When fledgling lighting designer Rosie Li presented her senior thesis project at RISD in 2011, she received the ultimate stamp of approval: an endorsement from Lindsey Adelman.
The celebrated New York designer, visiting RISD as a guest critic, was so taken with one of Li’s lamp prototypes that she texted a photo of it to Jason Miller, the founder of lighting company Roll & Hill. Li got a licensing deal and, eventually, a job there before she founded her own studio with engineer and fellow Roll & Hill colleague Philip Watkins in 2015.
Her experimental yet glamorous approach to light—from delicate palm frond–inspired sconces to chandeliers that resemble molecules—has earned her work spots in projects by many big-name designers. Li’s most recent collection is a new take on her Bubbly series—a set of luminaires that look like iridescent soap bubbles. She achieves the finish through a technique called physical vapor deposition.
"I tend to express myself in really technical ways," she reflects. "I feel like science is an applied art."
Learn why the designer is interested the chemistry of glass colors, and read more of her responses to our Q&A, below.
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Describe what you make in 140 characters. Sculptural lighting, with a focus on custom and installation-based works.
What's the last thing you designed? A proposal for a large-scale Ginkgo blossom installation, designed for a hospitality project in Asia.
Do you have a daily creative ritual? Funny enough, I weave in creative sketching with my evening skincare ritual! My head is usually buzzing with ideas by the end of day, and I use this time to sketch them out while waiting for layers of face lotions and potions to absorb.
How do you procrastinate? Early and often.
What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? I'd like to re-design a lighted vanity mirror and break out of its usual Hollywood feel. The classic mirror with a frame of lights is nice and functional, but has such a very specific look. I wonder what would happen if we re-approached its aesthetic with the modern woman in mind.
Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? Gae Aulenti, Anni and Josef Albers, and Pierre Cardin.
What skill would you most like to learn? I'm starting to geek out over glass these days. It's really interesting to learn the chemistry behind glass colors and how they react with heat and cooling, not to mention all the technical details behind mould making for glassblowing. I would love to learn how to blow glass but honestly not sure I can take the (furnace) heat!
What is your most treasured possession? My engagement ring. It's an asymmetric design studded with opals and made by WWAKE, a Brooklyn-based jewelry designer and fellow RISD alum. I treasure it because it reminds me of how far my partner and I have come in our studio practice.
What's your earliest memory of an encounter with design? RISD Furniture Senior Show 2008. It was a revelation to me, as a freshman, seeing the cutting edge of furniture and object design. I was floored by the power of their making. It inspired me to change my major to furniture design.
What contemporary design trend do you despise? I still hate the Memphis-inspired trend for ushering in a new wave of lazy design.
Finish this statement: All design should...be considerate.
What’s in your dream house? An outdoor lounge with requisite grill and fire pit, sunroom for all my indoor plants, a sunken living room for lounging, miles of open kitchen countertops, and throw in a Hans Wegner Papa Bear chair for some leisure reading. A girl can dream!
Did you pick up any new hobbies or learn a new skill while in quarantine? What was it? I learned how to break down a chicken over a Zoom cooking class, but I have yet to learn how to make bread! My new hobby is spying on everyone's quarantine sourdough.
How do you think the pandemic will affect residential design in the future? What about workplace or commercial design? Even when pandemic restrictions lift I think we'll still be spending more time in our homes, which I feel can only lead to a greater focus on defining what helps us relax and what lifts our spirits. I anticipate a growing demand for custom (and more ostentatious!) home furnishings as a way to personalize individual style.
How can the design world be more inclusive? A great deal of us are educated in only the Western traditions (i.e., Wiener Werkstatte, Bauhaus, Mid-century Modernism, Minimalism, etc.) and I'm including myself in this category too. We can and should recognize the multiple canons in art and design. I think broadening design culture to include Eastern, African, and Indigenous American art traditions could really expand our industry and encourage inclusivity.
What do you wish non-designers understood about the design industry? It's really tough to be a designer! Non-designers: please know that every product you touch has been designed. From what it looks like to what it does, from to how it is made to how it gets packaged—every step had to be considered, vetted, and put to practice. You will truly care for good design only when you understand the labor that does into it.
The Dwell 24 2020
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