lighting design in New York is "like Dutch design in the nineties"
New York 2015: the lighting scene in New York is "exploding" according to designers in the city, with young companies joining established names to create a movement with a unique aesthetic (+ slideshow).
A host of new brands have sprung up following the success of pioneers such as Lindsey Adelman, David Weeks and Jason Miller.
"It's just exploding," said Miller, a Brooklyn designer who is founder of luxury lighting brand Roll & Hill. "There's a critical mass of people doing it all at once."
Miller said the energy of the scene is comparable to the great period of Dutch design in the 1990s that saw the emergence of global names including Hella Jongerius, Marcel Wanders and Richard Hutten.
"There was a critical mass of people doing similar interesting work and it just exploded and became an international thing," he said. "And I think there's something like that going on in New York right now in the lighting world."
The new breed of New York lighting designers have a lot in common. They tend to self-produce their products, which are aimed at the luxury market. Their work is large-scale and sculptural but has a slightly retro feel, which responds to the somewhat conservative taste of wealthy New Yorkers. Chandeliers abound.
They favour traditional materials such as brass and opaque glass, and their work often features circular forms and modular connecting elements. And they have often worked under one of the established names before branching out on their own.
"David Weeks was doing lighting first; Lindsey Adelman started working with him and then started [homeware brand] Butter with him before going off on her own," said young designer Bec Brittain, who worked under Adelman for three years before starting her own studio in 2011. "I found Lindsey and was inspired by her and learned under her and moved out on my own."
Brittain, like Adelman, designs lights for Miller's Roll & Hill brand, which also produces pieces by designers including New Yorkers such as Rich Brilliant Willing, Paul Loebach and Rosie Li.
"In some ways it's happening because there's the kind of mentor and mentee relationship and it's expanding from there," said Brittain. "Rosie Li used to work for Jason Miller at Roll & Hill and now she's out on her own doing lighting. So I think it's a kind of generational spread."
The star of the New York lighting scene is Lindsey Adelman, who worked under David Weeks before setting up her own studio in 2006 and has become the major name on the international scene as well as a mentor to local designers. Besides helping Bec Brittain's career, this year she presented products designed by Mary Wallis, a member of her design team, at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York this weekend.
According to Adelman, the financial crash that rocked the city shortly after she established her studio played an important role in the genesis of the lighting scene.
"[The scene took off] just after the crash in 2008-2009," Adelman said. "I think a lot of people wanted to stay as creators and really started looking into options of doing it themselves. Cutting down on overhead, finding other spaces, not taking a salary, setting up a shared workshop, just making it happen rather than relying on other companies, because that wasn't an option. I think for those reasons, there's a huge burst of creativity that came after that time."
Lighting was an obvious choice of product to design, she said, because of its simplicity. She didn't need to rely on big manufacturers and could produce her products herself, or in conjunction with local suppliers.
"Lighting for a number of different reasons really suits the business model of independent designers in a way that a lot of other products don't," agreed Jason Miller. "Being an independent designer is really hard. It's really hard to cobble together a living. And for whatever reason, lighting suits that model well. So there are a lot of designers that are doing it."
The close-knit nature of the New York scene meant that designers often shared suppliers and resources, which in turn has helped forge a coherent aesthetic.