Ask An Expert, Resources + FAQs

Ask an Expert: What is RLM Lighting?

Q. What exactly is RLM lighting? I thought it was mostly used for factories and farms, but now I’m hearing about it more and more for residential applications.

A. To get an inside look into the unique technology and style of today’s RLM lighting, we went to the experts, Troy RLM:

RLM was originally an acronym for reflector light microscopy, which refers to the way these fixtures direct light toward a subject with precision. Over several generations, that acronym has shifted meanings to encompass the aesthetic and manufacturing side of lighting. Most designers today will suggest RLM stands for “reflector luminaire manufacturer” when it comes to lighting.

While they were invented some time ago, RLM lights have never really gone out of style. Certain design staples find ways to reinvent themselves over time to not only stay relevant, but guide trends as favored looks get revisited and reconsidered. One notable example is the iconic Sputnik fixture. It helped define the mid-century modern movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and today remains a staple look in a plethora of new and creative incarnations.

RLM lighting comes from an older and broader reaching set of influences than Sputnik. Patented by Reuben Berkley Benjamin and sold to General Electric, RLM lighting helped profoundly improve lighting conditions in industrial spaces in the early 20th century.

The iconic downlight reflector design helped direct light from exposed filament-bulbs to give people in working environments more directed illumination while they toiled. Reflectors helped make early light bulbs more efficient by channeling light with purpose, which soon made RLM reflectors a popular option for open spaces like gymnasiums by mid-century. RLM lighting is a distinctly American-made aesthetic, one that many companies, such as Troy RLM, hold onto by producing all fixtures stateside.

Aesthetically, they are tied to a tradition of industrial style that people today are drawn to. For lofts in historic factory spaces, RLMs represent a throwback look that’s tied to the early history of the building, updated to meet the demands of today’s technology and energy requirements–no more dim corners and eerie yellowed glow.

Their simple geometric forms make them a cool and understated look for urban spaces in general–where touches of the industrial are needed, but rougher elements seem out of place. Rounded RLM fixtures like our Deep Reflector Outdoor Pendant transcend easy definition in trend and aesthetic. It lends a cool and effortless look to a place and doesn’t age with fickle aesthetic tides.

Versatility is another major selling point for RLM lights. Because their designs aren’t easy to categorize, subtle changes in finish can radically transform their presentation. By design, RLM fixtures are meant to be easily customizable. Select an old school finish, like the galvanized look on the Standard Outdoor Pendant, and you have a genuine kitsch-free farmhouse look with a modern twist. Get it in red, and you have a high modern favorite ideal for the most vanguard galleries.

Perhaps the real beauty of RLM lighting comes with its unique modularity. RLM lights look natural in a variety of mounting, finish, and lamping options.

Of course, their original design intent hasn’t worn away with time and aesthetic-revitalization. RLM lighting still directs light–today, vibrant and efficient LED and halogen lights–so it spotlights certain spaces without distracting people seated elsewhere. Outdoor RLM lighting has also grown in popularity, because its reflector directs light to sidewalks, walkways, and roads while creating less light pollution. A lot of RLM outdoor fixtures are Dark Sky Certified, for places like Sedona and Joshua Tree where the beauty of the sky is half of the appeal.

And, in other instances, the original intent is turned on its head in artistic new ways. Take, for example, the Radial Wave Pendant, which incorporates wavy metal finished in bright colors and a wired cast guard to combine industrial and conceptual into one cool new look. RLM lighting isn’t always easy to define, it seems. But it does wonders for creating definition in your decor.

Team Y

Team Y

Team Y is a dedicated group of design devotees. We love everything that has to do with modern design, from products like lighting, furniture and decor all the way to interior design, architecture and city planning. What inspired the design? How does it work? What does it mean? We want to know. And once we know, we are constantly inspired to share what we've discovered with others who love design as well. That's Y.

Use #YintheWild to show us your modern space. VIEW GALLERY