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Q+A with Rico Espinet

We had the privilege recently of connecting with Rico Espinet, the creative mind behind Robert Abbey designs, to discuss the current trends and how he feels about looking back (and also forward). Robert Abbey has been designing + manufacturing designer lighting in the USA since 1946. Robert Abbey is known for collaborating with leading designers including Rico Espinet, Jonathan Adler + Mary McDonald to bring innovative designs to their customers. Because of its USA based manufacturing prowess it can tailor products to customer needs quickly while retaining high quality + competitive price points. Rico Espinet took the time out of his busy studio schedule to talk to YLighting about his relationship with Robert Abbey, his personal influences + what he’s planning for the future.

Rico Espinet Portrait

You have a very hands-on artistic background in sculpture. What effect do you think that has on the overall aesthetic of the Robert Abbey brand?

Rico Espinet: Working as a sculptor has given me a fluency with simple forms that I bring to my designs for Robert Abbey. The best lighting combines sculptural beauty with function.

Is there a story about how you transitioned from sculpture to lighting design?

RE: At the heart of my story is a lucky intersection of disciplines. Upon graduating from RISD and returning to NY, I gravitated to stage lighting jobs with a number of now-famous musicians. I became fascinated by the dynamics of light. Working in small venues gave me technical expertise and creative opportunities.

Is there a particular way that you think your training as a sculptor has influenced your lighting design?

RE: As a sculptor, I have been preoccupied with architecture, the power of placement, and the spaces between objects—subject to light transmitted from apertures in curtained walls. Whether I am designing one lamp or a whole room, these preoccupations guide me.

Candelaria 36 inch Chandelier

Candelaria 36 inch Chandelier
Candelaria 36 inch Chandelier from Robert Abbey

You have a very rich past, working with stage lighting for some exceptional musical artists + fashion designers. Can you give us any insights into what it is like working with other artists + designers on projects like that?

RE: Artist and designers are very aware of the ways that lighting can reinforce their work. I’ve worked with Run DMC/Beastie Boys, Marianne Faithfull, Philip Glass and others, many of whom were my inspiration, directors, and teachers. What a gold mine to have worked with so many huge talents.

We read on your site that the Monk lamp was created because you needed a light for your own use. Did you ever think that one light would seemingly send you down this path?

RE: No! I created that lamp for my own studio. When HG Magazine did a photo editorial on that studio, a rural elementary school building my wife Heloisa Zero and I converted, people spotted that lamp, and the rest is history.

Do you have a particular project or design that stands out as particularly satisfying to you?

RE: The Marina table touchier (named after my daughter, now 16) has been in continuous production and demand since 1996. This product is directly derived from blown glass vessels I started making at RISD in 1974, work influenced by Thurman Statom and James Carpenter.

Sustainability is an important topic in any industry right now. What are your + Robert Abbey’s thoughts regarding sustainability?

RE: I do not believe in or design disposable, trend-driven products. As consumers, we have to move away from this wasteful paradigm. Robert Abbey products are very well made from permanent materials that, with care, can last forever. The company is ready for the day when the industry shifts from incandescent to LED lamps. I already use LED par lamps in our showroom presentations and my art studio upstate.

How do you think your designs speak to people? What kind of effect do you hope they have on the people who experience them?

RE: My intention is to produce designs that are sculptural, essential, utilitarian yet sensorial. Our brand at Robert Abbey is recognized for quality at prices accessible to consumers.

Scout Table Lamp from Robert Abbey
Scout Table Lamp from Robert Abbey

If you had any advice to give on what you think good design is, what would it be?

RE: I’m not much on advice. Trust your instincts and design your truth.

When Jeffery and Darlene Rose came calling, did you imagine that all these years later you would be an essential component in the Robert Abbey aesthetic?

RE: Not really, but I am grateful for the opportunity to work in this context, to do what I love and be appreciated.

Jennie Oh

Jennie Oh

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.

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