Brooklyn Design Destination
These days, Brooklyn is ground zero for innovative design—including modern lighting. It started percolating about a decade ago, with the opening of concept design stores like The Future Perfect and Matter, which featured established and emerging talents from Brooklyn and beyond. In the intervening years, a wave of designers have moved to the borough, drawn to the sense of community and the prevalence of large studio spaces—and, for many, the ability to manufacture ones products in-house. As the buying local and American-made movement has taken off, and the economy has picked up, so too have many Brooklyn designers’ careers. Here, three trailblazers shed light on their companies, and the role lighting plays in this lively urban center’s design scene.
Founded by Jason Miller in 2001, Roll & Hill quickly gained renown for their large decorative hanging lights—eye-catchers that make a room—and their cadre of top-tier independent designers. The company produces their modern lighting on demand, allowing the opportunity for local manufacturing as well as customization.
Based for years in Greenpoint, Miller recently moved his operation to an early 20th-century warehouse on the waterfront in Sunset Park, part of a seven million square foot industrial development—a classic example of the kind of opportunity that allows designers to grow their business in Brooklyn. Working here enables Miller to be close to other lighting designers, including collaborators on Roll & Hill fixtures. “We are all friends for the most part,” Miller says. “And that leads to a healthy level of competition, like competing with siblings. I think it’s great because we are constantly pushing each other to be better.”
Roll & Hill is in the midst of a major expansion: they just launched several new collections at New York’s Design Week, which are, not surprisingly, highly innovative. “They have a presence that I haven’t seen in light products in a while,” says Miller. “They’re unlike anything that’s on the market right now.”
Rich Brilliant Willing
After years sharing a studio in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the three founders of Rich Brilliant Willing—Theo Richardson, Charles Brill, and Alexander Williams—decamped to 4th Street in Brooklyn, at the edge of the Gowanus Canal. What was the allure? “You can get a lot of space, and there are great vibrant neighborhoods and a strong community of interesting artists and craftspeople working in all disciplines,” says Williams. “There’s a real renaissance of entrepreneurism and making in Brooklyn today.”
This trio is no exception: they design and handcraft every one of their lights, which are notable for their simple-but-striking forms; minimal use of materials; and their seamless integration of the latest LED technology. The Gala series, for example, features warm, dimmable bulbs and illustrates the brand’s guiding principle of what Williams calls “letting the respect for the materials guide the design.”
Jean and Oliver Pelle met as grad students at Yale’s architecture school. In 2011, after toiling at various firms in New York City, the couple founded Pelle and set up shop in an early 20th-century building in Red Hook. They left the architecture field to focus on smaller-scale design—specifically, lighting, furniture, and products—but their training still informs their work. “We are quite rigorous during the design process and there is a constant back and forth,” says Oliver. “We always think of [an object’s] context, how it is used, how it should perform, and how it can be made.”
The design duo’s rigor has paid off, in the form of handsome, cutting-edge light fixtures that have earned the young company acclaim, such as the highly customizable metal-and-glass-globe Bubble Chandeliers. Their waterfront neighborhood teams with other craftspeople, a source of inspiration and motivation for the Pelles. “We are surrounded by woodworkers, welders, glass blowers, fabrication shops, stone yards, upholsterers, and whatever other business you can think of,” says Oliver. “It is a vibrant community of makers and entrepreneurs that is truly inspiring. Every one of them has their own point of view. Brooklyn right now really seems to be a breeding ground of new talent. It’s very exciting.”