David Weeks sat down with enLIGHTenment Magazine to discuss his evolution from lighting to exploring other categories such as toys and furniture.
enLIGHTenment Magazine: After nearly 20 years of successful lighting design, how would you describe your signature style?
David Weeks: The word that has been coming up recently is “honest.” That hardly describes a style, but I think it is one theme that rings true in whatever I make. Whether it is a simple steel peg that passes through a wall-mount or the noncommittal face of the wooden animals, there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles in my work. They are what they are. When it comes to the details, the materials do the heavy lifting.
EM: Did you grow up wanting to be a designer?
DW: No, I grew up wanting to be an “artist.” Coming from Athens, Georgia, that traditionally meant being a painter, sculptor, or a ceramist in the truest sense: working alone in a studio wholly committed to your discipline.
It wasn’t until after four years at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] and the good fortune of stumbling into [jewelry and decorative accessories designer] Ted Muehling’s studio looking for work that design was even on my radar.
It feels like a perfect fit now: the making, the problem solving, the democracy of designing for potentially anybody and everybody. Lighting was also a means to an end. My studio wasn’t big enough to make furniture, so I made lighting. I wish I had an emotional story about going to bed when the summer sun was still up, but it isn’t much different from why I chose clarinet over saxophone in school: I didn’t want to drag a saxophone to school every day.
EM: LED wasn’t popular when you started making lighting fixtures, but now your work includes a lot of it. Did you have any challenges in finding the right LED product for your designs?
DW: Not a lot. Currently all the LEDs we use are off the shelf, but the industry has been working overtime to solve this problem. Initially I wanted to embrace the technology, but as a small-scale manufacturer with 30+ styles in production, the evolution of the technology paired with UL requirements has made it nearly impossible to incorporate it into what we do. That said, there are some unbelievable LED replacement bulbs [out there] for the traditional Edison style. I saw one last week where a company has made a dead ringer for a standard 40-watt bulb, transforming the traditional diodes from a chip and stretching them to look like a traditional filament. Granted, the engineering is backwards, but the outcome is stunning!
EM: In addition to making custom designs for projects, you now have a store in Manhattan. What made you decide to enter retail?
DW: Midlife crisis? Seriously, I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now, and like everyone, at different points along the way you stop and ask yourself, “Is this it?”
[Working for furniture designer] Ralph Pucci was an incredible experience for me but… “Is this it?” I felt I had more to say — and to a broader audience than I was ever going to reach at Pucci. I did my fair share of trade shows, and now I have a hard time walking down one aisle. It can be the best curated, highest quality work being shown, and all I see is the expectation on the exhibitors’ faces. I rarely make it all the way through.
Retail does require a different thought process [than wholesale]. I knew retail was tricky, but I didn’t know I needed to do an in-depth analysis of a neighborhood, a street, an industry, and clarify my voice in and among the competition! Happily, our customers have followed us to Walker Street and the storefront has become more of brand experience. We’ve presented collaborations, done special editions, and shown other artists’ work. It’s probably the most exciting aspect of the business at this moment. The difference is that this time I chose the tuba over the clarinet!
EM: Gorillas are a popular theme in your work, why?
DW: A good friend started the X-Large clothing company in LA 20-odd years ago. I pitched [the idea of] a gorilla ashtray to him over drinks. He made it, and it has always been an iconic moment for me. The Hanno [gorilla] piece is even more significant for me; I often refer to him as a cry for help. I was fully embedded in being known as “the high-end lighting designer,” but when people met me they were often caught off-guard, saying, “I expected you to be older …and French.” Hanno [represented] that first look behind the curtain.
EM: Is there any other category you’d like to try?
DW: I would love to try more formal Industrial Design. The collaboration I did with Neal Feay [the creative furniture maker specializing in anodized aluminum] would pair nicely with automotive design. I don’t think we’ve yet scratched the surface of toy design. I think there is a lot of unchartered territory in digital apps. My problem is that I do what I find interesting, which may or may not line up with clients’ expectations.
EM: Are you planning on additional stores or collaborations?
DW: Maybe in time with the right partnerships, but currently no. I think the store is very exciting and we’re talking to fashion brands about pop ups and considering some special interdisciplinary exhibits to bring artists and designers together. We are also working on a new lighting collection. I do feel I have to remind all these young aspiring specialty lighting companies who started this movement! Seriously, who’s your daddy?