Table Lamps, Modern Table Lamps

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Perfect in an Imperfect World

In the world of the perfect, attention is drawn to the imperfect.

When I showed my partner David a new elegant and ultra simplistic design which glorified the tension between two simple elements of different scale his eye was immediately drawn to the smallest imperfection in its right angle connection. Therein lies the difficulty and the challenge of making the perfect in an imperfect world.

Simplicity is difficult to make perfectly. That is the challenge of the Modern Idiom. Modernism struggles to sustain its minimal vision and execute its demands in the real world.

Building a form with perfect seamless transitions often requires complex
contrivance to be concealed, which is counterintuitive to the vision of simplicity.

With no trims or moldings to hide connections and seams, building the perfect wall, that sustains its perfection over time is nearly impossible or at least incredibly expensive. So too is the challenge of fabricating functional products of simplicity in appearance. We are constantly confronted with difficult engineering solutions to conceal the mechanical or structural elements. There is simply no place to hide. Unlike ornamental design which elaborates and glorifies elements and their unions.

Modernism emerged from the notion that simplified forms made from industrial processes would make products less expensive and more available to the masses. In fact the iterations of the original modernists such as Mies Vender Roe, Marcel Brauer, Corbusier, and others became the art objects of the elite.

Our vision grows from the modern experience to an extended language of design that makes superb products relevant and available. In so doing we are challenged to reconcile the technical with the practical and the ideology with the reality.

Modernism and its social ideals was in fact a place to start and not a conclusion. What we make of its origins is a continuing journey of investigation and discovery.

Table Lamps, Modern Table Lamps

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Wall Sconces, Wall Sconce Light

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Lighting – From Craft to Technology

The shift from craft to technological has exploded opportunities and transformed lighting into a whole new industry.

LED technology is attracting young educated and talented engineers, designers and artists, who are rejuvenating and reinventing the lighting we once knew to an industry we never contemplated.

LED illumination is real science in electronics, energy, optics, chemistry thermal dynamics, lightwave color modulation are all in consideration for the practitioner in LED product development and application.

The convergence of Art and technology is pervasive in the emerging LED illumination universe. Designers are using electronic illumination to create kinetic art. Product designers and manufacturers are discovering LED provides the basis to change the size, shape and application of luminaires.

Look my followers and who I follow on tweeter and discover incredibly interesting and talented companies pursuing illuminating innovation. http://twitter.com/#!/RobertSonneman

Attend any lighting show in Asia, Europe or the U.S. and be prepared to be overwhelmed with hundreds of manufacturers and sellers of LED illumination tech, devices and applications. The real test is to sort out the
innovators and the credible producers from the commodity sellers.

For the past three years we have studied and invested in the understanding LED technology. We are now applying our knowledge to innovating product design, creating form factors newly possible because of LED scale and output. The process is energizing and creatively challenging.

We are pursuing the application of science and the expression of art.

Wall Sconces, Wall Sconce Light

Modern Floor Lamps, Floor Lamps

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Design Value

Creating value makes design relevant. Faced with the economic circumstances and the China manufacturing challenges we focused on creating products that could deliver design value. Its a good example of “…necessity being the mother of invention.”

Anticipating China inflation and rising prices we did our best to hedge its impact by developing relevant products and by investing heavily in inventory six to twelve months before we came to market.

Modern Lighting Essentials, MLE, are cleanly designed functional lighting products at moderate prices. http://www.sonnemanawayoflight.com

After a couple of months off from the NY- China commute I am preparing to return to China next week. Inflation continues to drive prices up but the pace has slowed just a bit from its 6.5% 37 month high in July to 6.2% in August according to the National Bureau of Statistics last week. This cooling is not just a result of market forces but also the efforts of the Chinese authorities to maintain tightening overall credit supply to tame further price rises.

Although slowed slightly, prices continue to rise in the face of an increasingly challenging market. Bringing design value to market will require us to focus on the essentials and to drive product solutions from innovation, and investment. But, now more then ever, value is critical to making design relevant.

Modern Floor Lamps, Floor Lamps

Wall Sconce Lights, Wall Sconces

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Lighting and the National Purpose

Congress defanged the enforcement of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 by voting last Friday to withhold funding for the portion of the 2007 law that increases efficiency standards for light bulbs.

The effect is to render mute the 2012 requirement to produce the equivalent of 100 watts of illumination with 30% less energy and to gradually, in two annual incremental phases, require that efficiency be extended to lower wattage bulbs.

While the industry has spent the better part of the last three to four years developing new products and technology to comply with the federal standards of the 2007 law, congress has removed, de facto, the requirement to comply.

As a manufacturer we knew that integrating more efficient technology into our line would be difficult but would open new areas for innovation and product development.

Bob Tedeschi, N.Y.Times, 8/11/11 article: “Almost Time to Change the Bulb” comprehensively outlines the “… rapid advances in a number of lighting technologies” triggered by the “looming rules.” His article presents the amazingly, complicated and often confusing assortment and variety of choices available to the shopper of todays light bulbs.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/11/garden/almost-time-to-change-the-light-bulb.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=almost time to change the bulb&st=cse

Lighting consumes 70% of our energy production. As such, Lighting efficiency is a legitimate component of any national energy strategy. It should be a focus of the initiative. The rules have driven innovation and provided incentive to develop and adopt new technologies.

The congressional action to withhold funding for enforcement is a disincentive and confusing message. After years of effort, and investment to comply we are told by congress that …they were just kidding, they were not really serious about the mandate.

If we as a nation are ever to re-achieve our international competitiveness we have to know the rules of the game we are playing. We have to count on governance that is consistent and extends beyond the political short term to achieve a long term national purpose.

Wall Sconce Lights, Wall Sconces

Modern Table Lamps

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Contemporary Lighting, Modern Table Lamps

Getting High – Design Inspiration

When I find a new direction or inspiration for design its a rush, an emotional high. The experience is exciting. energizing and addictive. That’s what makes creative people create. The process of investigation and discovery is not just about what you do… but who you are.

Most inspirations do not come at a drawing board but in the the most unexpected places as I move through life. Hurriedly sketched on a napkin or on an envelope before the notion escapes. Then through a process of sketching, modeling and refining I try to bring the idea down to its simplest form and most direct approach. That is what produces my style, my approach and my vision. I love the elegance of simplicity. It is who I am.

I remember one of the first modern lighting products that I did in 1967. It was a lamp named Orbiter. It was and still is a huge success and became an icon of mid-century modern design. Orbiter came to me through a process of sketch investigation at my drawing board. I wanted to put a light at the end of a balanced boom that would move freely and be able to poise at any point within a defined hemisphere. The concept was so simple it was easy. I surrounded the boom with a circle and cut away the bottom of the circle at the point that it intersected with the boom.. and there it was. Two simple elements that moved in rotation and in balance distilled to its simplest form.

The achievement was electric and connected my passion with the rush of achievement. I was hooked and it was the first time that I connected with the notion of designing for a living.

Contemporary Lighting, Modern Table Lamps

Contemporary Lights

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Lamps Modern, Contemporary Lights

STAYING ALIVE

“Mediocrity thrives in Good times, Greatness rises in Bad times.” *

Decades of insatiable consumption and seemingly limitless housing prices provided the medium to grow an abundance of companies that thrived on the rising tide of spending. Many grew sales by simply being there lacking vision, talent or a commitment to quality and value that sustains great firms through good times and bad.

Difficult times challenge talent, skills and commitment to integrity of purpose. Uncertainty demands a steady hand, a clear vision and a strategy rooted in solid business practices. These times demand that we invest in the core beliefs of our brand and the integrity, innovation and value of our products.

Apple continues to grow, regardless of the economy, through innovation and delivery of superb products that loyal customers continue to demand.
Luxury brands, built over time, have invested in the quality, service and cache that is the promise of their brands.

The near term market will not have the capacity to absorb more but rather become increasingly selective in the products it accepts. Growth will be won by competitors that produce better products at greater value. Excess and abundance will yield its dominance to a leaner more selective retail landscape. There will be a thinning out of superfluous producers and the products they offer.

Brand, design, innovation, quality and service will drive value in the new economy.

Lamps Modern, Contemporary Lights

Wall Sconces

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Modern Design and The American Character

Forty + years ago when I began to introduce Modern European design to the U.S. market. I was often told by retailers and dealers that…. “they don”t sell much Modern in their part of the country, but they know its coming.” 40 years later I hear the same story.

Its no wonder then that the American experience did not embrace Modernism as its own. Largely European in origin, Modern Design emerged in the turn of the century as a rejection of the hierarchy of a class system for the egalitarian notion of a better life for the working masses.  Industrialization made products available to the many and cast off adornment in favor of a cleaner aesthetic rooted in the ideals of functional design.

America, an immigrant nation of cross cultural influences embraced, ornamental and classical period styles as its aesthetic norm. It took a while to understand that the U.S. is not about European industrial Modern but rather a Contemporary style that is relevant to the American experience with a hand of its own. Its American Contemporary. not a style or school of of its own but rather combination of diverse influences very much like the nation it inhabits.

American Contemporary Style transcends modern and traditional periods with historical details set against geometric elements to form a bold, comfortable contemporary style.

Look at some of the Transitional or cross over designs on our site. You will find influences from the American West to Urban deco as I have tried to make contemporary lighting relevant to the American experience.

Wall Sconce Lights, Wall Sconces

Modern Lights

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The LED Tsunami at Guangzhou

The LED tsunami has overwhelmed nineteen of the enormous halls of the 2011 Guangzhou edition of the Messe Frankfurt, Guangzhou lighting fair.

Like many of the projects in China, the scale of the Guangzhou show is gigantic. Big, bold, overwhelming and imposing in scale and scope. It is ambiguous, forward looking and seems to embrace the future with the enthusiasm and the confidence that characterizes the promise of a new age.

The crowds move through acre after acre, Isle after isle, stand after stand, of blindingly bright luminous displays. Twenty five hundred exhibitors present countless iterations of LED bulbs, showers of multi-colored ropes, hundreds of aluminum clad lamps, dozens of down lights, framed luminous panels and walls of fluorescent tubes glowing with the radiance of electronic diodes set in precision arrays.

I struggled to reconcile the phenomenon of the shear size and vastness of the displays of hundreds of companies selling so much of, what appeared at first glance, to be seemingly endless repetition of the products and technology.

The big name brands like Phillips, Cree, Seoul Semiconductor, Nichia, Edison and others continue to break the barriers of LED technology with developments of outstanding performance in intensity, color, and quality. Their displays featured demonstrations of advancements previewed in Milan’s, Euroluce and Philadelphia’s Lightfair this spring. These companies are the cornerstone of the technological revolution that is driving the electronic illumination juggernaut. We were very excited by the revolutionary advancements and the potential of the technical achievements that these innovators presented.

There are many serious smaller companies driven by the passion and prowess of innovation and the desire to execute superbly made well performing products. These companies include a range of technical and architectural lighting firms producing high quality performance integrated lighting systems to sophisticated world class landscape lighting and controls firms capable of managing huge, high profile projects of the scale of the Beijing Olympics.

To many others however, the wave is simply an opportunity to bundle available resources without having to confront the challenge of innovation or design. I realized that because so many components from heat sinks, to chips, from optics to controls are readily available from numerous suppliers. The market has made it easy for assemblers of generic parts to masquerade as primary developers of LED technology. With some experience, identifying the innovators from the packagers becomes a relatively easy task since so many of the commonly used components are recognizable in dozens of products and offered for sale by the component suppliers. If you are seeking to find the components of LED technology from chip on boards (COB) to Surface Mounted Devices (SMD), and Constant Current to Constant Voltage power drivers then you’ve came to the right place in the GZ lighting show.

In my search to discover unique points of view in ways to use and live with this new electronic luminance, there were a few firms demonstrating the application of LED technology in decorative or architectural lighting products with design excellence and originality.

It became apparent to me that this show was about presenting the latest technologically to challenge product and project designers with the sensibilities, insight and creativity to develop this electronic medium into new forms of an applied art.

Modern Lights, Contemporary Lighting

Ceiling Fixtures, Contemporary Lights

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Residential Lighting has until now been driven by housing sales. With the latest numbers about U.S. home sales, products will have to find new drivers and new incentives for consumers to step up. I think that driver will be Innovation.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/business/31housing.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&src=ig

Lighting, like home furnishings and accessories, wont find business as usual a sustainable direction. Fewer home sales means fewer customers in the market to buy and price alone will not pry that credit card from customer wallets. Makers and sellers alike will be challenged to attract discretionary dollars with new products that offer new, better, more interesting and more “…cant live with out” innovation to turn shoppers to buyers.

Residential lighting companies have since WWII relied on huge product assortments to attract dealer interest and customer sales. Expanding the range of shapes, finish and styles worked for a long time as makers and retailers continued to expand assortments as the way to entice customers to spend. The world has changed and so has our reality and after a period of over half a century of growth housing sales the market is contracting and so will our model unless we drive demand with innovation. The simple truth is “….you can’t only take air in.”

We are focused on sustainable growth, no small challenge given the state of China’s supply issues and our market condition. We are focused on relevance, innovation and value and not bloating our product offerings to drive the business. I believe that innovation will be the key factor in driving demand. You can expect to see us applying our knowledge, our insight and our design skills toward precise objectives in new ways as our strategy for growth manifests in products born from innovation.

“Relevant design through Innovation… is our mission.”

Ceiling Fixtures, Contemporary Lights

Pendant Lights, Bathroom Lighting

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Before you stockpile enough incandescent bulbs for the next 20 years, RELAX!

The consumer incandescent panic attack and personal hoarding of pre-law bulbs was described with great color and example by Penelope Green in her feature article for the New York Times last Thursday May 26, 2011. Ms. Green points out “…as the deadline for the first phase of the legislation looms, light bulb confusion — even profound light bulb anxiety — is roiling the minds of many.”

Those of us that manufacture lighting are of course involved and concerned about our compliance and our ability to produce illuminating designs that satisfy both user desires and the federally mandated requirements.

The 2012 to 2014 Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007(EISA) will not phase out or eliminate incandescent light bulbs but rather require an improvement in efficiency of 30% in an stepped plan over the next three years. Starting with the 100 watt lamp in 2012 and progressively stepping down to 40watt “A” shape general-purpose lamps by 2014 manufacturers will be required to produce lamps with that simply produce 30% more lumens per watt than current incarnations.

The second tier of restrictions of the EISA will become effective in 2020 and require general purpose lamps to produce at least 45 lumens per watt. A requirement that is easily achievable for manufacturers with the currently available technology.

The exclusions in the law are so numerous that for most of us we will hardly notice the change. Bulbs that produce 310 to 2600 lumens of light are included in the mandate but bulbs that are outside that performance envelope are exempt from the law. Also exempt are several classes of specialty lamps including: reflector flood, 3-way, decorative candelabra, appliance, rough service, colored, and the old fashioned looking carbon filament lamps.

In a way the consumer hoarding of lamps is a reaction analogous to buying up gas guzzling automobiles to drive after the federally mandated requirement improved the performance of gas consumption per mile in newly made cars. It makes no sense.

What is even more paradoxical is the fact that the new technology taking hold in the lighting industry promises a dawn of an entirely new era of unlimited options in digitally controlled electronic illumination. This brave new world will provide designers and users with new options of variability and controllability that will allow them the creativity to “Paint with Light” to alter mood, tone, color and variety to a place or space. In addition digitally controlled illumination will integrate with a wide range of associative technologies to enable and enhance, alter and vary the total sensory living experience. Programmed to always present the user in the perfect the illumination with the perfect background of color and sound to present the personality as he or she is, or imagines himself or herself to be. Its only the beginning.

So fear not the coming changes in your light bulb performance. The change will open new options and possibilities that until now were only dreamed of.

Pendant Lights, Bathroom Lighting