Imagine an evening in the not-so-distant future. Your phone unlocks the front door to your house. As you walk in, the lighting in your house adjusts instantly to your personal preferences. In the morning, a wristband senses when you’re entering light sleep and cues your floor lamp to brighten slowly, simulating the sun rising. This is the future of lighting for many of us. The technology is already here, and over the coming years, its application will be increasingly widespread.
So predicts Jan Vingerhoets, CEO at Flos USA, who knows a thing or two about lighting. He’s spent much of his career working for Italian design and lighting companies—first at Alessi, and then Artemide, and now for Flos, a company obsessed with and committed to all the details of fine lighting design.
Before you envision living in a sterile spaceship, consider the rest of Vingerhoets’ futurecasting. Even as advancements allow lighting to become more and more discreet, he believes we’ll still crave—and invest in—statement lighting. In fact, things of beauty, like a gorgeous chandelier, will become even more treasured as standout accents in a home, as everything else becomes more functional and hidden. “We’re living in an unbelievably intelligent world, but sometimes you want to just go in the park and take your shoes off and unplug,” he says. “Same with chandelier—let us have our technology, but we need the human aspect, the beauty of a product, as well.”
We caught up with Vingerhoets to discuss iconic lights reborn with LEDs, trends he wants to see disappear, and the importance of risk and failure.
What are the key values that drive Flos as a lighting company?
Attention to detail, quality control, and pushing the envelope on creativity. We strive for a perfect product. Our designers and our production and engineering teams excel at what they do. They’ll go back to the drawing board, or back to engineering, for the smallest details you can imagine.
Tell me a bit about how the company works with designers.
We work with designers in a very efficient but almost poetic way. They come to us and show sketches, usually very vague, maybe just an idea. The idea gets sent to Flos’ CEO in Italy, who’s very good at curating designs. Then the sketch goes to our engineers internally, who develop prototypes. In this way, the engineers, the CEO, and the designer work together in a fluid way to come to the perfect design of what’s feasible. That’s the birth of a product.
You work exclusively with independent designers, rather than an in-house design team. Why is that?
Companies with in-house designers can begin to copy their own style over time. Instead we collaborate with designers from all over the world, and those different influences all show in their design.
What’s new and exciting in the lighting world these days— any trends or technologies you’re especially excited about?
Thanks to LED lighting, fixtures don’t live with the same constraints they used to. Prior, you had a bulb you had to work around, so you’d have a shade or a channel where the bulbs attached. With LEDs, you’re almost without limit. You can have a flat panel, or change the color. And you can finally get the right quality at the right price now.
Flos has retrofitted several of its classic lamps for LED lighting… is this something you plan to continue to do with your line?
If the beauty of a fixture doesn’t change and the light output stays the same, then we don’t mind retrofitting or reengineering. But we’re not looking to retrofit at any cost—the integrity of the light is the primary concern. Some lights we won’t change because the original is better.
Personally, I chose the LED version of our 50-year-old Arco for my own home. We reengineered the original light, and it’s so well done. I think the light output is as nice or even nicer than the original, and it’s more environmentally friendly.
Any trends you’re seeing in lighting design that you dislike and would like to see go away?
I like beauty. I don’t like things that aren’t thought through or don’t give any attention to beauty. Beautiful is a personal taste thing, but if I look around, I see a lot of lights made without a lot of taste. The other thing that’s quite annoying are cheaper LEDS with a bright bluish color. That’s fine in a surgery room, but please don’t use this at home, not even on your Christmas tree.
Several of your most recently released lights are reconfigurable, flexible fixtures that allow a customer to create their own unique installation and use light as a sculptural element in a room. What makes them successful?
Yes! We never expected them to be popular. We didn’t think that showing the wire so visibly would do so well—and in fact, it’s still a bit of a mystery to us. It really enables you to create beautiful space with your own desire and creativity. It’s also a creative solution to a problem—most of the time, the junction box is in the wrong location. I love that previously people saw the wire as a problem, but now it’s a solution.
Tell me about one or two contemporary pieces in Flos’ collection that you believe will become the next icons of lighting design—the timeless and beloved pieces that people will still be buying in 50 years.
The Glo-Ball Classic by Jasper Morrison is timeless. The beauty of the light is that it’s a man-made glass sphere and the globe is a bit squeezed. The light has been fit inside in a way so you don’t see the source. You could put it in any room—a castle in Versailles, the sleekest modern house by Frank Gehry—and it fits anywhere. That’s an icon to me.
Tell me a bit about Flos’ relationship with Michael Anastassiades and the pieces he’s created for you.
Michael is one of those designers who, even with the success he has had, is down to earth, friendly, and always open to talk to people. It’s quite unique. Even more unique is his no-compromises approach to design. He lived his own life, making his own product for his own company, for decades before Flos found him and he found Flos. That relationship led to the incredible collection we launched, a burst of product.
His designs are very original—no one has done it the way he did it. His IC lights, for example—the way the globe sits on a branch or hangs from a branch, it’s very original. It’s very visible and yet difficult to describe. You have to discover it for yourself.
Can you share a piece of advice you’ve received that influences your work at Flos?
My old boss at Alessi used to say, if you don’t have at least one product fail each year, you didn’t push hard enough on creativity. In the 70’s, Alessi launched a line of serving pieces, Programma 8, that didn’t catch on. They relaunched it in 2002 and it became a bestseller. At Flos, we never think about what will sell, only about pushing the envelope on creativity. We don’t ask the public what they want. If you do that, you won’t ever surprise them.
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