Tuell: I am inspired by proportions, geometric relationships, textures and forms found in nature. My partner [Victoria Reynolds] and I keep an extensive collection of minerals, shells, seed pods, bark, all sorts of things. When I walk down the street and find a piece of palm tree or something, I’ll keep it for a while to look at. I think the basis of all design comes from the natural world.
I also look strongly into architectural history and classic design. I’m inspired by the work of Andrea Palladio, Vitruvius — the Roman who wrote on architecture — and John Ruskin and the Arts and Crafts movement in England, which was a reaction against mechanization and the Industrial Age.
I always keep a sketchbook, and a sketch usually starts with an idea or form or a type of use or a quality of light. Once we come up with a sketch, we meet regularly and talk about things that we like or want to pursue. The next step for us is generally doing a mock-up to scale, either in cardboard, scraps of steel, clay or whatever lends itself to put together quickly. We start doing that to see how the thing really looks and if the lighting components will fit. Then, we start working on a CAD drawing, defining proportions and designing specific components. We work almost exclusively with metals. We hand-hammer, and we use a lot of cutting tools irregularly. We work in clay and wax for casting.
We have a basic lamp called Bolinas (shown). It’s a large, textured block of cast bronze. It had origins in wood carvings and the textures of erosion, which you see when the tide has gone out or when a river has gone down. We had been looking at textures, and we were thinking let’s just look at basic lamps with nice proportions and quality of materials. I think Bolinas is a beautiful staple and timeless. We’re not interested in what’s fashionable, but what will last aesthetically and functionally.
We are prototyping new pendants using LEDs. What’s fascinating is that the light illuminates from a flat surface, rather than having an omni-directional quality. It’s appropriate for sconces, but weaving it into a room light fixture is a challenge. So, we’re looking at metal surfaces and thin glass sheets, which are golden on the inside. The inspiration comes from the gold leafing of Japanese screens. We started making cardboard prototypes, and we didn’t realize what kind of heat sink would be required for these LEDs. So, we’ve designed one out of a cut-glass plate and developed it into a central mounting hub.
Overall, I think that design needs to be fun and inspiring without being trendy. We’re in an era where we have to look at real costs, not just to the environment but also to our culture. We need to generate not a quandary of items, but quality items. There is no point in putting an effort into making something that will end up in a landfill.