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.
1 / 11
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.
2 / 11
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.”
3 / 11
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.
4 / 11
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.”
5 / 11
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.
6 / 11
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.
7 / 11
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.
8 / 11
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.
9 / 11
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.
10 / 11
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.
11 / 11
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.”

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016