Guiding lights

A very switched-on friend­ship spurs two of New York’s bright­est de­sign stars to shine

Wallpaper - - October - WRITER: PEI-RU KEH

Lind­sey Adel­man is a glow­ing men­tor

Although there is no short­age of men­tor­ship pro­grammes within the cre­ative in­dus­tries, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween ris­ing light­ing designer Mary Wal­lis and in­dus­try stal­wart Lind­sey Adel­man seems par­tic­u­larly or­ganic and pro­found. Un­der Adel­man’s tute­lage, Wal­lis has risen from in­tern to se­nior designer, and Adel­man’s com­pany be­gan pro­duc­ing Wal­lis’ own de­signs in 2014 – an undis­puted coup for any young tal­ent. Hav­ing worked to­gether for nine years, the two New York­ers are not only still in sync but also spur each other on to new heights, go­ing above and be­yond the typ­i­cal men­tor-mentee re­la­tion­ship.

When Adel­man first in­ter­viewed the Aus­tralia-born Wal­lis in 2007, a year into run­ning her own firm, she quickly saw Wal­lis’ po­ten­tial. ‘There’s some­thing that sep­a­rates peo­ple who ac­tu­ally pur­sue art and de­sign: it’s de­sire. You can’t tell some­body to have that,’ Adel­man says. Wal­lis had been com­plet­ing her de­sign ed­u­ca­tion at Par­sons School of De­sign and the Pratt In­sti­tute in New York, hav­ing al­ready earned a PHD in ge­net­ics

from Cam­bridge Univer­sity in the UK. A sin­gle trip to a life coach back in Mel­bourne was enough to con­vince her to move to the US and pur­sue her dream of light­ing de­sign. ‘One con­ver­sa­tion changed my life,’ Wal­lis says. ‘I was on a plane two weeks later. It was like a ball in a groove – ev­ery­thing fell into place.’

Adel­man’s own path was not dis­sim­i­lar. Af­ter ma­jor­ing in English at Kenyon Col­lege, Ohio, she be­came an ed­i­to­rial as­sis­tant at The Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion, dis­cov­er­ing in­dus­trial de­sign while wit­ness­ing how ex­hi­bi­tions were pro­duced. ‘The same thing hap­pened to me. There was this fiery des­per­a­tion of, “How do I get there?” It all hap­pened in the same week – I found out what in­dus­trial de­sign was, some­one sug­gested I go to Rhode Is­land School of De­sign, I filled out the ap­pli­ca­tion and port­fo­lio – in se­cret, ba­si­cally – and sent it in the day be­fore it was due.’

Af­ter bond­ing over their ex­pe­ri­ences of sec­ond acts and a shared view of the world (both are in­spired by the over­lap be­tween arts and sci­ences), Adel­man hired Wal­lis to join her fledg­ling com­pany. ‘Lind­sey gave me such con­fi­dence just by be­liev­ing in me be­fore I did. I had no ex­pe­ri­ence in de­sign. I just turned up on her doorstep one day,’ Wal­lis says. ‘We were just work­ing on mock-ups at that point and ev­ery­thing was by hand, so it was an easy point of en­try.’ While work­ing for Adel­man, Wal­lis ex­per­i­mented with her own de­signs on the side. She launched her own stu­dio in 2012 and pre­sented the first ver­sions of her ‘Em­pire’ and ‘Edie’ chan­de­liers, made in­de­pen­dently at a shared stu­dio in Brook­lyn, at the In­ter­na­tional Con­tem­po­rary Fur­ni­ture Fair later that year. Two years later, as the or­ders steadily in­creased, Adel­man took over the man­u­fac­tur­ing. ‘It seems so mon­u­men­tal, but we re­ally didn’t over­think it,’ Wal­lis says. ‘I think back now and it was such a sig­nif­i­cant step, but at the time it was more like, “Oh yeah, we could make it here – that would be eas­ier.”’

Wal­lis is not the only young de­sign star to have emerged from Adel­man’s stu­dio. When Wal­lis joined, Bec Brit­tain, now a bright light on the New York de­sign scene, was also on the small team. And Karl Zahn, Adel­man’s de­sign di­rec­tor, is es­tab­lish­ing a rep­u­ta­tion with his lights and wooden sculp­tures. ‘I think it’s the same way you pick your friends,’ Adel­man says. ‘[I like] peo­ple who are re­ally lit up – no pun in­tended. There are a lot of dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties [in the stu­dio] and we co-ex­ist be­cause ev­ery­body wants to make the best work. There’s an­other big theme, which is peo­ple who are com­fort­able with their tal­ent. They make peace with the fact that they’re tal­ented and don’t need to prove it to you ev­ery day. It’s such good en­ergy to be around. The peo­ple who have come through my stu­dio would have made it ei­ther way. I loved that we over­lapped, it was mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial, and I hope that con­tin­ues to hap­pen.’

Adel­man adds: ‘I think sched­ul­ing time for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is such an im­por­tant part of the [de­sign] process. The de­sign­ers that I hire pay at­ten­tion to all the fail­ures that hap­pen in pro­to­type. It’s in­con­ve­nient and you usu­ally don’t have the time or money, but it makes the work what it’s sup­posed to be.’

De­spite their aes­thetic dif­fer­ences (Wal­lis ex­hibits an edgy, Gothic style, while Adel­man leans to­wards the nat­u­ral­is­tic and ethe­real), there is a shared method­ol­ogy. ‘This idea of “just keep try­ing” as part of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment is some­thing I think peo­ple have picked up on, as well as the idea that per­fec­tion doesn’t ex­ist,’ Adel­man says, cit­ing the con­tin­ual evo­lu­tion of her de­signs. ‘You can’t shut things down to wait for things to be­come per­fect.’

At the heart of the con­nec­tion be­tween Wal­lis and Adel­man is their friend­ship. ‘Be­cause I fol­low the same cre­ative method­ol­ogy, I never felt like I had to break away,’ Wal­lis says. ‘It’s just fun to have a part­ner in crime and some­one to talk to about what’s hap­pen­ing.’

‘I think some­thing that drives us as women in de­sign is that you just want to know that there’s some­one else go­ing out on a limb for you,’ Adel­man adds. ‘It’s much more fun and en­joy­able when you have a girl­friend out there.’∂

All prices on re­quest, lind­seyadel­; mary­wal­;

‘I like peo­ple who make peace with their tal­ent and don’t need to prove it to you ev­ery day’


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