The Light Fantastic: Johanna Grawunder

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.

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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