The High-Design Retailer That Educates Customers and Discovers New Talent

Add to
Like
Comment
Share
By Luke Hopping
Luminaire is a guiding force in bringing international design to the USA.

Owner Nasir Kassamali regularly travels the world identifying new talent while stocking his showrooms with enduring classics. 

The High-Design Retailer That Educates Customers and Discovers New Talent - Photo 1 of 7 -

Iconic and modern furnishings mingle at Luminaire, which has showrooms in Chicago and Coral Gables, Florida.

What prompted you to start Luminaire in 1974?

The High-Design Retailer That Educates Customers and Discovers New Talent - Photo 2 of 7 -

A 3Table by Front for Porro graces the 15,000-square-foot Coral Gables location.

There wasn’t much contemporary design in retail. It’s one thing to be a shopkeeper, it’s another to be an educator. We planned to have a story for every product—who is the designer, what is its real function. I made sure every client, even if they came in just to buy a lamp, knew the bigger story.

The High-Design Retailer That Educates Customers and Discovers New Talent - Photo 3 of 7 -

Luminaire curates thoughtful vignettes composed of furniture by celebrated designers.

How do you approach the customer relationship?

The High-Design Retailer That Educates Customers and Discovers New Talent - Photo 4 of 7 -

A Fat Sofa low-back armchair and Fat Fat small table by Patricia Urquiola for B&B Italia pair with a Snoopy table lamp by Achille and Pier Castiglioni for Flos.

What we are interested in is loyalty. We want [customers] to understand our brand. Rather than say "Trust me, I’m a decorator," we want them to understand why we make our choices. When we transform their lives with their help, they appreciate it and become vocal ambassadors for us. That practice is why we’ve been quite resilient throughout the recession.

The High-Design Retailer That Educates Customers and Discovers New Talent - Photo 5 of 7 -

Nasir Kassamali founded Luminaire with his wife, Nargis, in 1974 with the mission to “demystify” design for the general public. Their commitment to education led to launching a lecture series in 1979.

How do you view the e-commerce landscape?

The High-Design Retailer That Educates Customers and Discovers New Talent - Photo 6 of 7 -

Over the years, it has hosted now-famous designers like Jasper Morrison, Philippe Starck, and the Bouroullec brothers early in their careers.

You know, the only difference between an online and a brick-and-mortar store is people. What’s the difference between buying an iPhone on AT&T’s website as opposed to going to the Apple Store? It’s the same. The danger is that e-commerce can turn good design into a commodity. You lose the value of how and why it was made. We maintain a history-based, philosophy-based online store. Every product we feature has a description written by us, not taken out of a catalog. 

The High-Design Retailer That Educates Customers and Discovers New Talent - Photo 7 of 7 -

"The danger is that e-commerce can turn good design into a commodity. You lose the value of how and why it was made. We maintain a history-based, philosophy-based online store. Every product we feature has a description written by us, not taken out of a catalog." — Nasir Kassamali

How do you stay abreast of emerging design after so many years?

It’s important for me to see young talent on a level playing field. I’m in this business not only to make money, but to promote good design. Ten years ago, through Luminaire’s lecture series, I met Omer Arbel, who is the creative director at Bocci. I saw his work, saw its benefit, and so I helped him launch their product. Today, Bocci is one of the most successful lighting companies in the world. I don’t ask for a consulting fee or anything, there are no strings attached. If there’s more good design in the world, it’ll be a much better place.  

Get a Daily Dose of Design

Sign up for the Dwell Daily Newsletter and never miss our new features, photos, home tours, stories, and more.