In 2012 — 16 years after catapulting her hobby into a renowned international lighting company — Joana Bover expanded her namesake Barcelona-based business into the United States, answering a growing demand for clean, well-designed lights with a European sensibility. With a new headquarters in Atlanta and a fleet of stylish outdoor lighting inspired by the traditional Catalan craft of wicker-weaving, Bover’s goal for the U.S. subsidiary is the same as in Spain: “To produce products that offer a warm and pleasant light through contemporary but timeless designs.” Here, she shares her insights about her work, the design scene in Barcelona, and being a woman in a male-dominated field.
You handle the business side of Bover as well as the design side. What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
Joana Bover: Figuring out the right products when they do not exist yet—when they are just an idea in someone’s mind or a drawing on a piece of paper. I look for timeless products that hit the right balance between design, quality, and price. Another challenge is to make each product viable not only in terms of design but also from the business side.
In the residential sector, I do not like ephemeral or trendy products; I prefer products that are able to quietly get old with us, offering a high level of comfort and energy savings through their features.
In America, there aren’t that many female lighting designers—especially ones that also run companies. Is this also the case in Europe?
JB: You are right, there are not many female lighting designers who also run their company, even in Europe. Even if this is changing, it is clearly a male sector. I still do not know why. Perhaps because we prefer the artistic over the technical?
What drew you to lighting design, as opposed to other realms of design?
JB: I’ve always thought that lighting was a world apart, different from other design sectors because it’s much more demanding and captivating. It’s not easy getting into the lighting world and having a good command of its features and technical regulations, since it grows and changes really fast. But, once you break into the field, you’ll be enchanted by its lights and shadows forever.
Lighting products need to be not only nice-looking and functional on the outside, but also properly developed in the inside, meeting all necessary technical regulations. All designers can design a chair, but not all of all them can design a luminaire, make it work, and have people like it.
If you weren’t a lighting designer, what would you be?
JB: I would have loved to be an architect, because architecture feeds from design.
Tell me a little bit about the design scene in Barcelona these days?
JB: Barcelona inspires design—you can feel it in the streets, in the bars, in the stores and even through the building facades. We have some places dedicated to design, such as the FAD and the BCD, but I honestly think universities are the place where seeds grow. We currently have four universities exclusively dedicated to design.
In June and July, Barcelona celebrates the Barcelona Design Festival, with the goal of positioning the city as the world’s design capital. Another exciting time to visit is April 23, when we celebrate Sant Jordi. Bookstands and roses cover the streets. It’s a beautiful cultural holiday, a joy day.
How does living and working in Barcelona inspire your work?
JB: There is a sentence from Lluis Porqueras, whom we quote in Bover’s catalog, that answers this question: “Those of us who live near the Mediterranean sea know all the nuances of light; for this reason, when night comes, we transform it into little spaces of day.” It’s a philosophy, a way of understanding and living life.
I personally love the way light spreads through our ribbon-wrapped pieces. My favorite is the Siam series — especially in the cream color — because of the nuances it offers when it’s lit up. The light filtering across the strips of ribbon reminds me of a summer sunset by the Mediterranean sea.
Your work ranges widely in both form and materials. Tell us about some of your favorites.
JB: Bover clients know us especially for our big-format products, which are handmade with ribbons, such as Mos, Siam, Mei, Urban, and Plafonet. We’re also known for our outdoor products made in synthetic fiber. Inspiration for our outdoor collection (Fora and Amphora) came from wicker, a natural material present in many traditional symbols made by Catalan craftsmen. The incessant research for an outdoor material that resembled traditional wicker led us to a synthetic fiber that’s available in many different colors. Once we found the right material, we focused on looking for the proper shape and proportions. These soft and delicate decorative outdoor luminaires are the result.
What sparked Bover’s expansion into the U.S.?
JB: Bover has been present in the U.S. market through various dealers for more than 15 years. But a year and a half ago, due to the constant requests from American clients, we decided to open our own subsidiary in Atlanta, which is a commercial office as well as a distribution center with stock. Our European and American products look alike—the main differences are technical features stipulated by UL standards. I find that Americans are more and more interested in European design.
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.