Lighting Designer John Beck Talks About Rogue Roots
April 4, 2012 - 3:35pm

Beck: My design business started with a job I hated. A sales job. I was selling printing. But I have a degree in graphic design, and I had become interested in metalworking while working for a welding supply company and a custom metal fabricator straight out of high school. My sister-in-law collects antique furniture; she had storage units and garages full of it. A few years ago she said, ‘Why don’t we open a store together? I’ll put in my stuff, you’ll put in your stuff, we’ll buy some stuff to add to it and see if it works.’

I was up for anything to get out of that printing company job, so we opened the store. But, it didn’t do so well. Retail is a lot of work, and she didn’t want to do it anymore, and I couldn’t do it anymore because I was too busy making the furniture. So, we closed the store, and I was able to focus 100 percent on doing the furniture. That was three years ago. The lighting came in about six months ago. This year’s ICFF was the first time I’d shown it publicly other than on my Web site.

I’m a big fan of design and stuff, so I’d always wanted to do some lights to complement my furniture line. I told myself to come up with 10 designs —10 designs that I could make and sell. I started working with mesh because who would ever think to put that around a light bulb? It’s completely unexpected, and it looks cool. It reminds me of those lights in hazardous locations with that cage around them. I really love those things. The Light One, a big round mesh design, is one of my favorites.

In my lighting I also really wanted to emphasize the light bulb. I use those long, filament-style, antique-looking light bulbs, which lend to the whole industrial, handmade kind of feel. My love of handmade stuff comes from my grandpa, a train engineer and a real hands-on guy. Everything he built, the plans and blueprints were in his head. I operate a lot the same way. It’s all up in my head, which makes it tough when you have employees that are trying to help you build things.

I have this phrase: Let the need lead. Nothing extra, no fancy doo-dads, just the bulb and its protection — the shade — or in reference to a table, just the legs and a top. Only what needs to be there. That’s what I was trying to get across [with my light fixtures]. I’m a big fan of function. Function is the goal and, as an accent light, my designs fit the bill perfectly.

I’m a notorious rule tester. It’s just my nature. I question everything and test every rule. I need to know ‘why’ — and that’s probably why I’ve been fired from nearly every job I’ve ever had, except for this one, though I’ve almost fired myself a dozen times. I guess we’re sort of breaking the rules in our own shop, pushing our design ability with everything we do.

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