A Modernist Master Introduces Lighting for the Future - Design Bureau

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Robert Sonneman in his Larchmont, New York studio


Reminiscent of Gerrit Rietveld’s tube light fixture of 1917, the Axes LED light is a playful, modern take on a classic.


With its suspended, glowing circle, Sonneman’s circular Corona light reminds us of a modernist’s take on a UFO. LED has landed.


Designed in collaboration with Peter Polick, Starflex features five adjustable arms each integrated with warm-white LEDs that cast a heavenly glow.

A Modernist Master Introduces Lighting for the Future

Friday, April 26th, 2013

We’re firm believers that good lighting is a must for any space, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Robert Sonneman—a master lighting designer who helped introduce modernist designs to the American home lighting market in the ’60s and ’70s—for the July issue of Design Bureau. (His classic 1967 Orbiter light is one of our all-time favorites.) After almost five decades in the business, Sonneman is still turning out cutting-edge designs, and he recently turned his attention to lighting’s new darling, LEDs. We talked to Sonneman about how the industry has changed and what’s next for lighting. Here’s a sneak peek of our conversation with the designer and a look at a few of our new favorites from his collection for Sonneman – A Way of Light

DB: How has the lighting industry evolved since you started designing products in the 1960s?
Robert Sonneman: It was once locally based and essentially traditionally styled. The factories that populated the boroughs of industrial New York and the northeast were small, independent family operations that never looked beyond the American shores for market or production. There were hundreds of American parts fabricators and assembly operations with almost all consumers furnishing their homes with incarnations of traditional English, French, or Spanish styles. When I began to make and sell lamp designs based upon the European functionalist modern aesthetic, it was an enigma to the mainstream. Although it received a great deal of notice and press interest, modern was a tough sell in the market. 

DB: How would you describe the industry today?
RS: Today the paradigm has shifted. We travel the world for inspiration. We produce in Asia, and our vision has turned to the innovative and contemporary genres. We are heavily involved with technology, we compete globally, and we design and develop projects internationally. 

DB: How have new technologies, like LED lighting, impacted the industry?
RS: Lighting has evolved from burning fuel or filaments to providing electronic illumination, generating brightness, infinite color, and programmable control. This is the dawn of a new age and we have only just begun to investigate, understand, and develop its possibilities. 

For more of Sonneman’s thoughts on lighting, check out the full story in the July issue of Design Bureau. Click here to subscribe.

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