Jan Vingerhoets, the CEO of Flos USA, understands that no technological change is threatening to radically alter his industry—lighting—the way many believe that 3D printers are on the verge of upending manufacturing.
And he’s comfortable with that. Lighting, he said this week in a presentation on the future of interior design at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, hasn’t fundamentally changed since Thomas Edison filed for a patent on the incandescent light bulb in 1879.
That has left Flos to innovate in subtler, more incremental ways, for example by adapting to and experimenting with LED lighting. "The big advantage of LED is that it’s small, it’s very long lasting and it enables you to be much more dynamic [and] creative," he said. "The big downside is the cost. It’s much more expensive. Costs are coming down rapidly, however."
Those developments have enabled Flos to retrofit some of its classic lamps—notably its signature Arco lamp—for LED lighting, providing a modern, efficient spin on a reliable classic. "All of our new concepts are LED-focused because it gives us a lot of freedom," Vingerhoets said.
Vingerhoets also said he has observed a shift "to more indirect lighting, ambient lighting" in recent years. As an example, he cited the traditional office setup of desks, each with its own lamp. But the ubiquity of computers, with monitors that are their own light source, has rendered that arrangement all but obsolete, he said.
"Offices are changing, becoming almost like residences," he said. "So the office, the meeting room, the desk, they all melt into each other, and we like that because we think it’s much more [of] a home feeling, it’s less of a cubicle feeling. Sharing is much more important. So when we thought about this, we started working more with light that is incorporated into the wall. We call it ‘soft architecture."
The "soft architecture" effect is achieved, he said, by using a "special composite"— a lightweight stand-in for plaster that can be molded around LED lighting, making a wall appear to glow from within.
Vingerhoets said that one of Flos’ best-selling items over the last year has been its AIM line of pendant lamps. Designed by the French brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, the AIM lamps can be configured in any number of ways, its power cables serving as a tactile, decorative element. "You change it the way you want," Vingerhoets said. "So the expression in these cases of yourself or your idea of doing things is very much there."
He said Flos plans to release a similar line in May 2014 that it is calling String Lights. Designed by Michael Anastassiades, a Cyprus-born, London-based designer, the String Lights also can be combined and customized, held together with thin black electrical cords that are drawn into taught, geometric shapes. They represent another way that Flos is, as Vingerhoets puts it, giving "people the tools to express themselves with our lights."