written by:
July 27, 2012

To Johanna Grawunder, a turned-off chandelier is “one of the saddest things in the world.” Granted, she is an avant-garde lighting designer; a darkened fixture is a missed opportunity.

Portrait of Johanna Grawunder
Designer and architect Johanna Grawunder is based in San Francisco and Milan, Italy.
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Modern lighting design ideas by Johanna Grawunder
Limelight, for Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery, 2012 This modular wall light consists of two modules, each able to pivot right or left, controlling how much light is emitted. The light itself is color-changing LEDs that are operated by a remote. The inspiration for the bead-blast finish: the back of Grawunder’s iPad.
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Modern coffee table by Johanna Grawunder
h3>Platform, for Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery, 2012 Reminiscent of volcanic cracks that reveal a lava flow, this low-slung coffee table of blackened steel emits a green glow from behind its sliced-up edges. Grawunder saw the slight deviation as a way to “mangle a little bit this perfect coffee table form.”
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Modern lighting design ideas by Johanna Grawunder
Boxy, for Glas Italia, 2011 Glas Italia “has this amazing possibility to make a mirror out of any color of glass,” says Grawunder. Using that material as a starting point, Grawunder turned the mirrors into boxes and then sanded off their silver backing at the corners, allowing light to emanate from the colored glass. She envisions these “hybrid objects”—a combination of light-table-storage—to be used as mini bars or bedside tables that hold books.
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Modern lighting design ideas by Johanna Grawunder
Color on Color Mirror, for Glas Italia, 2010 In this three-part collection, Grawunder layers color “like a painter would do,” including Rothko-esque “black-out parts, which is what the mirror does.” The mirror, at center, is the only part of the fixture that’s not colored. “They wouldn’t let me put light in this,” Grawunder says, which, ultimately was a good idea. “The color of the glass itself is so luminous, it almost looks backlit.”
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Modern lighting design ideas by Johanna Grawunder
Circle Light, Private Collection, 2011 For a commission for the Parisian jewelry designer Lorenz Baumer, Grawunder was inspired by one of the rings she had seen on his website. Concentric stainless steel rings combine with colored plexiglass and LED lights that change color to create one of Grawunder’s more decorative pieces.
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Modern lighting design ideas by Johanna Grawunder
Slash, Private Collection, 2011 This piece for Baumer was created for an entry foyer. A more architectural fixture made mostly of polished stainless steel, it needed to incorporate movable lights to spotlight works of art. Grawunder suspended track lights, a typical form of spotlighting, from the main color field, making them more of a decorative than a purely functional element.
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Modern lighting design ideas by Johanna Grawunder
Singapore Free Port, Exterior, 2010 Grawunder worked closely with Swiss architects Benedicte Montant and Carmelo Stendardo to light this storage facility, designed as the “ultimate safe” for high-value art and collectibles. On the exterior, Grawunder used very low light green LEDs to give a bioluminescent feeling to the wall of plants behind it. In the daytime, the holes where the light comes from reflect the sky. Containing many kilometers of lights, this is Grawunder’s largest installation ever “and probably will be for a long time,” she quips.
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Modern lighting design ideas by Johanna Grawunder
Singapore Free Port, Lobby, 2010 These hanging lights were designed to resemble mirror walls hanging in the lobby space. “I wanted the mirror effect to reflect the lobby windows and repeat the pattern,” Grawunder explains. A mirror coating was also applied to the lobby windows, so in the day “there is a lot of reflection up there.” At night, the "walls" glow up and down, with color changing LEDs giving a three-dimensional ceiling effect.
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Modern lighting design ideas by Johanna Grawunder
Giolight, for Gallery Roberto Giustini & Partners, 2007 Grawunder’s bestseller—and one of her most iconic pieces—is included in the permanent collections the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Produced for a Rome gallery in two different sizes, the lights are highly coveted by collectors. Six of the larger, hanging versions were created for $25,000 each and were sold out in a week. A week later, one sold at an auction for $75,000.
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Modern lighting design ideas by Johanna Grawunder for FLOS
Wan for FLOS, 2006 Wan is the Japanese word for “bowl,” Grawunder’s inspiration for these hanging “bowls of light” that continue to be produced, as both suspension and hanging lights in various finishes.
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Portrait of Johanna Grawunder
Designer and architect Johanna Grawunder is based in San Francisco and Milan, Italy.

Grawunder’s high-concept lighting explores all the possibilities technology, unconventional materials, and sculptural forms have to offer. Her work at once recalls the fluorescent light installations of Dan Flavin, the minimalism of Donald Judd and Richard Serra, and the colorful furnishings of her mentor, the Italian architect Ettore Sottsass, with whom the California native, herself an architect, worked for 16 years.

Though her portfolio includes vases for B&B Italia, glass for Mikasa, and a pen for Acme, Grawunder’s become renowned for adding light to mirrors, tables, sofas—even beds. Such experimentalism has made her a sought-after designer whose work turns on some of the best high-concept design companies in the world, like FLOS, Boffi, and Glas Italia.

The manufactured pieces for these companies that debut at Milan’s prestigious Salone del Mobile are often derived from her more experimental work: limited editions for the art-design marketplace and one-offs for private clients. Her latest collection for Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery in Paris will soon travel to some 25 art fairs around the world, including Art Basel. That collection influenced the large glass tables for Glas Italia that will be unveiled at next year’s Salone.

New LED technologies have enabled Grawunder’s work to become increasingly sophisticated. But as the technologies become more commonplace, they also make the design of illuminated objects more challenging.

“People now expect versatility, and the fact that the light changes colors is not enough,” she says. “It has to a have a nice form, a sculptural quality and the quality of light has to be beautiful.”

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