Lighting designers experiment with new materials
August 12, 2015 - 11:33am

From scrap timber to metal mesh, enticing raw materials shape this year’s most engaging fixtures and portables. Here, designers reveal the esoteric inspiration behind their choice of ingredients and how they translate them to satisfy their creative visions.

  Product: Organic Modern pendant
Company: Forecast Lighting
Lighting Designer: Dennis Beard
“I found an object with cork on it and thought it could be very nice on a light source, and not just as a decorative covering. So, I took the material and lit it [from behind] with a candle first, just to see what kind of light it might give off. It was really, really nice. At that point, [interior designers] had been doing cork on floors and walls, but I had not seen cork lighting.

“[Workers] peel the cork off the tree in cycles, every so many years, so it is definitely a green material, and they’re not cutting down or destroying the tree. It’s almost like a veneer.

“On most of the fixtures, the cork is applied to a glass liner. It’s not right next to the bulb. We always try to allow the proper distance from the light source to the shade. I think it was nice that, with all the texture, we were able to keep the shapes simple. [The fixtures] fit in well if you’re doing a lot of different natural materials, especially on the floor and wall surfaces. There’s a warm glow to the fixture when it’s on. That’s the nice thing about it: When it’s on, it’s beautiful, and when it’s unlit, it still has a beautiful, tactile surface.”
  Product: Cumulus
Company: Les Fourmis Bleues
Lighting Designer: Elen Boutang
“The materials and the shapes I use to create lighting borrow from nature—its accumulations, the mystery of its form and its unlimited creation capacity. I discovered that metal mesh was the most appropriate [material through which] to translate both the density and the lightness of a cloud.

“Metal mesh is generally used for building and air cooling. The idea was to use this rough material for an [uncommon] use, in order [for it to] be perceived as something noble—a cloud—opening a door to imagination, poetry and emotion. The use of [another] textile wouldn’t have allowed such an unexpected contrast.  

“Metal mesh is basically fireproof and protected against corrosion. As we use low voltage lights like LEDs or CFLs, there is no heating problem. Another interesting [aspect] of the mesh is that we can use its structure to create lighting effects, like the sun going through a cloud and making zones of shade and light, even with a low voltage light source.”
  Product: B5
Company: Birgit Østergaard
Lighting Designer: Birgit Østergaard
“I was inspired by the purity of how sailcloth looks and the way light breaks through it in the most amazing ways. This led me to start trying out different kinds of materials, but nothing has properties that are even close to those of sailcloth—at least not for the designs I come up with. The self-bearing capability [of the textile] makes it unique for shaping forms, and the shaping itself creates the way with which the light emits through the material.

“Sailcloth is an industrial product, but it almost looks like paper when illuminated. Because it is manufactured for actual boat sails, it’s very durable and can withstand almost any wear and tear. The other great thing is that it stays color-true, unlike paper, which turns yellow over time even with very small amounts of heat and light. The most difficult part of working with [this particular fabric] is making a form or shape that the material can handle and that we can actually produce. All our lamps are sewn up the back and then flipped [inside-out] like you would a pillowcase. This sets some restrictions as to how you can use the material, but [it’s the same] with other materials. They all have their strengths, which is why I love discovering new [media] to work with.”
  Product: Marina Pendant
Company: Meyda Tiffany
Lighting Designer: Paul Fostini
“Glass fusing actually dates all the way back to the Egyptians. It differs from blown glass in that you have much greater color control over the material. We’re combining pieces of glass to create different abstract designs and shapes. Glass-blowing is known as hot-glass work. Here at Meyda, we do cold glass work, which involves etching and carving, and warm-glass work, which involves fusing and slumping, as well as some hot glass work. I create many of our designs, but we also have a full-time design team that comes up with many other creative ideas. In addition, our customers create and inspire many of our designs. Each piece is the result of many different processes, some of which take quite a long time. Some of our pieces stay in the kiln for upwards of 60 hours.

“I like to say that glass fusing is the Tiffany of this millennium. It generates the same kind of interest and excitement that Louis Tiffany did with his art glass decades ago.”
  Product: Tree light
Company: Brent Comber Originals Inc.
Lighting Designer: Brent Comber
“On the coast [of the Pacific Northwest], I visit businesses that create wood products, and I collect their off-cut scraps. I visited a log sort, where they pull the trees out of the water and bring them onto the dry land to sort according to species, size and grade; they cut the flares off the ends of the logs to make them easier to stack.

“When I was visiting one of these sorts, I saw a huge pile of flares, and I thought it was a waste. I looked at them as beautiful gems in the rough. That’s when I thought of lighting. Looking at [the scraps] as very non-functional pieces of wood, I could turn them into a more functional thing, with a warmer context for people—something with more beauty. I want people to interact with these lights, to come up and look inside and touch them. We conceal some heavy-duty metal banding inside the wood for support, because, although we dry the logs prior to carving them, they’ll shrink just a little bit over the years and develop cracks. The banding guards against this.

“I’m using CFLs, LEDs and trying to get away from traditional incandescent bulbs, which I wasn’t too happy with in the past from an energy-efficiency standpoint. LEDs now emit such a beautiful warm light.”
  Product: Jellyfish pendant
Company: Stray Dog Designs
Lighting Designer: Jane Gray
“We started doing the papier mâché about three years ago. We were riding through New York in a taxi, and there was some sort of display at the Lincoln Center, this huge statue, and I was like, ‘Look how cool that is! That looks like papier mâché!’ I’m sure it wasn’t—I have no idea what it was—but it was just this cool, organic form. And so [we began] to toss the idea around.

“We usually use recycled cardboard boxes, and sometimes recycled cement bags are used at our factory in Haiti. And then it’s just dipped in glue and wrapped, which is something you did in kindergarten, I’m sure!

“You can do papier mâché anywhere. We decided to go with Haiti because of its poverty level; we thought it would be nice to create jobs down there. We found a very nice group [of artisans] to work with. They are extremely talented, and I can draw all sorts of bizarre, weird things—and they are able to produce them.

“Papier mâché is surprisingly durable. We had this little bird statue, and I put it out in my yard, just to see, for a year. It stayed in the rain and the snow and the elements, and it was fine. The paint chipped off, but it was fine. You’ll come across antiques every once in a while that are papier mâché, and they’ve lasted generations
and generations.”
  Product: Luster sconce
Company: Ridgely Studio Works
Lighting Designer: Zac Ridgely
“Luster, like many of my pieces, is born out of material discovery. I was on a movie set with a friend who had a small part in a film, and they had some reflective aluminum panels that were simulating a water effect.

“The idea of captured fire is what caught my eye. The combination of incandescent light and that warm glow really drew me in. I started talking to local suppliers and eventually found that I could bring the polished aluminum in, create the shapes and have it anodized to add different colors. Luster is [made from] gold-anodized aluminum. Held within the fold of the sculptural fixture is the light source. It’s not readily apparent where the light is coming from because [the design] is so highly reflective. There’s a sense of mystery.

“It is a stiff material; we get it in raw sheet form and really work it and manipulate it, and it’s quite a physical process. You can only work [aluminum] so much, and then it will actually break. It’ll crease and fatigue, so there’s some challenge in that. It’s somewhere between metalwork and the delicacy of working with a stiff fabric. Each [piece] is its own sculptural creation, each one different from the next.”
  Product: Diego
Company: Perch! Design
Lighting Designer: Amy Adams
“I have an undergraduate degree in fine arts, and I did some ceramics there. Then, I went to [the Pratt Institute] to study furniture design. While I was there, I learned about foot-casting, which is [one way] of doing ceramics, and I really liked it. I also spent many years working for a lighting designer who does everything in metal, so I got familiar with lighting design, and they all kind of went together.

“The first light that I did was the Early Bird pendant; it’s about five years old. There was one line that I did about two years ago that was five pieces—a desk lamp, a little chandelier and three pendant lights—and those all went together as a body of work. The Diego lamp came this year because I was specifically trying to do things with more patterns and decals, as opposed to bold [all-over] colors.

“Ceramic tends to be a pretty good material for [lighting] because the temperature doesn’t matter. The type of clay I use is earthenware, which is not a translucent clay, and that’s one thing that’s been sort of specific to my pieces. Earthenware is a lower-fire clay, and porcelain is a high-fire clay, which is why it’s more translucent. It’s a bold [material], rather than some light, airy, translucent thing that might be closer to glass or porcelain.”

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