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Publication Date: 2018-09-10

Studio Visit: McEwen Lighting Studio

Fascinated by the futurism and sci-fi movements that filled his childhood, Michael McEwen of McEwen Lighting Studio has an industrious approach to creating his collections of clean, contemporary lighting pieces that are adaptable for a range of architectural and interior styles. Here, he delves into the details behind his Quay suspension light and Mere surface mount fixtures— idiosyncratic design-engineered pieces with characteristics alluding to the machine age.

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Q: What inspired you to design the Quay light?

The Quay was originally designed for the Hacienda at Scribe Winery in the Sonoma Valley. The fixture was installed in the foyer of the main building on the estate, which is a partially restored 19th-Century Spanish Colonial relic. I was inspired by the history of the original estate, the distressed architecture, and by the surround of original stained glass on the curved wall behind the foyer (see below for picture).

Q: Can you briefly explain your process of designing or creating in general?

A: In my approach to lighting, effect usually trumps shape. I love the interplay of light source with metal and glass; reflection, refraction, distortion. A lot of ideas come to me from an examination of the characteristics of materials, and their manipulation by industrial tools and equipment. I have long been fascinated and enchanted by the mammoth contraptions and crude manufacturing processes of the machine age, even more so by 1940-1960 Futurism/Sci-Fi as depicted in books and movies from my childhood. I loved Jules Verne movies and Commando Cody (Radar Men from the Moon), a 1950s TV series about space exploration and adventure. Later, Metropolis, Brazil, Blade Runner. I am also profoundly affected by the beauty and simplicity of the natural world.

McEwen's Quay suspension fixture in the foyer of the Hacienda at Scribe Winery.

Q: What is your favorite feature or detail of the Quay suspension fixture? What makes it special? 

A: I had fun with the support mechanism for the blown glass orbs; three tiny nylon tipped set screws fix the globes in place at the equator and give them the illusion of floating within the support rings.

Detail of the Quay suspension fixture.

 Q: How do you imagine the Mere surface mount fixture being used? What type of interior? 

A: The Mere surface mount fixture is me taking a stab at revisiting Danish mid-century design. I love surface mounts, which is probably a reaction to the horror of growing up with those awful square glass ceiling pans, ubiquitous in the bedrooms of 1960-70’s suburban tract houses. But, they have great utility, and we offer quite a few. Very useful for rooms with short ceilings or with door swing issues. I see the Mere used anywhere from a entry hall, bathroom, laundry room or pantry, to multiples, in the kitchen or hallway. 

Q: When designing these fixtures, did you see a void in the marketplace, or did you design these for particular projects and then realize that it had broader appeal?

A: For better or worse, I generally don’t consider the marketplace when designing, except perhaps to introduce an idea that I haven’t yet seen out there, which isn’t so easy. I first try to run with what inspires me internally to create, and then I try very hard to land a classic, again, not so easy, and certainly not for me to decide. I have become increasingly self-critical in the process, and so the new introductions have slowed a bit as a result. It is very common that a custom design imagined for a specific project will eventually make it into our collection, as did Quay.

Multiple Mere fixtures.

Q: How do these lights coordinate with other items that you have designed?

A: As different as the individual pieces seem to be, I suppose my idiosyncratic approach to design/design engineering allows for a common stylistic thread between a lot of the designs in our catalog. But I do think that many of our pieces coordinate well together, as evidenced by the multiple pieces often purchased by designers for their projects.

Q: How would you describe the range of products you offer? 

A: McEwen offers a collection of 80 plus, customizable designs with clean, contemporary lines, studio built with warm, romantic, authentic materials. It's appropriate for a wide range of architectural/interior styles from contemporary to transitional, from mid-century ranch to Spanish Colonial revival, from California bungalow to Hollywood glam.

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