Jennie Oh: Outdoor marks a new category for SONNEMAN. How long has the collection been in the works?
Robert Sonneman: We had been studying the notion of simple sculptural forms as interior wall fixtures for about a year, and as we saw them develop, we began to realize that these forms worked equally well outdoors as they did indoors. As we investigated the possibility of building these fixtures for outdoor locations, we decided that we should investigate the application in depth before introducing exterior luminaires. Whereas the industry delineates exterior from interior as separate categories, we found that we could expand our design vision to become a category of its own, for both applications. Inside-Out is based on our belief that “Good Design Works Well,” no matter the application.
JO: What challenges and limitations did you face in creating an outdoor line as opposed to an interior collection?
RS: Luminaires designed for exterior use face a separate set of application, performance and test criteria that is distinct from that of interior fixtures. In addition to fit and finish, they must endure weather and climate conditions of temperature extremes and exposure to water, salt, and wind. They have to be extremely well built and use heavily tooled processes to achieve their requirements of use. We love producing well-engineered and extremely well built products that allow us to achieve and repeat perfection. It really rewards our engineering capabilities and gratifies our effort.
JO: We understand the backplates are constructed of stainless steel, which is above and beyond the industry standard. What drove this decision?
RS: All materials oxidize, but at different rates and under different conditions. We could have easily built back plates out of sheet aluminum, which over time traps water as it compresses against the wall upon which it is mounted, causing oxidation to leach down the wall surface. High-grade stainless steel stands up to changing conditions with very little change from oxidation. It is the best material for this application, but it does cost more.
JO: What elements are necessary for a well-lit exterior?
RS: At night you only see what you light. The night provides an opportunity to control perception by what you choose to illuminate. It provides the opportunity to feature interest and texture by the manner in which you illuminate objects in their environment. If you shine a bright light out into the space that surrounds, you see the harshness of high contrast. I prefer subtlety in exterior illumination. I like to see light reflected off of architectural textures, trees, plants and rocks as opposed to using high contrast sources that throw bright light into darkness. Darkness provides a situation to paint an image of what you see by what and how you choose to light it.
JO: The collection utilizes LED, for which the SONNEMAN namesake has become synonymous. How did this influence the form?
RS: LED has changed our universe because it has empowered us to imagine and create design in the context of a new scale and with new form factors. Freed from the limitations imposed by the heat and size of conventional filament burning sources, LED provides the opportunity to reimagine illumination in innovative new ways.
JO: What fixture are you most proud of and why?
RS: I am not most proud of any one thing, but I enjoy many of our products in context with the process. All of our achievements represent a continuum of design investigation, so for me the emotion is more curiosity than pride. I have never memorialized the objects of my work that’s for the judgment of others. I like where the process has brought us, but am always focused on what’s next.
JO: What’s next for Inside-Out?
RS: It’s more process than plan. I strive to achieve simplicity expressed with new insight from our experience and our perception of the universe around us. We will continue to apply technology to functionality in our ongoing effort to craft new forms and build new approaches to lighting both inside and out.
The most difficult part of Jennie's role as Merchandise Manager for YLighting is deciding exactly which pendant she loves the most for her mid-century Oakland condo. When not making design decisions she and her 3 year old son compose songs to sing to the family's new baby.