Jewellery, furniture, and lighting designer Lara Bohinc, who inspired this article
As the world continues its awkward, stumbling lurch toward social equality for all its people, official observances such as Women's History Month (March) and International Women's Day (March 8) provide us important reminders to celebrate the accomplishments of women with the same fervour as we do their male colleagues.
"I think the problem is not that there aren't enough female designers, but that there aren't enough females in positions of power." Lara Bohinc
This year, our focus is inspired by a recent interview Lara Bohinc did with Interior Design. In the interview, Bohinc mentions that the key element that creates the disparity in the number of male and female designers able to make a living "is not that there aren't enough female designers, but that there aren't enough females in positions of power." In essence, because most creative directors and other decision makers above the designer level are still men, their tastes are over-represented in the selection and rejection of designs for manufacture.
This International Women's Day, we're honouring women who, in addition to being lighting designers, use their positions of power to elevate less-heard voices, drive an often-recalcitrant world toward equality, justice, and sustainability, and express the beauty of their own visions through design.
Cofounder, Co-Design Director: SkLO
It was Karen Gilbert who saw potential, when she and her husband, architect Paul Pavlak, made the acquaintance of Pavel Hanousek. Primarily a jewellery designer, Gilbert had learned about the history and quality of Czech blown glass early in her education and never forgotten it. Learning of Hanousek's knowledge of, and experience in, the Czech glass industry, Gilbert realized that she and Pavlak had been presented with a rare opportunity.
Naming their new designer lighting brand SkLO, the Czech word for glass, cofounders and design directors Gilbert and Pavlak set out to combine the mystery and beauty of blown glass with the contemporary sensibility—and sustainable focus—of California design.
Every light and decorative object that SkLO offers begins at the tip of Karen Gilbert's pen (or stylus). Whether manifesting an inspired form in glass or exploring the elemental power and potential that molten glass represents, these designs are refined by the couple before the first workflows and prototypes are set down in the Czech Republic, after which the decision is made to either try again or put the design into production as part of SkLO's designer offering.
"I think that this is what makes SkLO special: that our designs are the work of a woman, and they do not share the same masculinity of form I see repeated over and over again in the lighting design sector." Karen Gilbert
As Dounia Tamri-Loeper began to envision the next stage of her design career, she knew that she wanted to draw upon the culture and traditions of her native Morocco. Trusting in fate to show the way, she returned to the land of her youth for a tour of personal and professional rediscovery.
Her answers came to her when she saw the meticulous traditional metalworking that was a hallmark of the region's mosques, temples, and other important buildings. In particular, she was struck by the intricately-patterned lanterns and shades found in these building's illumination—and thus Dounia Home was born.
Dounia Tamri-Loeper's devotion to her heritage and homeland is more than just a stylistic one. Dounia Home's production facility is located in Marrakech, Morroco, where it provides well-paid jobs for skilled metalworkers who carry in their minds and hands the legacy of centuries of Moroccan metal crafting. Further, the metals that take shape under their skilled touch are mined and refined locally, which both helps the Moroccan economy and provides still more jobs with every unique, handcrafted designer luminaire that Dounia Home produces.
"Every product we buy affects someone somewhere on this planet we all live on." Dounia Tamri-Loeper
The Najma pendant light provides direct task lighting while the patterns in the shade create intriguing constellations on walls and ceilings in darkness
Cofounder, Creative Director: Nuura
At the core of Sofie Refer's lighting designs is a single, simple concept that has enchanted her since she was a child: the distinctive character of sunlight in the Nordic countries.These were the qualities that she, along with partners Nadia Lassen and Peter Østerberg, sought to embrace when they cofounded Danish designer lighting brand Nuura.
Thanks to her successful design career, Refer herself was the natural choice to serve as creative director and lead designer for Nuura. As she approaches the creation of each Nuura collection, Refer appears to think very much like a musician.
She first composes the chandelier, establishing the central unifying melody, and then expands and explores that theme through the rest of the collection. Still, this pattern is evident in her own collections, but is not something she chooses to impose on others. In the first Nuura collaboration with an outside designer, Sofie Refer worked to ensure that Rizzatto's voice and Nuura's thematic essence were combined seamlessly into a luxuriously timeless collection.
"I really want to honour light. I want to challenge myself to also express the importance of light in my designs—we want to enlighten." Sofie Refer
Miira chandelier (left) is another of Sofie Refer's German Design Award winning collections, while the Rizzatto 43 pendant (right) and its collection—named for its creator, legendary designer Paolo Rizzatto, was commissioned and curated by Refer
Creative Director: Brokis
Unlike the women we've featured above, Lucie Koldova did not found Brokis, the Czech glass specialists and lighting brand for whom she is creative director. Rather, Brokis founder Jan Rabell, impressed by her creativity and discerning taste, hired her in a story we already told elsewhere).
Lucie Koldova is a multidisciplinary designer who, in addition to tending to her family, works ceaselessly with international clients and collaborators. From her studio in Prague, she and her team create designer lighting and furniture as well as decorative objects, interior design work, and even fashion eyewear. And, of course, all of her personal designs are created in addition to her work guiding the aesthetic and creative work of other designers whom Brokis works with to create many of their designer lights.
Making the Opportunities Not Given: Designer-Owned Studios
While the work to empower women through appointment to positions of oversight and curation continues, we wish also to honour the female designers who work to promote themselves, their philosophies, and their works through their own design studios.
In the words of mid-century-modern pioneer Greta Magnussen Grossman, "the easiest way to show what you can do is to do it yourself." We've selected six design studios led by women whose design philosophies could have put them out of step with the mainstream, but who have found success through tireless work, devoted creativity, and—above all—the courage and integrity to remain true to themselves and their design values.
Studiopepe was born when Chiara Di Pinto and Arianna Lelli Mami, both having graduated from Politecno di Milano the year before, ran into one another during separate vacations to the same Mexican beach. Despite having differing opinions and focuses, they found in one another a shared enthusiasm for sustainable and democratic design. Together, they use their contrasting tastes to draw the best out of each other as they collaborate on furniture and lighting designs, artistic installations, and a range of architecture and interior design projects.
From her design studio and home in The Netherlands, artist and designer Jette Scheib creates new and intriguing forms based on a wide range of traditions and techniques. Endless curiosity and exploration, both of the world and her own life, guide her creative voice, resulting in lighting designs that are as varied as they are conceptually innovative.
Already an acclaimed designer of jewellery and fashion accessories, including work consulting for Gucci and Cartier, Lara Bohinc has more recently become known for her furniture and lighting designs. Her Moonrise collection for Roll & Hill grew out of her fascination with the deconstruction and interpretation of geometric shapes—a quality that evokes the timeless strength of Art Deco design, but with a feminine twist.
Building on a background in fashion, 1996 saw Lorenza Bozzoli refocus her studio's boisterously vivacious sensibilities toward industrial design. Where other designers aspire to timelessness, Bozzoli embraces the excitement of fashion. Her designer lights for brands such as Moooi and Slamp are bold, intense statements that refuse to blend into the background.
Anna Lindgren and Sofia Lagerkvist, the minds behind Swedish design studio Front Design, approach every project as an exercise in cooperation. Working together, they devise and design exuberant and experimental creations that are as bold as they are fun. From a sculptural floor lamp the size and shape of a horse for Moooi to a simple arrangement of metal legs and lamping heads for FontanaArte's Tripod, every creation from Front Design distinctly unique.
In each of Finnish designer Maija Puroskari's creations, one finds a fascination with the future. This is not in an aesthetic sense, but rather a consistent valuation of nature and sustainability—as seen in her supple designs for Mater—as well as creating designer goods for children to help develop their minds and appreciation of the natural world.
Naturally, these are only a few highlights from the number of women in design who have made the difficult choice to pursue an uncertain career in lighting design and succeeded. The question that should be in all of our minds right now is: "how many brilliant and creative voices haven't succeeded because their work never found an appreciative eye?" It is for this reason that we chose to celebrate the women above who have used the power they have to uplift themselves and others who may not have been as lucky.