The Light Fantastic: Johanna Grawunder
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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.

Designer and architect Johanna Grawunder is based in San Francisco and Milan, Italy.

Designer and architect Johanna Grawunder is based in San Francisco and Milan, Italy.

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.

Limelight, for Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery, 2012<br><br>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.

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.

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.

h3&gt;Platform, for Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery, 2012<br><br>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.”

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.”

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.

Boxy, for Glas Italia, 2011<br><br>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.

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.

“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.”

Color on Color Mirror, for Glas Italia, 2010<br><br>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.”

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.”

Circle Light, Private Collection, 2011<br><br>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.

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.

Slash, Private Collection, 2011<br><br>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.

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.

Singapore Free Port, Exterior, 2010<br><br>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.

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.

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.

Giolight, for Gallery Roberto Giustini &amp; Partners, 2007<br><br>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.

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.

Wan for FLOS, 2006<br><br>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.

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.

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