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Brendan Ravenhill's lighting and furniture studio, which inhabits an airy post-industrial warehouse in Glassell Park, Los Angeles, upholds an adventurous, work-in-progress mentality.

It's funny that you design lighting, but your studio doesn't really need it.

I suppose it's ironic. But what better light is there than soft diffused daylight? The space really proves how careful placement of clerestory windows can create illumination devoid of the hotspots of skylights, while still lending ambience

It makes the studio feel both inside and outside.

Southern California has a proud history of an indoor-outdoor lifestyle, perhaps best captured in the Kings Road House by Rudolph Schindler. We tried to think about how we can puncture the front doors to create a light-filled transition while providing a seamless flow of air and space.

This space almost reminds me of a cathedral.

Our studio used to be in my spare bedroom. We were bootstrapping it and grew until we hit limits. Three years ago, we stumbled upon this space, which immediately felt like home. We loved the cathedral effect--the windows let light pour in, as opposed to a harsh glare like a sunroof. We were struck by how different it felt from other industrial spaces.

It's interesting that you say it feels like home.

I have roots working with boats and barns on the East Coast, and this building's long double-height central aisle reminded me of an enormous barn. It also has these distinct side zones that are offshoots of the central aisle that we programmed into creative spaces.

What's the best part of being in California?

California gets 300 days of sunshine a year, so working outdoors is wonderful. We love the natural light--it makes the studio more inspiring. We're more in harmony with the seasons.

What have you been working on lately?

We just launched our newest fixture, called the Beam Pendant. It's our take on the classic fluorescent shop lamp--boxy linear fixtures usually seen in institutional settings or above pool tables. We wanted to create a fixture that was a distinct line in space.

How did you accomplish that?

The fixture's rounded ends lend it directionality and points in transition. Most of the light is being pushed outwards, not up and down, and ends up bouncing off the oak shade to create a warm ambience.

How did you start building boats?

My father was a curator at the National Museum of African Art but his other passion was carpentry, so I was exposed to art and craft growing up. I spent weekends at the museum or the shop, banging hammers and nails. I always felt a great affinity for sculpture. Most sculptural objects reminded me of wooden boats--beautiful forms, but dictated by a singular purpose.

Boats do seem like utilitarian sculptures.

There's a certain beauty in barns and wooden boats as utilitarian sculptures that follow very modern principles--no excess and devoid of ornamentation, yet rooted in craftand materiality. Boats need to be built strong but not overbuilt, because more material makes them slower.

Art within constraints?

Exactly! Design isn't an "anything goes" field. It must respond to the object's physical or material limits. I find great comfort in not needing "guiding lights" that help drive the design process.

How do limits drive your design process?

When we start a new project, we ask. "What are we trying to solve? What are our limits?" While they can be adjusted, they help focus our process. A huge part of how we approach a problem is establishing those limits. That's where our richest discoveries come from.

Did you pick up this approach while studying sculpture?

I studied art theory and history at Oberlin College. It wasn't a very hands-on program --more theoretical. My heroes, like Martin Puryear, were heavily based in this practice approach. Even with my carpentry background, I wasn't close to mastering my craft. I had ideas, but execution fell short because I lacked the sensitivity of how to make things at this high level.

So what created that sensitivity?

Aftergraduation, I embarked on a journeyman's education of working for builders. I taught myself timber framing and carpentry, which culminated in my family building an 800-square-foot barn. We learned firsthand the art of wiring, installing windows, shingling a building... construction basics.

You soon relocated to Brooklyn to pursue boat building.

I worked at a wooden boat building program in the South Bronx, but left that program after a year to start my own operation, Islesford Boatworks, in Maine, which has now been running for 13 years. We build and launch a boat from scratch every year.

What are some similarities between building a boat and designing a lighting fixture?

Like our lighting fixtures, boats often lack rectilinear forms. It takes more planning and design, but you can create dynamic forms that eschew rectilinearity and embrace curves.

What's something you absolutely must have in your studio?

I'm not keen on the waste that comes from La Croix cans, so we bought a commercial-grade seltzer maker. We spent more money on itthan ourtable saw.

What's your latest product?

We're launching a new line of fixtures in the spring and doing more custom commissions, like restaurants. We recently did one in Sacramento, which put our skills as a studio to the test. We're also building out this space slowly but surely. Maybe slowly is the operative word. We do everything ourselves.

Everything?

My personal sanity depends on spending as much time as possible in the woodshop and getting my hands dirty so I'm not always on the computer. It reminds me why I pursued design in the first place.

BY RYAN WADDOUPS
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Title Annotation:Bright Idea
Author:Waddoups, Ryan
Publication:Surface
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Sep 22, 2019
Words:913
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