With 25 years of national and international experience, James McLeod is taking his CLEOD Glass + Works glassblowing business to new heights—literally. “We have been spending a lot of time in the air lately, hanging sculptural glass in incredible spaces, especially here in the Lowcountry,” McLeod says. “Our clients have big ideas and grand ceilings, so it’s a rewarding experience for us to combine our artistic knowledge of glassblowing with our design expertise. It’s magic up there.”
With a creative bent that has been developed through the design and installation of hundreds of dynamically sculptured lighting fixtures in households and businesses all along the East Coast and beyond, McLeod is busier than ever and loving every minute of the intricate process. “Our clients are looking for something that is uniquely personal and only exists within their space. It’s exciting to collaborate with clients and designers to create on any scale, with lots of folks wanting to illuminate multistory spaces. I feel more comfortable 30-plus feet in the air now than I did when we started,” he says. “The sky’s the limit.”
Indeed, it is. With his dedicated team of five, McLeod has created astonishingly beautiful fixtures in his Essex, Massachusetts, studio—The Bubble Factory—that seemingly float above the competition and have earned plenty of kudos. “We are creating something for our clients’ homes that no one else will have, that we can execute at a higher level than exists in our industry,” McLeod says. “We asked ourselves collectively, why don’t we focus on things that no one else can do? So, that’s what we did.”
The concept and design phase accounts for a little more than half of a project’s time, says McLeod, who also notes that every single piece—hardware and all—is made in the company’s studio. “Our collaboration with the client—that’s where we really get to know them and what’s possible to create together,” he says. “No matter where I think a project will end up, it’s the sharing of ideas and images with the partners we’re working with that creates the unique pieces that truly belong in these settings.”
Like so many businesses, the design, creation and installation of sculpted lighting designs involves plenty of problem-solving. McLeod says some of his blown glass lighting fixtures can weigh more than 800 pounds. “Much of our initial design phase is done on-site with our clients because it’s important that we have a clear collaborative vision. I have an incredibly talented team that shares my love of creative challenges and, I’ll admit, sometimes these visions are challenging,” he says. “Of course, we start with all that we’ve learned in the past but every situation is different. We make sure we’re not focused first on the right answer but the right question, and we ensure that there is space for everyone on the team to contribute. We are doing things with glass that you don’t see in this industry, and that’s always exciting and fun.”
McLeod and his team, which includes his wife and partner, Libby, made the decision in June 2023 to pivot the entire operation to illuminated sculptures because it made sense for CLEOD and for people looking for something they can’t find anywhere else. “Who doesn’t love colorful glass barware,” McLeod says. “But you can find pretty good quality work in other places. So, for the rest of the year, we’ll still offer a few signature pieces, but the main attraction is hanging from the most thrilling and underused canvas in any space: the ceiling. That’s what we’re focused on.”
McLeod closed his store in Rockport, Massachusetts, to focus solely on lighting. He also reimagined the Charleston facility on Broad Street by changing what was the retail shop into a lighting design showroom, with distinct spaces that let customers feel what it’s like to be with these one-of-a-kind pieces.
Lowcountry local Tori Lancaster leads the Charleston showroom and sales growth. “With deep experience in client relations and logistics, Tori is instrumental in every aspect of what we’re building. She is the heart and soul of the showroom, and she’s wildly talented at keeping our projects on track. To have her here on Broad Street to meet with homeowners, designers, architects and builders is the ideal scenario,” says McLeod, who is in Charleston every month to work on the footprint of a glass facility he expects to become reality in the next year or two.
“Libby started spending time in the Lowcountry 20 years ago. Now the whole family is invested in being here long-term, and we want everybody to know that we are here to stay,” he says. “We have a dynamic offering that we want to share with as many people as possible and want to grow with this community.”
McLeod, who holds an MFA from New York University and a BFA from the California College of Art, is also a professor and the current chair of 3D Fine Art/Glass at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.
With boundless energy and the ability to multitask, McLeod is able to juggle quite a few balls between the family business and home. “We’re able to accomplish a lot because I absolutely love what I do, and I have a terrific partner in my wife, Libby,” he says. “Our work here brings a lot of pride to our entire team, and she’s totally on board with that. It’s because of her that I am able to spend time and energy in Charleston getting to work on lighting design projects that bring out my passion for creating beautiful and elegant fixtures for anyone.” *
Ellen Uribe is an award-winning journalist and a communications expert. She is a sought-after speaker, participating as a moderator and panelist at numerous industry events, conferences and broadcast outlets. She has contributed to Vanity Fair, Palm Beach Life, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Women’s Wear Daily and Time Magazine.