European lighting designer Beau McClellan talks to CID about his transition from forged steel to flamboyant lighting and how his recent red dot win secures his place in the design world.
CID: How did you become involved in design?
After art college I realised that I really loved working with steel and old craftsmanship and so I worked with a team of artist blacksmiths, which is how I set up Ferro Design studio in Southern Europe. There are two sides of the company - the forged steel side and the bespoke furniture and lighting.
CID: How did you make the transition from steel to lighting?
I've been involved in a lot of artistic projects in my life, from music to film, to set design, and about ten years ago through the blacksmithing, I was being commissioned for large scale contemporary chandeliers out of stainless steel and glass. With these lights, I knew how to make the thing look aesthetically beautiful, but I really didn't know much about the actual lighting. So I disappeared off to Milan and started going to all the lighting trade shows and exhibitions. In Milan you have a lot of underground exhibitions, with fresh young, energetic designers, and I got completely absorbed in it. That's how I met the German lighting company Brumberg.
CID: How did the association with Brumberg come about?
At one exhibition, Brumberg's stand was the only one that had fibre optics and LEDs. I was picking up all the tubes and expensive lumps of fibre optics stuffing them into glasses and making shapes with them, and they came up to me and said, "can I help you sir?" as I obviously didn't look like a buyer! I explained that I was a designer, and was just getting into LEDs and could they help me? They started sending me some of their old products and materials for me to experiment on and when I was commissioned by the Loulé Municipal Council to create a sculpture of Zephyrus I asked Brumberg to help me and that's how it started. A couple of years later they asked me to start designing for them and we started the Beau for Brumberg brand. They give me access to all this brand new technology and research, which is great because as a designer you don't have that.
CID: Does Brumberg give you any guidelines on concept or style of the ranges?
No, they'll say, this is the type of thing that we think is lacking in the market, and then they let me go away and create something. What I try to develop with my ranges is taking one big statement piece, and then I'll design smaller stylish pieces that go on the wall to complement it. I'm so particular about how things are made, and who's making them, I even invent the logos.
CID: How does your way of designing lighting differ from other designers?
Within the business, a lot of lighting designers are party to the same research and industry developments and so are using the same materials and same technology. But because I'm coming from outside the industry as a designer in steel, and furniture and sculpture, I approach things slightly differently. The ecological aspect interests me greatly - if we can turn the whole world to using LEDs instead of traditional lighting then we can save the planet. It's an easy way to do it, we have the technology now.
CID: So tell me about winning the Red Dot Award?
It's amazing. I was told about it only four days before coming out to Dubai and it's for the first collection for Brumberg so they're over the moon. I felt very strongly about one of the pieces in particular, the Icicle, but Brumberg decided to enter all four ranges into the Red Dot Award and they warned me not to get my hopes up as it's a very hard award to win, there's something like 7000 entries from 50 different countries. Then they phoned me up and said, "we've got some great news for you, you've won the red dot award," and I said, "that's amazing, fantastic, unbelievable, which one won the award?" and they replied, "all of them. You've won four."
CID: So what exactly does having this red dot attached to the range mean?
It means a lot of things. Firstly, I was worried other designers would think, ‘Beau isn't a proper interior designer or product designer because he's jumped from one creative industry to another.' And the red dot affirms that actually I do know what I'm doing, I am a serious designer up there with other winners. On a practical level, the pieces will stay in the museum for a year, and we can use the actual red dot on the marketing material. It just gives us a lot of exposure very quickly. You can't ask for anything better than to have the red dot attached to a new brand.
CID: What are you launching next for Brumberg?
I'm developing five new ranges for Brumberg, two red dot winners: the Beaumac and the Icicle range, and then another three: Laminate, Glow and Reflection and they are really strong. It's like the music business, you release your first single, which does very well but you keep a few strong ones back in reserve.
CID: What do you think about the design industry in general at the moment?
The world of design is changing, people are giving more value to design than ever before. Everything is connected now for designers, architecture, interiors, lighting. You have to remain in touch with every type of design more than ever.
CID: How do you future-proof your designs?
Intelligent systems need to be simplified. I program only five or six different variations for the LEDs: ones for day, night, dusk, entertaining and low mood lighting. There is a huge responsibility when you work with LEDS. The reason I use glass with frosted ends to diffuse the lights is because it gives a pastel effect as LEDs can be very tacky, the red, green and blue is a harsh red, green and blue and if you don't use it in the right way then its too over-the-top. It's like theatre lighting, if you use all the lights at once it's too much so you need to control it. But the technology is evolving all the time.
CID: Why are you in Dubai?
Messe Frankfurt ME asked me to be a keynote speaker at Light Middle East, in Dubai in May. Brumberg is launching the Beaumac and the Icicle range at the Dubai show after a soft launch in Frankfurt and I'm also designing a central stand, and I want to do something special. I think it'll be a real forum for debate, it's not just people showing their wares, it's people talking about lighting, how we can improve, how we can get more ecological, how we can really make a change. And all of that's possible, especially in Dubai when you look at these huge projects.
CID: What projects have you seen here that you admire?
I would love to drop a chandelier down the 180m central atrium of the Burj Al Arab! It's crying out for a chandelier in that vast space. Emirates Towers is good too and I like the plans for the Burj Dubai. I like large scale projects.
CID: What will you be speaking about at Light Middle East?
I never talk about facts and figures, it'll be about ideas. Designers never stop learning. There might be a student in the room that will say, ‘that's rubbish, what do you want to do it like that for?' and that's the whole point, to open up an impassioned discussion.
I want to get designers to think out of the box, and not to rely on 3D computer-aided art or digital visuals.
CID: Is that your advice for interior designers?
Designers often have great ideas about lighting, mock up a fantastic CAD design, then take it to the manufacturer and they say, "that's simply not possible!" There has to be an understanding of the materials, a knowledge of how to get from the initial spark of the design, where you look at an inanimate object and get that fantastic flash of creativity and then make it work. This has to start with the design colleges teaching students about a material's capabilities.
CID: Are you a perfectionist?
I'm definitely a control freak! With the statement light pieces, I'm not happy if I'm not involved. I make sure that the hydraulics are perfect, the installation, the engineering. I guess I do seek perfection, for instance, for one client I was going to drop 15,000m of fibre optics down through a high atrium and it was very new and exciting, and one day I was playing around with some fibre optics and realised that it's so stunning and beautiful when it's on at night. But when it's turned off during the day it just looks like bits of plastic hanging down and for a very expensive project it just doesn't work. I had to approach the clients and say, "you know that really fantastic fibre optic installation that you love? Well I have a new proposal for you..." After all, a statement light is a sculpture when not in use.
CID: What are you inspired by?
I get inspiration from the craziest things, like the way a car's bumper reflects the light, it just depends. I'm very bad for waking up in the middle of the night and my wife hates me for it, but I'll go down to my design studio, which is about 15 minutes away from where I live in Portugal, and I'll be there until 7am. Sometimes ideas come really quickly or sometimes they won't come for a couple of weeks, sometimes longer. I don't like to work on an idea that hasn't come naturally. Every item I do is a one-off piece and it's sometimes very difficult because the client is waiting and the pressure's building. It's happened a few times that I'll mock something up, do a really nice presentation and the client loves it, and then a few days later I go back to them and say "change of plan, I don't want to do that for you, I've got a better idea now." As soon as the pressure's off, the ideas start flowing.
CID: Can you do that when you're working for a brand such as Brumberg that has a definite time schedule for launches?
Brumberg's different. I had ideas already in my head of what the market needed, and then by working in different countries and with a variety of materials, by getting my hands in the dirt again, I'm getting little gifts along the way, such as, "wow, you can cut crystal like that now can you? Ok, I'll have that." I work all around the world and then go back to Brumberg with 15 different prototypes and they'll choose what they want. I am always trying to find new techniques of using old materials.
CID: What do you like best about your job?
I'm very lucky, the type of projects I do have good budgets, and the challenge with that is trying to pull the carpet away from under the client's feet and surprising them. Also, my father always used to say to me, "you have to look up when you walk through a space, no-one looks up enough," and that's true, so I try to encourage people to look up by dropping the chandelier quite low, making it immediately visible and then I take the light up, to draw your vision upwards to highlight the architecture. That's when a project is really successful when the client, architect, interior designer and the lighting consultant all have a shared vision.For all the latest construction news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.