When I first saw Jacqui Van Ham’s beautiful light fixtures at Feast BBQ in New Albany, I knew I had to meet the woman behind the artwork. Jacqui creates not just light fixtures, but a menagerie of functional objects with mason jars and other re-purposed items. She will tell you that she makes soap dispensers for a living. Not exactly. On the side, she refurbishes motorcycles and makes scented soaps, too.
What do you do for a living?
I am the maker/builder/owner at Van Vintage Design.
When did you discover that you had a talent for this?
I don’t know if it is talent or a necessity. I always admire great design, lighting and accessories. I am a thrift store and auction junkie, and love the idea of reinventing everyday objects. I grew up in a canning household, and the mason jars were a natural fit. I started amassing quite a hoard pile and wanted to do *something* with them. I researched the best parts available, and started assembling them in our garage.
My first jar dispenser was sold to The Silver Dollar on Frankfort Ave. I have now sold probably over 500 of them, Clearly there is a need for getting rid of those disposable, yucky plastic ones everybody has next to their sink … It’s kind of my mission!
Have you always been “handy”?
Yes and no. I grew up with a super handy dad who would do everything from house remodeling, to building hopped-up 50mph go-carts. It definitely was a DIY type of environment! If you wanted something, you worked hard and saved your pennies, or, you figured out how to make it yourself! All of our Halloween/school play costumes were made by our Mom, who was the more creative/artsy DIY’er.
How did you learn how to wire things, fix motorcycles–you know, complicated stuff like that?
Necessity! Being on a budget breeds creativity. When I started getting into older motorcycles, I could ONLY afford busted up bikes that inherently had problems. I started reading whatever I could (manuals, guides pre-Internets) and I tried to logically solve the problem. I felt at least if I could diagnose the problem, the mechanics would take me a little more seriously. Well, that and a six pack of beer will take you far with most mechanics.
What is your latest project?
I definitely want to broaden my line for craft and art shows, and liquid soap seems like a natural fit for my dispensers. I’m working on a series of Southern and workshop-inspired fragrances: think bourbon, sweet tea and your grandpa’s workshop. Fragrance has such a strong, emotional pull. I want to make something that reminds you of a place, a time, a person.
Also on the horizon, I am wanting to focus on doing more custom lighting this next year; industrial and automotive inspired.
Do you get to drink all the bourbon when you make your bourbon barrel chandeliers?
Ha! Sadly, no! I do love bourbon, of course, hence my paying homage to it with my larger bourbon chandeliers. I have a nice relationship with several distilleries, and when I’m building something specific I can usually call and go visit them. It’s nice to reuse THEIR staves and materials and really get a feel for their history, and it helps me get a sense of design and aesthetic. I really want to get to a place where when people are thinking custom lighting for their restaurant, distillery, or home, they think “Jacqui Van Ham.” <smile>
How do you balance your job and your personal life?
This year has been a really fun year. The spring and fall have been busy with art/craft/flea shows. In the winter, I travel representing companies at a traveling winter motorcycle trade show series. I like to stay busy! My home life is where I recharge my batteries with my partner of several years, Stephen. We have a great, low-key home life with good friends, good food and our wiener dogs, Stanley and Frank.
What is the biggest life lesson you have ever learned?
Life is VERY short; you have to go out there and get it! It sounds really hokey, but I have a
phrase: “No doesn’t live here.”
Who is your mentor?
As far as a mentor; I’m not sure. But, I definitely am not afraid to ask questions of friends who
run their own independent businesses, especially Ron Jasin at MadPixel Art and Design and
Natalie Officer at Natalie O Design. They are both great resources, and fun to springboard ideas
What is best advice you have received in business?
Only do business with people you respect, and don’t undervalue your products. I don’t really
cut “deals.” I price my products fairly and good things cost good money.
If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?
I would love to be an announcer for motorcycle racing, events and broadcasting.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I have spent years studying wine and was a wine steward/sommelier at 610 Magnolia
here in Louisville. And, I am one of the only women to have been featured on the cover and in
Classic Bike (the vintage motorcycle geek’s Bible).
What is your favorite place to go for dinner out?
You do all these manly fixit things, yet you are sitting here with your beautiful hair curled and perfect makeup. You are definitely not a tomboy! What are some of your favorite products?
Thank you! I AM a girl, it’s true! My bathroom cabinets CLOGGED with product will testify to that! I’m a believer in cheap shampoo, good conditioner, and great hairspray!
In my current rotation:
- Tresemme shampoo, clarifying
- John Freida Root Awakening conditioner
- And Frederic Fekkai or Big, Sexy Hair Hairspray
Where do you like to shop?
I spend the majority of my shopping time at food stores! I am addicted to food porn, and frequent stops are Losta Pasta, and Trader Joe’s. But, for great gifts for myself and others, I love
Gifthorse on Market.
What is a treat or a luxury you do for yourself?
My monthly splurge is a chemical peel tune up at Radiant Skin Treatments in St. Matthews.
What is your weakness?
I am a perfectionist; and am pretty critical of my work. And pizza. I can’t quit it.
What is your favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Great dinner with friends on the porch, with good tunes playing and a great bottle of wine! I’m pretty simple. Especially this time of year, there’s no place prettier!
Three things you cannot live without (besides God, family and friends):
- My wiener dogs
- My Chucks (Converse sneakers)
- My motorcycle
What are you reading right now?
What are three of your “favorite” things right now (can be anything).
Three geeky MUST HAVES this spring:
- A Dutch frame cargo bicycle from Linus bicycles
- A Navy Filson bag; for travel/work
- 1960’s/70’s Stainless Men’s Rolex
Jacqui Van Ham was a delight to work with for this article. We so enjoyed poking around her studio and seeing all of her talent. Visit her website to learn more about her and her work: www.thevintageadvantage.com.
Adele Reding, my FACES photographer, is also a delight to work with for all of our FACES. Please visit her website and think about her for all your wedding, portrait and other photography needs. She is “the Best of the Best.” Her website is adeleredingphotography.com.