About the Designer
Interview by Sarah Schaale
Ron Henderson started Varaluz in 2006 with a goal in mind-to take lighting beyond basic efficiency and build fixtures that could literally turn trash into treasure. Using materials like reclaimed shell, manufacturing waste and recycled metals, Varaluz creates modern lighting from simple pieces, taking inspiration from nature and beyond. The company's latest collection, Clout, was inspired by a cage-framed shop light and built from hand-forged recycled steel into unexpected, playful silhouettes. We caught up Henderson himself to learn a bit more about his designs.
The eco-friendly theme runs through the entire Varaluz collection. Why is that?
One of the reasons for starting Varaluz lighting was to address things we thought our industry was shamefully ignoring. It's not like anyone was clamoring for another lighting manufacturer - there are already 300 or more out there. But our industry seemed focused on the past-not on the present and certainly not on the future.
Energy efficiency is certainly important and makes headlines, but I think a larger impact can come from designing with responsible materials and designing out waste in the manufacturing and distribution process. Lord knows, we have enough waste in this world to deal with already.
What can you tell us about the Clout collection and how the design came about?
Clout began with a trip back to being 15 and spending time under a beat-up old '68 Camaro SS trying to fix pretty much everything. My trusty companion at the time was my dad's old, caged-frame shop light. From that caged beginning, Clout sort of took shape: the recycled steel silhouetting gives the illusion of a traditional shape and creates awesome light play. For the shapes, we looked no further than the game room: spades and clubs from playing cards, pawns from chess sets. These lighthearted, unexpected shapes become mod fashion pieces, especially with the slightly iridescent finishes that constantly evolve as ambient lighting and your viewing angle changes. It's our fun way of marrying the 60's & 70's with the 2010's. Modern looks...vintage cues...eco-friendly materials and construction...it's definitely Varaluz.
The design of your living or work space needs to be about you. Find what you love and make it work.
Varaluz fixtures are mostly manufactured out of the Philippines. Why?
In the northern Philippines, in the area where Clark U.S. Air Force Base used to be ironically, is an amazing region where with tremendous iron-working talent. When the Spanish first settled there hundreds of years ago, they brought metalworking skill from Europe. It has been passed down over the generations and there is a sort of de facto guild of metal artists there.
Additionally, Filipinos take great pride in their work and artistry. This is not always true in modern day manufacturing countries. And, the Philippines, being a country made up of over 7,000 islands, have a strong culture of recycling and reclamation as imported materials are imported with difficulty and high cost. They are also careful to maintain their limited natural resources. All of which makes it a perfect fit for us.
What is the design process?
I don't think we design so much as play. Occasionally you have that wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-with-an-amazing-fully-formed-design moment. I think you get 2 or 3 of those in a lifetime. The rest of the time we start playing with shapes, forms, materials and textures. Often we start from ideas or concepts like rollercoasters or space aliens or more mundane things like popular finishes in bathroom tile...and we keep playing until something sort of gels together into something we find attractive, interesting, fun and useful. Not that the world always agrees with you...
What do you value in design?
First, there has to be a wow moment: "Wow, who would have thought to do that?" And hopefully: "Wow, that's awesome!"
We also embed interesting twists into our fixtures. As an actual engineer by degree, I tend to create fixtures that sort of defy conventional wisdom on the basic structure of fixtures. A good example: most light fixtures have some sort of housing or chamber (called a distributor) that houses the wiring connections for each set of wires going to each socket. On a 6-light chandelier, this is fairly sizeable and usually obvious and clunky in the center of the fixture. Look at some of our best sellers like Fascination and see if you can figure out how we wire them. Not that its magical or even obvious to most people, but it's a little something extra that makes it fun for me and a little more unique for our customers.
- Clout Mini Pendant - Hookah (In New Bronze) by Varaluz
- Clout Mini Pendant - Hookah (In Pearl) by Varaluz
Inspired by the caged trouble lights used to work on cars, the Varaluz Clout Mini Pendant - Hookah also has an exotic form evocative of an Indian waterpipe. The curves of this recycled steel shade, and the distinctive play of light through its bars, are enhanced by the subtle shimmer of the New Bronze or Pearl finishes.
- Clout Mini Pendant - Clubs by Varaluz
Fixing cars and playing cards inspired the Varaluz Clout Mini Pendant - Clubs. Made out of recycled steel, this fixture takes its cue from caged shop lights, while its unique rounded shape resembles the suit of clubs from a deck of cards. Subtly iridescent finishes add even more of a fashionable modern edge to this vintage-inspired piece.
What are your favorite fixtures and why?
Fascination is an easy one to call a favorite and it's selfishly from us. It's evocative of children laughing and blowing bubbles. It's a little '60s-'70s mod in spirit. It's a lot early last century American Craftsman (the vintage feel of the recycled glass, the hand-crafted frames and the hand-applied artistic finishes). And, it's kind of mind-blowing from an engineering standpoint the way we wire them and how they're fairly uniformly constructed even though they are individually handcrafted.
As for others' fixtures, you could probably put any vintage or modern fixture in front of me and I could find something I love about it. Nelson from the '60s, vintage George Kovacs, anyone Moooi has sponsored…and there are many unsung amazing lighting designers out there now, too.
What is the overall inspiration behind your designs?
Probably at our core, we celebrate the early 1900s American Craftsman movement (not to be confused with Craftsman or Bungalow style) in a modern way. That movement was sort of a retreat from stamped out machine-made consistency that was becoming the norm as the industrial revolution took over every industry. It represented a focus on the craft, handcrafting, using hand-made glass and hand-applied artistic, rich, layered finishes and, of course, hand-worked metals. It was less a certain design style (designs had Deco, Early American, Nouveau, Streamline and even Rococo influences) than more of an ethos. And then I warp it all with a little '60s-'70s mod sensibility (or as my therapist likes to call it, my childhood trauma).
What is the style of your own home and office space?
The office ends up cluttered no matter what I do about it. On any given day there are 20-30 sketches or inspirational photos on the walls. And I have some giant Mike Wardle acrylics on one wall (Google him if you have a chance, he's an amazing Las Vegas artist). And spreadsheets galore...which may as well be art.
At home, it's very modern, clean and minimalist. There are a couple more Mike Wardle paintings throughout, although they are more intimate in scale. There are a couple of Fascination fixtures, a couple of vintage thrift-store/garage-sale finds updated with a modern glossy pearl finish and our Pinwheel pendant and semi-flushmount in the entry area. And our Shaken floor lamp in pearl has a position of honor in the bedroom. The guestroom is sort of a museum to extinct Varaluz fixtures with my most-favorite-ever-no-longer-available-sadly design, Envy. The furniture (all though there isn't enough of it yet) is all modern and low.
What is it like to see your products out in the world?
The best compliment ever is seeing something tangible you made or helped make in use, and more importantly, appreciated. It's thrilling to see how other people interpret your ideas. It's even educational. As much as I think I'm not trapped by lighting or design paradigms, I couldn't help but chuckle when I saw our Fascination bath fixtures mounted on a ceiling. It was really cool and not something I had ever envisioned. As a result, we now include hardware rated for ceiling or wall mounting.
Another lesson: our Pinwheel fixtures seem to be one of the more popular ones for people to send us installation photos of...and I noticed a trend. Many of the photos showed amber or vintage Edison-style lamps instead of clear bulbs. This greatly warmed up the fixtures (which are made of recycled aluminum and as a result can be cool) and the rooms. We now show them the same way in photography and in our display spaces.
Any advice for lighting up a space?
The design of your living or work space needs to be about you. Find what you love and make it work. If you fall in love with a pendant light that doesn't give a lot of useful light don't worry about it. Get it anyway. You can always affordably add other layers of light in a room to make up for it: table or floor lamps, cable/track lighting, can lighting, LED spots, etc.