By Linda Ricci.
So often, life’s about staying true to (or getting back to) what you love. We know this. We hear it all the time. And yet…we get all caught up in the shoulds, the fears, the expediencies. We make bargains: we find the things that we’re good (enough) at, or like (well enough) to do in the name of eating and respectability and college funds. The bold–or the lucky–get back to their loves early. Others find out along the way, some earlier than others. And others…well, we all know a few of those.
Of course it takes guts to make the leap, the change. It takes listening and opening yourself to all kinds of things, clearing out the mental clutter, and having the confidence in yourself that you are capable of doing what really turns your crank. But when you do…you might be like Lindsey Adelman. And that’s a very good thing.
Lindsey’s an industrial designer/entrepreneur/small business owner/wife/mom. Her focus: mostly lighting, but then she’s doing work in jewelry and clothing as well. Based in Manhattan, she runs of a firm of 5 plus, providing gorgeous work to designers and architects. Her iconic “bubble” chandeliers are confident, but aren’t stridently “look at me.” They’re playful, and as comfortable in a gent’s book-filled, walnut-paneled lair as they are in a girly-girl Domino-inspired nest. And they’re timeless without being too classic and boring. Perfectly modernist? Check. And sixties/seventies retro, too. That luxe-rough vibe so popular now? Sure. But they’d also be fabulous, statementy counterpoints to styles from French provincial to Shaker to Deco.
And that’s because they have that je ne sais quoi that comes from work of a crafts person, the eye of a designer, and the inspired eye of an artist.
When we spoke, Lindsey–just back from Milan–was filled with enthusiasm and inspiration. Nary a tinge of exhaustion. That’s what you get for listening and making space for your inspirations, and to following your inner “it”.
So how did this all happen? How’d you get your start? Well, I had gotten a degree in English, and was working for the Smithsonian. But one day, I visited the department that fabricated the exhibitions, and I was blown away that you could have a job where you spent your day making things without having to be an artist.
I’d never heard of industrial design at this point.
But I applied to RISD and it changed everything. I focused on lighting for my thesis, and got my first job in lighting (in Seattle). It was great because it’s really where things came together for me. There was a hot shop where I worked and all my friends were glass blowers there. I got to see how things came together in real life, not just on a page. You cannot learn this from books and pictures. You have to be there, in the hot shop, watching how things are really done. That’s how I learned how to design for glass blowers. And that’s my foundation.
At some point, I was done with Seattle and got a job with David Weeks in NYC. About a year after, we joined forces to start a company called Butter, making simple, affordable, well-designed products for the home. We had fun collaborating but then we realized we were starting to compete with IKEA…so I took a break, focused on being a mom, then slowly fell back into design.
What was different this time? I just wanted to do it on a different level. Didn’t want to do it on a mass market basis. Wanted to work person-to-person with a client.
Were you always a bit of a maker, a “do-er”? Yes! I was a creative kid. I’m exactly the same now as I was as a kid. All I wanted to do was to make things. I took a break from that but then I figured it out again. You know, I’m not interested in the art world per se. I love seeing art but I didn’t want to be and artist. When you’re an artist it’s all about you, there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of attention on you. As an industrial designer, it’s less about you: it’s about your client, the problem you’re trying to solve. You can bring your POV to it, but it’s not about your POV: it’s about that of the client’s. It’s much more relaxing than being an artist.
Did you ever want to BE a glassblower? Well I fell in love with glass blowing: not doing it but just the process. And it’s a seductive material, in that it’s in-between liquid and solid. And I love how the relationship between light and glass works.
You work with glassblowers to bring your ideas to life. Yes. But it’s not about just having someone execute my vision: it’s about a real partnership. I’ve been working with the same glass blower for 10 years now (Michiko Sakano). We work together so well, she’s so precise and she’s game for trying stuff, that’s what you really need. The only way something interesting happens is if you don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s what happens when you’re working with someone who really understands the material.
How do you make it all work in a high-cost place like Manhattan? We have a ton of business, and I’m really grateful. I feel really lucky that the business is running itself. And I got great advice along the way. But it helps that I had experience before I set up my business. For example, I knew how to calculate a retail price. If I didn’t have that knowledge I wouldn’t be able to make it all work. (A good deal of her work is custom, some is available through dealers, and on her site she offers a DIY version of one of her chandeliers. Brilliant way to have people fall in love with your brand.)
It helps that we have a great modular system. We have all the joints and swivels. It’s like Tinker Toys, and what you have to do is to work within the system to get really creative. We can do things organic and branchy, or more DNA-like and molecular.
How do you create that balance between getting inspired and getting orders out the door? We’re always busy filling orders but I make sure we schedule in day-dreaming and experimentation. You have to make a conscious effort to clear space for quality of life and curiosity. You have to get out of your comfort zone.
We’re a high functioning but not stressful group. And the people are super creative and smart. They have their own careers and interests….some are designers.
What keeps you going? Oh, the things in my head that aren’t made yet. There’s nothing in our entire portfolio that we’re satisfied with. And I’m so curious about so many things. Like what? Other mediums I haven’t gotten into. I’m doing drawings, and they’ll end up on textiles. I’m working on jewelry. Anything in particular? I’m interested in making pieces that I would really like, not just to please an audience.
I’m doing this in collaboration with friends in the area. I’m even designing a line of rugs, and upholstery. Thing is, I’m slow in terms of developing anything but the ideas keep me excited.
Coming back from Milan, it’s so amazing to see such phenomenal work. The different materials and semantics and sensibitlities are so great to see. In the US we take ourselves too seriously. We worry about commercial viability and you see it in the work. Designers in other countries have different concerns.
So be specific: where does inspiration come from? A combination of places. There’s nature, of course, and certain seasons (summer in particular). I’m also inspired by fashion (McQueen, Maria Cornejo, Tsumori Chisato) and jewelry design (Lanvin necklaces, Ted Muehling, St. Kilda: really huge chunky statement pieces I would never wear).
It blows me away how new things come out in fashion, how relentless the pace is. With my work, we can take our own sweet time to do it. There’s no pressure to launch something completely new. WE can tweak, make a softer version, a harder version. And we don’t have to do it twice a year for a new collection.
But in terms of other things that inspire: New York. It’s great to live in NYC, I couldn’t live anywhere else. But really what inspires me most is a basis of spiritual practice. How so? I’m a meditator: that’s the foundation of everything I do. Not having a headful of thoughts. Not over analyzing. Separating the thinking mind from consciousness. Letting the work come out without ruining it.
Do you think this comes out in your work? Yes I do. I want people to feel like they have some space and time around them, and I want my work to feel like clarity. (Mission accomplished.)
Name a transcendent moment. I have that moment daily (because I meditate). I got into meditation over 4 years ago. My teacher is in LA of course (!) He was my yoga teacher. Vedic meditation. My staff is on the bandwagon too. It’s really nice for creative people: it enables you to keep evolving yourself, and it does comes out in the work…but you don’t need to constantly focus on the work.
Who plays you in the movie of your life? I would choose Charlotte Gainsbourg: I like that sexy tomboy thing. Feminine but also effortless. Or maybe Sophia Coppola. I would choose one of them. An appealing balance. I’m drawn to people who are comfortable with themselves, and people who are comfortable with complexity.
And what kind of film would Charlotte be in? Something romantic with some drama/tragedy in it but with some sweetness running all the way through it.
What things that define you? The necklace I’m wearing now, with the tiniest black diamond you could barely see. And a black and white wedding photo in a square silver frame.
Who would you most like to have dinner with? My son. I love going out to dinner with him, he’s the best dinner date. He’s so funny.
First thing reached for in morning? Water.
Lindsey Adelman Studio
55 Great Jones Street
New York NY 10012