago while I was still a teacher in the Bronx. I needed an outlet for my creativity and something to keep my hands busy that wasn’t school-related. And around the time that I started tinkering with jewelry, my husband had given me a few beautiful pieces of jewelry from a little boutique in Brooklyn. I got so much enjoyment from them that I wished that I could treat myself to handmade pieces like that with some regularity, but I found that most of what I was attracted to was way out of my price range. I decided that I’d focus on designing one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces that a gal on a public school teaching salary could love and afford.

Look at that chain! SO. SICK!

Susan's ADORABLE work space!!!

Um... can my house look like this please?!?!?!

What inspires you? I’ve always been inspired by my everyday surroundings. When I was in NYC, the beautifully decaying buildings around me and the crazy juxtaposition of sights, sounds, and smells played a big role in my designs. In Portland, I’m surrounded by much more natural beauty than in any other environment I’ve lived in. The colors of the plants and flowers here are unbelievable. Our apartment looks out over the west hills and we get stunning sunset views every evening. Color has played a bigger role than ever in my recent designs. But even with the inspiration of natural beauty being so prevalent, I”m a city girl at heart and I still like a little dinginess and rawness to come across in my work.

Necklace made out of fish vertebrata anyone? Yes, please!

Most rewarding part: I am so happy when I see gals wearing earrings or a necklace I’ve made. I like knowing that something that my hands created brings a bit of happiness to someone’s day. I love wearing the work of other local designers, too, and knowing that the pleasure I get out of handmade piece of jewelry is something that someone else experiences with my work is a really satisfying feeling.

Working away to make pretty things.

Favorite materials: I like to work with brass and copper. I had my time with shinier metals in the past, but I love the look of metal with a little wear to it. In terms of the beads I use in my work, I never go out looking for anything specific. I let the color, shape, and texture of what I find guide my designs. Bold colors really speak to me but subtle tones are nice, too. I like organic shapes but I’m into strong geometric shapes, too. I like matte finishes, but a little shine never hurts. I don’t discriminate – if it speaks to me for some reason, I’ll work it into a design.

Why do you like having your pieces at betsy & iya? I’ve been good friends with Betsy and Will for years and I feel honored to be a little part of the amazing space that they’ve built. They’re an unbelievably driven and creative couple. I like having my pieces in a place where other beautiful handmade objects surround them. I like that customers who find my pieces at Betsy & Iya will be greeted by an unbelievably friendly and helpful staff (because boutiques with attitude are lame). I like that my jewelry is available for sale in my neck of the woods.

Favorite b&i piece: The Lost Shot earrings are really cool. We gave a pair to my mother-in-law for her birthday, and they look amazing on her. The shapes remind me of mid-century design motifs, and I’m really interested in design from that era.

Well golly-gee. What a fascinating woman!!! You all HAVE to come into the shop and see what Sulu pieces we’ve got (the ones in the pictures were just a teaser; there’s more in backstock!!). I loved Susan before this post but having learned more about her and the brand makes me love her even more!!!!

I’m so glad you all get to learn about her too! She’s truly an amazing person and we are SO lucky to know her and carry her designs.

Look forward to more designer/artist interviews in the future!

Lovesloveslovestoall!

Barrie

PS. The pictures of Susan and her studio were taken by her lovely husband, Barry (same name!!), and you can find more pictures of his on his blog, The Faint Imprint.

***Song of the moment: Then I Met You by The Proclaimers***

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