Design Led Women – Emer Gillespie

Emer Gillespie


Design and Founder of Spark and Bell – who make handmade, beautiful, sustainable lighting. 


Spark and Bell have been on Lisa’s radar since Emer first started the company five years ago.  They make beautiful lighting that is at once understated and statement – yes, that does make sense!  Emer’s designs are both timeless and modern, beautiful raw materials put together in interesting ways.  Spark and Bell’s profile is consistently rising, and rightly so. 

In this interview, Emer tells us all about what led her to take the leap to start her own business.  She has some fantastic advice for any makers and designers out there thinking about starting out on their own.  And of course, we have a peek into her beautiful, plant filled home. /

Tell us about your brand and business?


Spark & Bell is a handmade lighting business which I started 5 years ago. All lights are made to order here in our Brighton workshop  and customisable. I’ve gone from my kitchen table, working through my maternity leave from teaching, to now having a lovely bright workshop in Portslade with a team of 5. I personally wanted to make quality lighting that didn’t break the bank and which was more accessible. We only sell directly to the customer which cuts out the middleman, but more importantly ensures we have a close relationship with our customers to get every detail perfect.

How have you designed your life to create one that you love? 


I started Spark & Bell as I was teaching photography in a local college, which I loved, but didn’t really like the pressures and workload put on teachers at the time. Being an artist originally I knew I wanted to get back to physically making things. I studied Textile art with a focus on fibre optic lighting for my degree and so when I made a light for my daughters room, I remembered how much I loved lighting and started to learn and experiment. I knew I wanted another kid and wanted the flexibility for my family and so Spark & Bell started. I worked through my maternity leave and it became clear when I returned to teach, I couldn’t do both and so handed my notice in. I love making, I love running my own business, I love the flexibility I have for my family, but it is hard work!

What have been the lows and highs of your journey?


I think  I may be just at the end my real low point which is this lock down. As I have the more flexible job as such, I have been homeschooling my kids in the mornings and then going into the workshop in the afternoons. My team has been amazing, but trying to run a busy small business on half days has been tough. But this too shall pass, so I cannot wait to give it my full attention again.

There have been many more high points; going to my first design festivals, especially the London Design Fair (I was a photographer/artist for years but hadn’t really dived into the design world), being invited to work with Olivia Rubin x Etsy collaboration and meeting an amazing group of women makers, seeing my lights in some amazing projects on TV and styled shoots, hiring my first employee… However the real high point was this summer when I got the keys to my first proper workshop. I had gone from my kitchen table, to a box room in my house, to a tiny shared space in a maker’s studio called Rodhus to a larger space in Rodhus, to our own workshop. It’s bright, it’s perfectly laid out and I cannot wait to finally run workshops and events here as we moved in during the pandemic.


Any top tips for budding entrepreneurs/creators out there?


Do what you love and try to make the best quality pieces you can. It’s important to be patient I think and know that while you may not reap the rewards initially, if you make good quality work and build a solid customer base, things will click. Join groups and ask for advice from as many small business owners as you can. I always felt I was reinventing the wheel until I started to reach out and ask others for help and advice. Try and switch off in the evenings if you can (I still find this one hard) and don’t be afraid to hire or outsource skills you don’t need to master. Learn how to price and get the balance of charging enough for your valuable time, but also not going above market value.

Finally, can you tell us about one or two favourite spots in your home?  What do you love about them?


Our home is a work in progress. Having moved there 2 years ago’ we’re about to go through major renovation works this year of a loft conversion and side return extension, which I am so excited for. But, two of my favourite spots are our back sitting room, which is currently like a jungle as my husband has taken it over as a mini plant nursery and is also where myself and my son pay A LOT of Lego. The other is our recently renovated family bathroom. I spent so long dreaming about and designing this room that I pinch myself every time I walk in there. It’s the tiniest bathroom that took some clever design decisions to open it up, but it worked and I love it!