Call it the Lindsey Adelman effect. The New York designer’s iconic Branching Bubble chandelier—a perfect mix of ethereal and industrial—catapulted lights from utilitarian to coveted “It” items. Along with redefining fixtures as art objects, her sculptural creations—featured in just about every interior design publication and high-end home in the past decade—paved the way for a new school of NYC designers electrifying the once staid lighting space.
“New York’s current big moment in design, and in lighting design in particular, really began around ten years ago during the height of the Brooklyn design scene,” explains David Alhadeff, founder of contemporary design mecca The Future Perfect. “In response to seeing the same classic designs coming from Europe, a community of American designers worked together to create a new iconography of lighting design that felt distinctly American, filling a large gap in the market.”
These designers included pioneers David Weeks, Jason Miller, and, of course, Adelman, who produced their own high-quality, made-to-order fixtures and created a custom-order system that set the stage for collectible lighting. “The collaborations between this community inspired a new generation of up-and-comers to continue pushing the boundaries of American contemporary lighting,” says Alhadeff. Here are five designers leading the charge with their bespoke, architectural fixtures.
The darlings of lighting design, Apparatus’ sexy, attention-commanding fixtures seduce with opulent brass, marble, horsehair, and suede. “Everything is about creating a sense of desire,” says creative director and co-founder Gabriel Hendifar. And what better way to do that then with mood lighting. “It dictates so much of the atmosphere, it’s easy to fall in love with,” he says. Apparatus’ distinct aesthetic is largely based on the unique materials and craftsmanship that define their collections. “Coming from fashion, I gravitate toward the tactile,” explains Hendifar. “I made things by hand and have always loved when you can see the hand in the finished piece. So much of our work is about the patina, the juxtaposition of imperfection and perfect geometry.” And that artisan feel isn’t going to change. As the studio progresses, expect to see more handcraft like embroidery and leather integrated into their lust-worthy pieces. You can also expect new decor categories such as the upcoming system of rugs. While Hendifar couldn’t give away too much, he did reveal the inspiration behind their upcoming collection. “ACT IV finds us somewhere in the early 1960s, and is about the fascination with modernity at the start of the Space Age,” he says. “There is something hopeful and optimistic about that moment and I have really needed that to inspire me lately.”
It didn’t take long for Bec Brittain to rise to the top of the lighting world. After three years as design director for Lindsey Adelman, Brittain founded her own studio in 2011. It’s then that she launched SHY, her stunning and innovative modular system of sleek LED tubes that can be configured in infinite combinations of cool graphic forms.
“It’s the backbone of my practice,” she says. “It just took its cue from seeing the beauty in linear fluorescents that we’re typically used to seeing in industrial settings, but recognizing what nice lines of lights they are.” Never one to shy away from change for the creative good (the designer received degrees in philosophy and then architecture, before finding her calling designing lights), Brittain is exploring new territory once again. The 40-year-old scaled back her operation and relocated her studio from prime Manhattan to the more low-key Long Island City, Queens. An unusual decision for someone whose star is rising (clients include everyone from celebrities to big brands).
“The studio move is to nurture the part of my practice where I do special editions or one-offs—the weirder works that really need some sort of creative space to make,” she says. We, for one, are watching this space closely.
It doesn’t get more modern Americana than Allied Maker. “We’re in the suburbs, all of our work is handcrafted in the USA, we’re supporting American artisans, and our inspiration comes from a modern outlook on the world,” says founder, Ryden Rizzo. The lighting brand started out of his parents’ garage on the North Shore of Long Island in 2012, which he now runs with his wife Lanette. “I think we have a dome/circle obsession,” muses the designer about the shape that’s often a starting point in their approachable and elevated designs, including the in-demand Arc. This is a growth period for the duo. In addition to recently opening their stylish Tribeca showroom, the couple just had a baby (their second boy), bought a new home (“we’re working on a midcentury renovation in Roslyn Harbor”), and updated and improved their studio’s manufacturing capabilities. At the ICFF show in May, the designers will debut large scale chandeliers. “Allied Maker started in a garage. We only made what we physically could make at that moment,” says Ryden. “These new collections will show off how much we’ve grown, and how much we’re capable of.”
Lindsey Adelman protégé, Mary Wallis, started interning at the prestigious studio in 2009, and by 2014 Adelman was producing two of her designs: Light Line, a neon sculptural lamp; and Edie, a gothic chandelier constructed from brass and geometric beveled glass. “It’s inspired by the silhouette of a bird,” says Wallis about her breakout fixture. “The glass shards are pushed away from the brass frame like fluffed up feathers, and each piece of glass is a unique shape just as in nature.” The 39-year-old, who’s focused on her eponymous studio, and is working on a new collection entitled Spring, reflects on her time with Adelman. “One of the most important lessons she taught me is how to be creative on cue.” And what’s getting Wallis’s creative juices flowing lately? “Advancements in technology that allow the light source to be completely integrated,” she says. “We can now fuse form and function seamlessly.”
“Lighting really is magic,” muses designer Karl Zahn. “The magic that we feel when we flip a switch and our lives are illuminated is very emotional. I can say the same about seeing really good art or experiencing fantastic food.” For that reason, the designer, who also creates cool wooden toys and furniture, is focusing on lighting for the near future. This past July, after a decade working with Adelmen, where he served as the design director and created the dreamy, nature-inspired Kingdom series, Zahn struck out on his own. Recent travels re-energized the creative, who’s already hard at work on his new prototypes. “While I can’t say much more right now, it is definitely something I have never seen before,” says Zahn. “And after searching all around the world and seeing so very many light fixtures, that is actually really hard to say.”