This Nebraska Couple is Lighting Up the Design Industry—Literally

In their hometown of Kearney, Nebraska, Jeff and Teegan Nordhues create stunning light fixtures. Their secrets? Mastery, tenacity, integrity and a proprietary blend of terra-cotta.

High school sweethearts Jeff and Teegan Nordhues once zipped around the world working for home design giants like Palmer Hargrave and Kohler. When kids arrived, the couple returned to the Great Plains and opened Pax Lighting, selling stunning, high-end sconces, pendants and ceiling fixtures. And every model name-checks a Nebraska town.

Jeff and Teegan Nordhues
Jeff Nordhues handles design for Pax Lighting; Teegan steers marketing and trade relations. Outside the shop? They describe themselves as veteran campers (but beginner backpackers). Courtesy of Pax Lighting

Most Pax fixtures pair slim, slip-cast ceramic or glass reflectors (shades) with brass tubing. Tell me about your material choices.

TN Terra-cotta and porcelain are warm. They have … organic is not quite the right word because it's very clean … but the finishes have an unexpected earthiness.

JN At Palmer Hargrave, I learned a lot about old brass lighting, and how it's made to be taken apart and refinished and have a whole other life. Mass-market lighting is really disposable, so I wanted to see these old-world methods carried forward with new technologies like LED.

I've read that your lighting is inspired by the Nebraska landscape. Connect those dots for me.

TN Where we live, there's a lot of space. We play with that concept, the minimal earthiness of the prairie.

JN I grew up helping my dad build houses and helping my grandfather with small engines and farm equipment. There's a tremendous amount of ingenuity in the ag and industrial life around us. A lot of that does inform my work.

How so?

JN I have experiments all over the place. There are a lot of origin points to my ideas, but many times I'm inspired by our equipment.

TN I was trying to write product descriptions for the Bancroft release, so I asked Jeff, "What was your inspiration?" He said, "The tubing bender." [laughs]

That's a tool?

JN Yeah, I had an idea for a hollow curved shape, so I just started to bend brass tubing to find its natural limits. Many benders collapse the wall slightly. Ninety percent of the population would never know the difference, but I know it's wrong. So we either research a ton to find the right tool or build one to do what I want.

Pax Lighting fixture
Dixon Triple Sconce; room: Tara Miller, The Heartland Interior Design. Courtesy of Dana Damewood Photography

Why spend time on something not many people would notice?

JN One of our core values is mastery. I love having my hands dirty, and that requirement to test and test. You can never fully master a material, but the further along that path you get, you start doing things other people can't do.

How do you find staff to help you do this specialized work?

TN We don't have a pool of available craftspeople, so instead of looking for skills, we're looking for qualities. Our part-time ceramicist is super interesting. She has a master's degree in chemistry, so she is willing to wrestle with the materials. Her tenacity to find edges of things and keep going, that's one of the qualities we want to hire. That's probably more important than being a ceramicist—you can teach those skills.

Pax Lighting
Courtesy of Pax Lighting

That sounds intense, but really satisfying.

TN One of our other values is honoring the craftsperson and the materials, that deep knowledge of how things are made.

JN For example, for our glass, we partner with people who have fine-tuned unique processes. So if you look closely, there's evidence of that left behind. Characteristics of the glass show where it came from, who made it, what kind of shop they have—it tells a story.

Pax Lighting
Dixon 6 Light Narrow. Andrea Glinn Interior Design

You've said you have had to reconcile the world you come from with that of luxury design. What do you mean?

TN In the Midwest, there's a different values system and relationship with money and luxury. "Luxury" has a somewhat negative connotation.

JN I had always struggled with high-end product, but as I started to understand the time, skill and labor that goes into all we produce, the price point can't be anything but what it is. My goal is pieces you can look at in 30 years and not necessarily pinpoint them to a particular time. That gives designers and homeowners a lot of versatility.

Your kids are 9 and 11. Do they show curiosity in this process?

JN Our kids are very much in the shop; they know all our employees, and our employees know them.

TN We moved back for family, so it would be foolish to exclude them.

JN Our son would like to do more! I let him help clean the mill and the lathe. He's like, "When can I start turning parts?"

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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