Howard Kaplan on his approach to lighting design
July 16, 2009 - 12:20pm

When I begin a design, I actually design the entire thing in my head. Then, I sit down and do one drawing. I don’t go for design by committee. That’s when it falls apart. I believe that a design has to be the inspiration of one person and not a group. When it’s a group effort you get a little bit of everybody, and you get nothing in the end. You don’t get a single point of view.

Take the Europa pot rack [pictured}. I believe that the lighting in a kitchen is like a brooch on a beautiful woman. When you look at the kitchen, that is really what you see. It’s the middle of everything. It’s the necklace of the kitchen. I felt that it should be something as unique as the jewelry that a woman would choose to wear. So, I came up with the idea of doing something that was very emotional and functional. Putting pots over an island gives functionality and the necessity for lighting. All of my designs favor function in addition to being aesthetically interesting. I work in seven different finishes. In my opinion, the most interesting is polished copper. I couldn’t find anybody who did polished copper, but I realized that people were very attracted to copper cookware.

I have observed how people respond to design. I have literally analyzed every single thing that I ever bought for my antique store. I have watched people shop and noted what they bought. I also have studied people in terms of the past and have come to realize that every period repeats itself. In the 1980s, for instance, the economy was booming. It was a repeat of the 1850s when the economy gave rise to this incredible middle class. People from a broad base of the economy began to have money. Ornate things and tassels and heavy curtains and ostentatious furniture evolved into people’s psyches, and that’s what they wanted. The same thing happened in the 1980s. People had money, and they wanted to feel that they had money, and that gave way to ostentatious furniture, heavy decoration and big, heavy curtains.

With the current global economic downturn, I think the key is moderately priced lighting, aesthetically pleasing lighting and stay-at-home lighting. Lighting has to be functional, but it also has to make you want to stay home, make you really like your home environment and make you feel special. At the same time, I have never believed that design ever had anything to do with price. It costs the same to make a horrible thing as it does a fantastically beautiful thing. So, it’s really a question of the mental process behind the design. People respond emotionally. People very seldom purchase things pragmatically. Otherwise, everybody would say, “Okay, this light gives me the most light. I’m going to buy it. I don’t care what it looks like.” The way I see it, you have to feel good in your environment, and lighting is really the crux of that.

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