How Blown Glass Enchanted an Entrepreneur, Built a Brand, and Drew a Designer’s Devotion
The Muffins family, designed for Brokis by Lucie Koldova and Dan Yeffet, makes expressive use of blown glass and light.
When Lucie Koldova first travelled from Paris to tour Janštejn Glassworks in the Czech Republic, it was kismet. She was there to discuss making Muffins, an unproduced light she co-designed with Dan Yeffet, the first release of Janštejn owner Jan Rabell’s new designer lighting brand, Brokis.
Eleven years later, as Brokis creative director, Lucie Koldova continues to develop new designs from her workshop in Prague, including special ten-year-anniversary editions of Muffins (for 2020) and (soon), another Koldova/Yeffet co-design, Balloons (2021).
Although the brand is well-known throughout the world–with its lights shipping to over eighty countries worldwide–Brokis has only begun to gain the reputation it deserves in North America. The journey of Brokis, Jan Rabell, and Lucie Koldova is a story of a profound and intimate love for glass, light, and the harmonious symbiotic relationship that exists between the two. The passion kindled by that love helped revitalize Janštejn, built Brokis, and imbues every design the company produces with power and soul.
Building Brokis: The Business of Blown Glass
From the heart of Bohemia, Janštejn Glassworks has produced blown glass for over two hundred years.
Located two hours outside of Prague in the Czech Republic, the Janštejn Glassworks has been producing handcrafted blown glass creations for over two centuries. Since Janštejn was founded in 1809, knowledge and tradition have been passed down from artisan to artisan, earning Bohemian glass a reputation for quality throughout Europe.
The blown glass diffuser of a Muffins family light takes shape under the deft touch of Czech glassworkers.
By the end of the twentieth century, however, Janštejn Glassworks had hit a rough patch and was in need of revitalization if it was to avoid closure. The investment opportunity came to the attention of entrepreneur and financier Jan Rabell, who knew next to nothing about glass and its production, but was intrigued. As he learned more about glassworking, Janštejn, and the rich history and legacy Janštejn Glassworks represented, Rabell fell in love. He saw value in preserving the Bohemian glassworking tradition while also drawing upon developments made in Italy and other centres of blown glass production.
After buying the glassworks in 1997, Rabell began a long period of research, learning everything he could about the art and craft of glassworking. He reworked the facilities to balance the preservation of established traditions with innovative developments to achieve the highest quality products. Soon, Janštejn was once again supplying European lighting and homeware brands with the finest-quality bohemian glass.
The passion Jan Rabell had developed for glass and the artistry of those who crafted it inspired within him a desire to go beyond producing glasswares and components for other brands’ designs. He began to think and plan for the founding of a brand as renowned for authentic designer lighting as Janštejn was for blown glass.
Left: Jan Rabell and family, the people and love that built Brokis. Right: A cluster of Chiaramonte Marin’s Knot suspension lights: Cilindro, Sfera, and Disco.
As with his revival of the Janštejn glassworks, Jan Rabell devoted much care and attention to establishing a firm grounding for it. Founded in 2006, Brokis would not produce its first lighting design until 2010. Part of this delay was caused by the global financial crisis of 2008, which Rabell and his family struggled long and hard to navigate Janštejn through. The talent, skill, experience, and devotion shown by Jan, his wife Petra, and his children not only kept the glassworks alive, but gave Brokis the foundation it needed to survive in a market that was only just beginning to recover when the first orders for Muffins began to go out.
A clustered installation of Memory ceiling lights by Boris Klimek illuminate this contemporary café’s bright and joyful interior.
Lucie Koldova was already interested in blown glass when she made the fateful trip to tour Janštejn Glassworks, but had only had limited opportunity to really experiment and develop such designs. When Jan Rabell offered Koldova the opportunity to design for Brokis, it was not only the young designer’s chance to fulfill her dreams of working as a lighting designer, but also to really work with this powerful and mysterious material.
Glass has its own sex appeal.
“I became fascinated with it totally,” Koldova says in an interview she generously granted LightForm via email, “glass has its own sex appeal. Transparency, effects, versatility–mostly I fell for it in combination with light.” This adoration for glass made Lucie Koldova a natural complement to Brokis. After several more designs for the company–both with Dan Yeffet and individually–Jan Rabell hired Koldova to be creative director for Brokis in 2014.
Lucie Koldova: Designing with Passion
Lucie Koldova and just a few of the designer lights she has created and co-created for Brokis.
Born, raised, and educated in Prague, Lucie Koldova moved to Paris in 2009 to work with Arik Levy Studio. In addition to her work with the studio, she had continued to develop her own style and designs on her own, which is what brought her to the attention of Brokis. Koldova’s work is cleanly simple yet emotionally evocative, born of her ability to draw out the essence of the materials and forms she develops.
Every design, of course, begins as an idea: some thought that catches in her mind’s eye. To explore that idea, then, Koldova draws her set of personal design practices, but without ever losing sight of the uniqueness of this individual idea. Koldova explains: “I do have my rituals; however, it is special for each project. I have to know which aspects to follow to bring out the idea.” Once Koldova has done her own explorations, she brings it to her studio–established in Paris in 2012 and since moved to Prague–where they “work further on elaboration of ideas, and on reassurance of the form and function.”
Lucie Koldova’s Sfera pendant lights combine a timeless form with new technology to create a suspension light that is as beautiful as it is simple and easy to maintain.
The entire process is intensely rigorous, and many ideas do not survive to the point of a final design. One of the most important elements in a successful lighting design–more than the investment of time, effort, and creativity that every attempt represents–is emotion. “I have to be in love with the new thing,” Koldova says, “I have to feel I bring something new with it–something sexy.”
Rapid-Fire Questions with Lighting Designer Lucie Koldova:
1. What is your favourite meal?
2. What was the last book you read?
Red Riding Hood :) since I have small kids.
3. Who is your favourite artist?
I love the work of Faye Toogood; she is incredibly inspirational and creative.
In addition to the lights she co-designed with Dan Yeffet—Muffins, Balloons, and Shadows–the designs produced through Lucie Koldova’s relationship with Brokis have been diverse in character, and yet distinctly hers. One of the key reasons for this is the intimate personal understanding she has of light: “I see a light as a sculpture–an object radiating energy. I shape the energy of the light through the relationship between the source and the glass.”
This approach can be seen in the organically-inspired Ivyfamily of lights, or in Macaron, which began as an experiment in the characteristics of light diffused through stone and was completed with the delectable name suggested by its form. The Big One, Mona, and Capsula designs use glass-within-glass designs to explore different refractory characters. Meanwhile, Jack O’Lantern, Flutes, and Whistle use shape and contrasts between blown glass and metal fittings to evoke the objects upon which they were based as much as they do observers’ emotions.
I see a light as a sculpture–an object radiating energy. I shape the energy of the light through the relationship between the source and the glass.
Sfera pendant lights use essentiality of form to create a clean, iconic presence, while the Puro collection of lights uses slender cigar-inspired tubes to tremendous effect, celebrating calm stillness or vivacious energy depending on the arrangement of its component parts. By seizing on a unique characteristic and exploring it to sculpt and mould the light each luminaire produces, Lucie Koldova creates luminary works of art as a designer. Moreover, it helps her bring out the best in other designers as Brokis’ creative director, overseeing designs developed by Fumie Shibata, Boris Klimek, and design studio Chiaramonte Marin as they further enrich Brokis’ offering by drawing new and interesting concepts out of Brokis’ signature blown glass.
The clean friendliness of Lucie Koldova’s Mona pendant lights add a buoyancy to this mid-century modern dining room.
Alfredo Chiaramonte (left) and Marco Marin (right), founders of Chiaramonte Marin design studio.
The Knot family of lights, which includes pendants with a range of profiles as well as a table lamp, was designed by Chiaramonte Marin to explicitly draw a contrast between the cool, sleek glass and rough, warm-toned rope that penetrates it. With the knot that gives each luminaire in the Knot line its name positioned directly opposite to the lamping element, this contrast is further emphasized. And, indeed, the pendant typologies take it still further, with the rope running through the centre of the lamping element, catching the light in its fibres before reflecting them through the glass.
Combining rustic charm and contemporary grace, the Knot family of pendant lights make remarkable clusters.
Memory wall sconce was designed by Boris Klimek to inspire whimsy and childlike wonder.
Boris Klimek is to thank for three remarkable designs from Brokis, each of which combines a sense of whimsy with an elegant form. Memory wall and ceiling lights share the shape of a child’s helium balloon, floating against the ceiling. Its string acts as a control for the lamp within, inviting you to indulge in nostalgic remembrances of wonder and beauty every time you switch it on.
Lenka Damová, who co-designed the Geometric collection of pendant lights with Boris Klimek using Brokis’ proprietary Brokisglass material.
Both of Boris Klimek’s other designer lights for Brokis are marked by their use of Brokis’ proprietary Brokisglass, which is produced by the subsidiary company of the same name. Brokisglass, both as a material and a company, was born of Jan Rabell’s desire to make the glassworking process more ecologically-friendly by reducing waste. Through a process developed in-house at Brokis, discarded glass shards from Janštejn Glassworks are reworked into sheets of intricately-patterned glass, which can then be reworked into new and vibrant forms.
Night Birds uses Brokisglass to evoke the form of seabirds flying in the distance. Clusters of the different curved forms found in the Night Birdscollection of pendant lights create an energetic and friendly character in a space. Meanwhile, the Geometrics collection, which Klimek co-designed with Lenka Damová, is a family of contemporary pendants with a fun and funky profile. As suggested by their name, Geometric pendants consist of circular or oval frames that are subdivided using a semi-circle. Within the spaces left sit panes of Brokisglass–illuminated from within the frame–or empty space, depending upon your selection when ordering. The simplicity of the form combines with the complexity of the patterned Brokisglass to create a joyous and vibrant beauty.
Coming soon to LightForm, the Geometric collection enjoys a remarkable level of customizability, allowing you to create exactly the pendants and clusters you desire.
Awa pendant light (left) was designed for Brokis by Fumie Shibata (right) to evoke a bubble hangling in the air.
Fumie Shibata drew on her remarkable and diverse experience in conjunction with her Japanese cultural heritage to devise her designs for Brokis. The highly-conceptual Awa (“bubble” in Japanese) attempts to recreate the soft, supple nature of a floating soap bubble using blown glass. The lamping, made of wood and metal, is finished to resemble glass, adding to the sleek character of Awa pendant lights.
Shibata’s Bonbori floor light drew its inspiration and name from the traditional lanterns that line the walkways to Japanese temples during annual festivals. This award-winning luminaire is particularly noteworthy for Brokis in one respect apart from its inherent beauty and dignity: its outdoor variant was Brokis’ first design for outdoor lighting.
We question the wisdom of hardwiring any lights in the middle of your dock, but Bonborri Outdoor is the one to use if you do!
Preserving the Past–Looking to the Future
Boris Klimek’s Night Birdspendants were designed to make marvellous clusters with the several available shapes and colours, each formed from Brokis’ own Brokisglass material.
One of the key elements of Brokis’ future, as Jan Rabell envisions it, is expanding its collections to include more exterior lighting. In addition to Bonbori outdoor floor lamp, they have already adapted Night Birds and Shadows designs for outdoor-rated uses. Portable lamps–what Lucie Koldova likes to call, in her signature romantic style, “nomad lamps”–are also an area Brokis intends to develop further in the coming years, beginning with the soon-to-be-released Knot Battery and Ivy Battery.
Left: A cluster of Night Birds Outdoorpendants in the woods. Right: The upcoming lights Ivy Battery (top) and Knot Battery (bottom) will expand Brokis’ portable table lamp offering.
Family is another aspect of the future at Brokis, both for Jan Rabell, whose son André works by his side, and for Lucie Koldova, who refers to motherhood as “the biggest challenge ever for a woman designer,” but, she is quick to note, “I made it, and it made me stronger and wiser.”
By investing in Czech glassworking traditions and using modern technology and techniques to refine them, Brokis has created a striking collection of sensual designer lights. And it will no doubt continue to surprise and delight lighting enthusiasts around the world in future, thanks in no small part to the passion and savvy of Jan Rabell, and the creativity and brilliance of Lucie Koldova.
Left: Jan Rabell poses with Muffins in an atmospheric photo taken at the glassworks he saved. Right: Lucie Koldova poses with Big One, one of her philosophically rich creations for Brokis.