At NYCxDesign in May 2023, Lumens was pleased to co-host a special night with SONNEMAN – A Way of Light in the brand’s beautifully renovated showroom at the New York Design Center. The event, “Celebrating 60 Years of Design Innovation,” let attendees get face-to-face with designs from the SONNEMAN archives alongside new collections. Dan Rubinstein, host of The Grand Tourist podcast and veteran design journalist, led the conversation with the guest of honor, Robert Sonneman.
Lumens CEO Laura Walsh introduced the renowned designer before turning over the stage to Rubenstein and Sonneman for an illuminating look at his life in design, from his first gig at a small store on Madison Avenue to revolutionizing lighting design with LED technology.
Sonneman shared the story of his humble beginnings sweeping up for George Kovacs, who introduced him to modern design, sparking a transformative shift in his perspective:
“I always identified with the simplicity and the functionality and the integrity of modernism, because there was a core integrity in doing something straight, and simply, and functionally. And that fascinated me, and it continues to.”
As the conversation unfolded, he shared moments of personal and professional growth, recounting how his journey intersected with architecture, the emergence of LED technology, and the impact of postmodernism:
“Somebody said to me, ‘You know, you’re really a great designer.’ And I said, well, what’s a designer? Because I didn’t approach it from that standpoint: I just was making good things.”
The advent of LEDs proved to be a revolutionary turning point for Sonneman, reshaping his understanding of design and opening up a new realm of possibilities:
“Design is very often evolutionary, but LED made lighting design revolutionary.”
LED allowed for new forms, scales and approaches, which ultimately redefined the company’s direction. With the support of a brilliant engineering team, SONNEMAN – A Way of Light embraced technology as a “facilitator of design.”
Sonneman drew special attention to key designs that, to him, symbolized innovation and propelled his creative endeavors. In particular, the Suspenders system showcases the seamless integration of LED technology and low voltage, enabling versatility and scalability that would have been impossible with incandescent bulbs. The Constellation series exemplifies the use of small lighting modules, revolutionizing the concept of capturing light in captivating ways.
“I really wasn’t interested in just doing nice things or pretty things. I really wanted to invent something new, and I always wanted to do that. And sometimes I did, and it was all accident.”
The talk shed light on Sonneman’s remarkable journey, emphasizing the importance of perseverance, integrity and the relentless pursuit of innovation. As he moves on from his namesake company in 2023 to pursue a broader scope of designing whatever comes next, his still-developing legacy is preserved in his designs for SONNEMAN – A Way of Light.
“It’s a luxury to be able to do what you love to do, the way you want to do it. And everything in my life, I did because I didn’t know I couldn’t.”