Oakmont Glassware Company Looking to Join the Big Time
Amanda Lee began painting glasses in her basement to help pay for her college education. Today, she ships her products across the globe from a new, shabby-chic warehouse and gift shop.
The average work day for Amanda Lee begins in her studio in Oakmont, which doubles as her storefront, when she begins to paint one of the 150 glasses that will be completed in just 24 hours.
The owner of Amanda Lee Glassware, who recently moved to a shabby-chic-style warehouse gift shop and gallery near Oakmont Bakery, says while art has always been her passion, her career started almost by accident.
After 10 years of painting murals all over the city, Lee started classes at Slippery Rock University with the intent of pursuing a career in art history. But, after encouragement from her professors, she changed course and decided to study abroad instead at the Bratislava Fine Arts Academy in Slovakia.
To save money for her education, Lee began hand-painting wine glasses and selling them to friends and family. Their positive reactions encouraged her to pursue art full time when she returned to Pittsburgh — and a business was born.
Today, Lee says her glassware is unlike any other in that she uses her own secret formula to create her paint, which she says will not fade or lose quality even if you soak the glasses in soapy water for a month. Her store on Third Street, which she moved into last year, also has multiple collections to choose from. Among the most popular are the Steel City Collection, a “very whimsical, modern abstract version of the city skyline in black and gold,” and the floral designs. Each spring, Lee adds two additional floral designs to the collection.
Lee says she used painted about 20 glasses per day in her basement until she was able to move her business into a studio on Allegheny River Boulevard in Oakmont in 2013. She even hired art students to help paint glasses. But as her business grew and shipping rates increased, the space suddenly seemed like it wasn’t enough.
“It was difficult at first,” Lee says. “We really came to a standstill at our old store because we could not handle the growth and shipping. So we moved to [our new location in] Oakmont, and now we are getting ready to be more than just a gift shop in Pittsburgh. We want to be a huge national company.”
Lee currently is able to ship her products to all 50 states and to 25 countries. The studio in Oakmont, which she moved into a year ago, is a remodeled 5,000-square-foot gallery and gift shop with high ceilings and plenty of space for her and her artists. During the renovation, Lee thought about the personal touches she could add to make her space stand out; so she decided to add a bar that serves customers wine.
“When I traveled abroad, I was in Greece, shopping for a sweater, and these little old ladies gave me an espresso. I’ve always carried that with me. I want people to feel like they’re in my home and comfortable. We try to create an experience here,” she says.
Lee invites all of her customers on a tour through the store, including the gallery where she displays her other artwork, and the production room. Here, you’ll see the artists at work as well as Lee’s personal painting area.
Despite the company's rapid growth, Lee says her favorite part of being a business owner is being able to wake up every day and pursue her dream, and to help the young artists who work in the studio do the same.
“I love that I get to do what I love everyday,” she says. “I lost my art mentor last year, when he passed away due to cancer. I then realized it was my turn to be a mentor. That’s the heart of this business.”