Seeing the Light: Lindsey Adelman

  • Lindsey Adelman’s sculptural lighting is much in demand, but the New York designer isn’t letting that compromise her commitment to quality and doing things for the right reasons
    Words Alyn Griffiths
    Photography Anthony Crook

    Lindsey Adelman loves getting her hands dirty: “I don’t like sitting in front of a computer so I tend to spend as much time as possible working with materials,” says the New York designer. This passion for making is evident in her studio, where surfaces are covered with tools, cabling and components. Here, beneath a canopy of part-assembled chandeliers, Adelman and her staff design and build lighting fixtures and a range of other decorative products. Inspired by nature and crafted from materials including bronze, brass, porcelain and glass, the attention to detail and meticulous hand-finishing of the pieces has cast the studio into the spotlight of the global design community and led to a series of collaborations with prestigious clients.

  • Adelman was born in New York in 1968 and has spent almost all of her life in the city – studying, working and enjoying its creative vitality. Following a brief sojourn in Ohio where she read English in the late 80s, Adelman returned to New York and dabbled in graphic design and editorial work before embarking on a degree in Industrial Design at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). It was there that she began to focus on lighting – a move that defined her subsequent career.“I think lighting is such an amazing category because you’re working with this immaterial substance and there’s a lot of instant gratification in the way you can test its effect on a space so easily,” she enthuses.

    After graduating from RISD, Adelman moved to Seattle to work at lighting company, Resolute, which designs and manufactures simple, high quality lighting products. Working as assistant to the company’s owner, Adelman gained an insight into the lighting industry’s inner workings and was able to develop her production skills in the metal and glass workshops. She returned to New York in 1998 with the aim of securing a position in the studio of lighting designer, David Weeks, who she worked with for a year before they founded an offshoot company together called Butter. “We designed very inexpensive paper lampshades and simple table lamps,” recalls Adelman. “We had this really sweet little product called Lunette, which is a clip-on paper shade that resembles origami. We knew we had a good idea so we just went with it. I think my work’s always been about following an idea, or a person I want to work with, and letting my interests take me places.”

    Adelman and Weeks ran Butter for four years before they realised they would need to expand into much larger production to continue growing the business. “The idea of manufacturing huge quantities of products in Asia didn’t really interest us,” says Adelman. “And I was about to have a baby with my husband so I decided this might be a good time to take a break and be at home for a while.” During her hiatus from the design industry Adelman enjoyed spending time with her new son, Finn, who is now nine, and her husband, Ian who is the Director of Digital Design at The New York Times. When she felt she was ready to go back to work, Adelman realised that her priorities had changed. “I think parenthood made me realise that if I’m going to leave the house and not be with my son it has to be for something that’s meaningful and that feels worthwhile,” she explains. For Adelman, that meant starting her own studio from scratch and designing products she could manufacture herself.Panel-studio-shots

    Top: All of Adelman’s chandeliers are designed and assembled at the studio on Chrystie Street in Manhattan
    Middle: Custom made brass components for the Bubble chandelier await assembly

    Bottom: A member of the production team assembles armatures for the Bubble chandelier, which was for the first piece created by Adelman when the studio launched in 2006

  • Initially, the pieces were based on off-the-shelf components that Adelman adapted and used to develop new shapes in a process of three-dimensional experimentation that still informs the way she works. “Modelling on a one-to-one scale using what you have in the studio is amazing because it’s as if the piece is working itself out and showing you the most obvious next steps,” she explains. “When you turn it around you often see something you just don’t have a chance of seeing if it’s on paper or in your head.”

    Inspiration for her designs comes from the work of postminimalist artists such as Eva Hesse and Richard Tuttle, and from the intelligent and intricate forms found in nature. “I feel like the connecting factor is the idea of mechanised nature, where the shapes really resemble something you might find in the sea or in the woods,” describes Adelman. “The glass often has the appearance of something liquid or like motion stopped in time. It’s about taking ideas from nature and turning these into a system that can be fabricated.” Adelman retains her hands on approach to designing and making, and now has help from a growing team of employees (there are currently 15) to whom she is grateful that she can delegate some of her less favoured tasks. “I guess I can be quite selfish now about the parts of the process that I really enjoy, and with things I’m not so good at I can find someone else who is truly gifted in that area to take it on. It’s made the whole process really fun for me again.”

    The studio’s expansion reflects the growing number of pieces it now produces, from the early lighting designs featuring bubbles of glass supported by slender metal poles, to a recent divergence into decorative items such as tiles, candlesticks, vessels and wall ornaments. Catch-for-Nilafur-Gallery

    Above: Catch for Nilufur Gallery, inspired by the idea of links in a chandelier’s chain elnlarging to become the chandelier itself, the brass frame supports glass forms that are blown directly into the links

  • Branching-Bubble
    Branching Bubble Chandelier BB.05.28

  • Lindsey-Adelman-images“These objects come from a similar place as my interest in lighting,” says Adelman. “It’s about activating ignored spaces like walls, the corners of rooms, or ceilings that don’t take up much-needed real estate within a home.” The lights and products are stocked by retailers including BDDW and Matter in New York, The Future Perfect in New York and San Francisco, Blackman Cruz in Los Angeles and select stores in France and Switzerland. While Adelman receives frequent requests from retailers wanting to sell her pieces, she is careful to limit her stockists. “I still look at every single thing that goes out the door and every order is pretty involved in terms of small details so we can’t sell everywhere we’d like to,” she explains.

    Alongside producing pieces for retail, Adelman collaborates with interior designers to create customised or hybrid versions of her designs for specific projects. “I adore that process because the ideas get much further than I would be able to take them on my own and I love the thought that someone gets to live with results,” she beams. The studio’s heightened profile has also led to commissions from companies including Anthropologie and Roll & Hill, as well as opportunities to collaborate with some of the world’s best artisans, and it is these projects that Adelman is keen to continue exploring over the coming years. “It’s a dream to have the opportunity to work with glassblowers in Murano and to be part of the collection of companies that I respect,” she affirms. “My aim for the next couple of years is to keep it dreamy and try to find time to enjoy it, rather than letting it all become too stressful!”

    Lindsey’s CV

    1986-1990 BA in English at Kenyon College Ohio
    1993-1996 BFA in Industrial Design at Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island
    1996-1998 Design assistant at Resolute, Seattle
    1998-2000 Design assistant at David Weeks Studio, New York
    2000-2004 Partner of Butter design studio with David Weeks
    2004 Son Finn was born
    2006 Founded Lindsey Adelman studio
    2010 Exhibited at Design Miami with MatterMade
    2011 Exhibited at Carwan Gallery, Milan
    2012 Exhibited as part of Wallpaper* Handmade in Milan
    2013 Exhibited at Nilufar gallery, Milan

    Top: Marina ceiling medallion
    Middle: Liminal vessel with Darcy Miro
    Bottom: Acorn wall ornaments
    (Still life photos by Joseph De Leo and Lauren Coleman)

  • The-Studio
    FOUNDED 2006
    PRODUCT RANGE Chandeliers and lighting fixtures, jewellery, vessels, tiles, wallpaper, wall ornaments.

    INSPIRATION The intelligent forms found in nature combine with industrial components, while the craft processes used to manipulate materials such as glass, porcelain and precious materials inform the design process and manufacture of each handmade product.