5 minute read

The Journey: A Look at the Need, Design, and Development of Bespoke Luminaires

By Randy Reid

During my forty-year career in lighting, it was a bit unnerving when I realized the tremendous lack of experience and knowledge I have with custom luminaires. It has only been since my role at designing lighting (dl) magazine did I fully appreciate there is an entire world of bespoke luminaires.

Bespoke luminaires offer many advantages. One of the most important is that they can be designed in such a way to perfectly solve a problem. Because it is custom, no compromises are needed. Second, there likely is not a competitor, so everyone can be compensated for their work. designing lighting (dl) magazine strongly supports the industry’s ability to make a fair profit, including the reps, and thankfully, we don’t hear of 3% commissions on bespoke luminaires.

In Europe, bespoke luminaires are more common than in the U.S., and several lighting designers design their own luminaires.

In July of 2021, I spent an afternoon with world-renowned lighting designer Dean Skira in his office in Pula, Croatia, where he explained the importance of designing luminaires for his jobs. He asserted, “Designers love light, but we don’t like fixtures.” His recent design, Nime, is a luminaire completely hidden in the ceiling. The human eye sees no source. There is only a small 1cm circle. The luminaire is manufactured by Delta Light, and all the hardware is above the ceiling, including three lenses. Dean said, “We break that beam to 0 degrees, and that is where we have the 1 cm opening; below the ceiling the beam can be either 20 degrees or 50 degrees and can be rotated 360 degrees.

Photo Credit: Delta Light

Designers love light, but we don’t like fixtures.

— Dean Skira

In September of 2021, I ran into Dean in Milan during Euroluce, and he was explaining one of his iGuzzini designs to other designers. I found it interesting that his designs are used at two different companies.

One thing that dissuades the design of custom luminaires in the U.S. market is the certification process and the associated costs, specifically UL and DLC fees. The UL cost is a given for safety concerns. Most custom luminaires are for new construction, so there likely would not be any utility rebate. Still, some designers want that DLC stamp of approval, even though it is not needed. Theses costs add up and can dramatically add to the price of small custom jobs.

Designer Marco Stignani and I met in Milan in September of 2021, and he explained that the certification process in Europe is not as strict as in the United States, saying, "I was designing a luminaire for a special project and used a company for the LED components. Since the LED was already certified, the engineer just needed to get approval for the electrical system and not the complete luminaire.”

American landscape lighting designer Patrick Harders explained that he was an early LED adopter for landscape lighting back in 2009. But those early luminaires had short life due to improper heat sinking. In addition, they were almost impossible to service, and, in many cases, the entire luminaire needed to be replaced if one electrical component failed. It was so important to his design business to have correct luminaires that he began designing his own, which resulted in starting a new company, Sterling Lighting. Now he supplies complete fixtures for his own design needs and sells to other landscape lighting designers across the country.

Many OEMs will do custom work. A few designers suggested two OEMS where bespoke work is paramount: Zaneen and Yellow Goat Design.

Zaneen has a new division for custom work called Studio Zaneen, which offers two avenues of solutions for designers – custom build or modifications. With custom, Studio Zaneen will work with a designer to create a new product specific to their project and produce a unique luminaire. Zaneen is not restricted to large quantity projects and will decide to move forward with a custom proposal based on a variety of reasons. One reason can simply be to build a rapport with the design community. Budget and timeframe are also important issues when considering a custom job.

Photo Credit: Studio Zaneen

If applicable, Studio Zaneen has the flexibility to modify a wide range of standard products to match or reflect the inquiry instead of producing a complete custom fixture from scratch. With modifications, Studio Zaneen can adjust or scale luminaires by using their flexibility with standard Zaneen products to better suit a designer's needs.

Amber Caton of Wegman Design Group designed the lighting for the Tribby Arts Center in Ft. Myers, FL. Amber used custom fixtures from Yellow Goat Design, explaining, “The luminaires floating above the reading space in the Literary Artist Lounge are Yellow Goat’s Cloche fixtures, and there are six uniquely stunning Halo Vert fixtures in the grand lobby that were modified in a teardrop shape to highlight the kinetic sculptures and the terrazzo pattern in the lobby floor.” Three are 5 feet in diameter, and the other three are 4 feet, all specified at 3000k color temperature.

Photo Credit: Yellow Goat Design

Caton added, “Sometimes you just have to do custom so you can get the appropriately sized luminaire in the space.”

We could not agree more! ■