Welcome to our new series, Insider, in which we get to know one person who makes Hudson Valley Lighting the special company that it is. Kicking off the series, we have Jeff, a man who has forty-five years of experience in lighting and even more than that in design. Jeff comprises one-third of the team that generates fixture ideas, drafts them, and oversees their production in our factories, with whom he has a close working relationship. He is a warm man who enjoys conversation and is passionate about art, nature, architecture, and design.
We all have memories from our childhood that, looking back and making a story of our lives, seem of particular importance. Jeff recalls his father taking him to factories and lamp shows in New York and Chicago when he was a boy. His father was known to draft a design so effectively the first time, a factory would have no issue creating it. Working in lighting design in the forties, his father gave him a first taste of the mysteries of lamping. It was part of a wider curriculum of bonding events that exposed Jeff to the worlds of art and design.
Jeff studied for two years at the Institute of Art in Cleveland in his native Ohio before moving to New York to study at Parsons School of Design, where his curriculum was in interior design. Here, he made life-long friends and learned the skills that started him off in a career in design. He began his career in architecture and interior design, working with luminaries on the 14th floor of New York’s historic Flatiron building, conferencing in one of the envied point rooms in the 60s. In 1970, his father asked him to fill in for a need at a lighting company in Philadelphia who used vertical manufacturing. On a massive on-site factory, Jeff learned the ins and outs of production, from stamping of materials to blowing of glass—"polishing, painting, plating, all of it." From this point on, Jeff never left the lighting business. However, as with so many others in the first years of the new millennium, the wolf was at the door for Jeff. Hudson Valley Lighting and he had the mutual good fortune to find one another about ten years ago. “It came on at a time in my life when I didn’t really have anything and, boy, it just turned out to be the best thing for me. I was 62 years old. I didn’t work for three and a half years. It gave me my life back.” Joining our small team, he not only brought thirty+ years of experience in lighting and design, he also brought an intimate knowledge of the factory floor which gave him a cutting edge in communicating with our factory teams.
Interior view from point office in Flatiron Building by nautical2k via Wikimedia Commons
Many of us here at Hudson Valley Lighting wear many hats and Jeff is no exception. Loosely categorized, his responsibilities are Research & Design and Product Development. Working closely with our President and Vice President, he seeks new ideas, pins them to the drawing board, and hand-sketches designs while engineering them. Once all the initial inspirational cues are tacked on the board, the rest of the gamut goes like this: “I then take our thinking and work it into a sketch form. We get to a point where we are comfortable with our basic direction. Then we consider size, scale, and what is best for our customer. I take that and work it into a scaled drawing which I do by hand—maybe not every detail, but again, my thinking when I am designing is ‘How does this go together? How is it going be finished? Materials?’ Once I’ve got that, it's given to my CAD support. They take it and put it into CAD form. Then we review it again, make any modifications or changes and then from there I guide it into a selected factory for the particular item depending on style, type, material that we want to use, because our factories work in various elements—some are all brass, some work in brass and steel, some work in organic materials. We ask for a first raw sample, a single item out of the group that we pick, so that we can bring that back and review it as a 3-dimensional item, so that we know that we are on the right track. Once the item is basically approved, then we fire the gun for the factory to make all the items in a series and apply the different finishes. If all goes well, those are the samples we use for photography and our catalog. We bring those samples to Dallas [where the biggest lighting market is held in January]. Once the items come to the final stage, and certainly after the Dallas Market, it’s over for me. I have to start the next cycle.”
Jeff pointing out some things about a design done for a contract and hospitality job.
Pinning sketches to the board. Jeff draws all designs by hand and uses a personal color-coding system.
One of the charms of Jeff's conversation is that, complementing this thoughtfulness and slowness in speaking is an unguarded nature about the contents of his mind. Recent topics we have discussed include the underrated nature of Australian literature, the love-lives of Eskimos studied in relation to the climate changes of their environment, the genius of Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn, and the basic flaws of 50 Shades of Grey (lots of travel affords him plenty of time to sink his teeth into books readily available in airport bookshops).
Work keeps him travelling, but it's something he enjoys. He loves seeing new places and meeting new people. With the cumulative knowledge he has acquired over the years in art and architecture, he relishes detecting the influence of one culture's art and design from on another, wandering through a city’s various identities. Not too long ago, he says, he was in Europe to experience its ancient towns. Going into old sections that are still left of modern cities amazes him. When enough of the old world has been left intact in a section, Jeff will close his eyes and imagine that he has been transported back in time.
Hudson Valley Lighting derives ideas for fixtures from a vast array of sources. Jeff recently got an idea from an old wheel. “I love to go to car shows, " he says. "I love museums. I love galleries. I love art." He collects art, also, especially black-and-white photography and representations of the human body. Prized possessions include two ancestral pastoral paintings and a silver plate of sequential exposures by pioneering early photographer Eadweard Muybridge, whose work in capturing a series of moments on film lead to the advent of cinematography. Muybridge's work also inspired Marcel Duchamp in creating this modernist masterpiece:
Whether on the factory floor or in the Dallas Market, Jeff delights in something so common, we see right through it: glass. Reflecting on our new families, with various beautiful textures and fascinating processes employed on the glass parts, he expands:
“Glass has become a very strong part of what we do. All the new glass in the 2015 offering was designed by and made for us. We don’t buy off the shelf. For me, glass has always been a special area of developing lighting product. I love glass. I love to go into the factories and observe the different processes. Sometimes you learn something new or the factory offers you some fresh direction they have been working on. Like what has happened with 2015, it winds up being very successful for the company.”
Ultimately, it is when the first samples come in, followed by their reception at Dallas Market that provides the highlight of his work year. “If I had to say there was a favorite part of the job, it would be walking into the photo studios and seeing finished samples for the first time. That’s when you really know if you’ve got something great or not.” His personal satisfaction derives not just from the visual success of these new pieces but their performance for the company. “My satisfaction comes out of the company being successful.”
Jeff sees this as part of what makes Hudson Valley Lighting a special place to work, a sentiment shared by many who work here.
“I think that’s the one great thing about Hudson Valley. We are still small enough to be allowed to be what we are. And that means a great group of people. We all work together well. If you came to Dallas, you would see the camaraderie. It’s fantastic.”
With our current trajectory, Jeff has a positive outlook on our future.
"If we stay on this course, there are not limits to where we can go."
All photographs of Jeff taken by Larissa