Exclusive Interview: Rachel Simon of Lights Up!

Trends & Events

We took a bit of a hiatus from interviewing for the holidays, but we are happy to say that we are back in full force to bring you audio interviews of some of our favorite designers working in the modern home product field today. And how lucky we are to get to start 2011 off on the illuminated foot by introducing one of the lighting world’s most clever, accessible and innovative lighting designers: Rachel Simon of Lights Up!

Lights Up! is a fantastic company for a myriad of reasons. One, their products are high-quality and gorgeous. Full of simple, modern bases topped off by colorful and patterned shades, these fixtures bring a burst of not just light into your home, but of color, fun and style. Lights Up! is also wonderful because they understand that while we are all filthy rich (yeah, right) we enjoy paying reasonable prices on high-quality products (seriously, I—a lowly freelance writer—just double-checked the prices, and I could actually afford these!). Lastly for this paragraph but in no way the last reason why they are awesome: they are forward-thinking, looking to the future toward the latest and greatest lighting trends to bring their products up-to-date and their customers the newest beneficial technologies.

The fact that they have a playful sense of humor and that Rachel Simon is clever and witty doesn’t hurt either. Our short talk with Rachel was wonderful: she gave us a tour of the lighting trends hitting the market today, explained to us what she would be doing if she weren’t designing awesome lighting fixtures and broke the news on an AWESOME new product line they JUST debuted. You’re definitely going to want to listen to this interview!

Our podcast music is “Dropping out of School” by Brad Sucks, licensed for use
Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

You’ll find the transcript to this awesome interview right below, but first, check out Lights Up! products on 2Modern and download this interview for easy, on-the-go listening right here: Rachel Simon 2Modern Interview.

2M: Today we’re talking with Rachel Simon, of the awesomely clever lighting company out of Brooklyn called Lights Up! Thanks for speaking with us today.
RS: A pleasure to talk with you Adrienne.

2M: What is your background like? How did you get into designing light fixtures?
RS: Originally I worked in fashion accessories, which I love—I’d still love to be doing that. I just saw lampshades all looking the same and I had this concept to make decorative lampshades. I put one foot in front of the other and wound up with a factory with 12 employees making lamps and lampshades. The name “Lights Up!” comes from the concept of having lampshades that when you turn the light on they look different and they light up.

2M: I didn’t know that. That’s cool. You know, definitely your fixtures are very modern and sleek but there’s totally a playfulness to them. Do you consider your products to be very fun?
RS: I love that they’re fun. We like to have humor here. One of our mottos is that there are no shade emergencies. We prefer to have a little bit of a sense of humor about this. It’s just a just a lamp. But we’re also seriously passionate and committed about design. And I love…you were saying you were just in London [when we talked pre-interview I had mentioned to her I had just returned from London] one of the things I love about England and London designers is their whimsy, and there is a lot of whimsy at Lights Up!

2M: I agree. I like that a lot about it. So did you always start with having fun or has the Light’s Up! philosophy evolved over the years?
RS: It’s always been the same, and that is form follows function. We believe in the functionality of lighting. We make lamps that you can really read by, and that shed a nice light and a functional light. And from that we follow our design influences or inspirations we’re playing with at that time. But there is a lot of playfulness in it. One of the things that I believe in and that I really enjoy about my work is the dialogue of design—working with other designers. Right now I’m working a lot of with my nephew Tom Simon—I enjoy it. I enjoy the process of design.

2M: What are some of the specific inspirations? Does it change year by year? Do you get inspiration from a lot of retro, past designs like a lot of designers are now? Or do you look more to the future?
RS: It’s a combination, especially with lighting right now, because there is a demand for changing the light bulb and the source of lighting. So, you’re seeing more and more compact fluorescents and LED lighting and that of course influences our design. We’re all about the lampshade right now, and also about ambient lighting. I find inspiration…I love of course Mid Century, but I also love Bauhaus and I also love Art Nouveau. So, there are a lot of different decorative influences in our lighting, starting with very minimal. I am a true minimalist; everything is minimal. I basically look at wonderful things and then I cut it down to the skeleton of it and then we go back to adding.

2M: It never occurred to me before with all the changing light bulb needs of consumers that that might affect designs, how specifically does that affect it, are you able to do more things with compact fluorescents or does that hinder the design?
RS: Well, the public is scared of compact fluorescents, because most people when they think of fluorescents think of those awful ceiling lights, the kind that flicker and make people look dead like at offices and railway stations. But the compact fluorescent has evolved very quickly over the last few years. There really is warm light, warm light bulbs that you can get. It just affects…there are a lot of different effects. One is when customers want compact fluorescents on bulbs on sconces, which a lot of buildings want now or on ceiling fixtures, they are not dimmable. They say they’re dimmable bulbs, but all these things play into the design and functionality. The LED’s are still not…we want to be designing for LED bulbs, but we’re not finding the quality of light from them yet to make them compatible with home users. There are very expensive LED guest lamps out there but I find that they don’t give enough light to make them functional. It’s something that we are constantly looking at and researching and studying.

2M: Is there kind of another lighting direction that’s on the horizon or are we all just waiting for LEDs to look really good?
RS: I think compact fluorescents are still in the running, the problem with the mercury, which has been an issue with recycling, is becoming minimal. And they are always working on making them dimmable and more user friendly and I think that the public needs to get over their fear of their light, because compact fluorescents at this point are giving a very nice light. I use them in my home. We have an ambient lampshade that turns all compact fluorescents into a nice, quality light. We light our showrooms strictly with compact fluorescent light bulbs. People are in there with a million lights going and it’s a nice soft, complimentary light that we get. The LEDs are coming up fast and furious and we’ll be seeing more and more of them. But the jury’s out on who’s going to rule.

2M: It’s always interesting to hear what the trends are. You mentioned earlier that at some point you had like 12 employees…is that still at what you have working for you now or is it a lot more or a lot less?
RS: We are a very slim, mean, working machine. What Lights Up! does is we design our bases and import them from China—we work with really great factories in China; we visit them often. But then we make our lampshades here in the U.S., in Brooklyn. It’s a 30-year-old lampshade factory. So, the Lights Up! team is combined with our lampshade factory, and it’s about the same size as it always was.

2M: How do you break up your day? Is it mostly spent dealing with the business side of things? Do you get to do as much creative work as you like?
RS: I don’t think any of us get to do as much creative work as we like. One of the mottos here is “it’s always something.” Something’s always going to happen, so you know we put out fires and we deal with problems. One of the problems for Lights Up! right now is facing—which I think a lot of people are facing—that a lot of the mills are going out of business. So some of our fabrics that we’ve been able to get, we can’t get anymore. What we do have is we have our own prints, and those are made in the South. The fabric is actually made in the South from recycled plastic bottles and it’s printed with 100% water-based inks. So that is our main green focus is the fabrics there, but there’s always going to be some problem. And I’m constantly running around trying to keep everything organized. I happen to have the world’s greatest shipper and the world’s greatest office manager.

2M: Nice, congratulations.
RS: Thank you. I’m proud and very happy. We’re a team here. Everybody’s doing everything. One of the pleasures of running a small business is you get to wear so many hats, and you get to think about what kind of box you want to ship this in or what kind of packaging you want and that allows us to be as green as we can be and as eco as we can be and as creative as we can be in every single aspect of the business.

2M: That’s wonderful. You mentioned earlier you were once in the fashion accessories business I think; is that what you would be doing if you weren’t running a lighting business?
RS: Yeah I think I would go back to handbags. I like the function of things that are also decorative. I love that combination of function and decorative. And I love handbags.

2M: Who doesn’t? Let’s be honest, they’re wonderful.
RS: And I love small leather goods and all the little things you put in the bags.

2M: I’m with you on that one, for sure. What are just some of the upcoming goals for Lights Up!? What’s on the horizon?
RS: Well what’s coming up that we’re really excited about is Lights Up! goes outdoors. We will be introducing our first piece at the Dallas Show next week. And we’ll be continuing to introduce more Lights Up! goes outdoors. We believe in the outdoor room and more and more people are using their outdoor space as places to entertain and hang out and relax and as the sun sets we want Lights Up! to light it up.

2M: How many lights are you going to start with in that line?
RS: We’re introducing one line we call the Beach, it’s really elegant, and really beautiful, and over the course of 2011 we’ll be introducing an entire series.

2M: Oooh I can’t wait for that. Well, thank you so much for talking with us today, it was very interesting.
RS: A pleasure, a pleasure, you’re lovely.

2M: For more information about Rachel and Lights Up! you can visit lightsup.info. You have been listening to the first 2Modern interview of the new year! You can check out fun podcasts, you can get inspiring design posts and you can get design advice and you can totally get it all at the blog at 2modern.com

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1 Comment

  1. Fabric Sofas

    Jan 17, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Something new and different. Love the fresh and clean touch to this lamp.

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