Furnishings: Bright Ideas

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When San Francisco–based architect and designer Jonathan Browning launched his lighting collection in the spring of 2003, he was looking to remedy what he and several of his peers deemed a glaring lack of illumination options. “On the one hand, you have the cold, high-tech cabled lighting created by the Italians in the 1980s and ’90s,” says the 44-year-old former senior vice president of design for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. “On the other, [you have] reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century standards, like an urn lamp, which is never going to be as nice as the original. Then there’s antique lighting. And that’s pretty much all, unless you’re going to design it yourself, in which case you have to find someone to fabricate it for you.”

Browning’s solution was to produce sconces, chandeliers, and table lamps that combine classical details, a modern design aesthetic, and his own whimsical touch. “I wanted to sit down and do original pieces that feel really familiar, like you’ve seen them before,” Browning explains. “But I didn’t want them to be reproductions.” This mind-set has spawned pieces such as the Perpignan chandelier, which features four Baroque-inspired torches, and the Martime sconce, a series of polished rings that resembles a crustacean. “Rather than casting it from an actual shell,” he says, “I drew it myself and had it carved.”

The designer employs Cirecast, the Bay Area foundry that restored 19th-century hardware at the New York Public Library among other buildings, to produce all of his company’s lighting. Cirecast uses investment casting: surrounding a wax mold with plaster and then filling it with molten bronze. This method followed by weeks of sanding, plating, and polishing yields finished pieces that range in price from $1,500 to $9,700, with some custom designs topping out at $31,000. The idea, says Browning, is for each light to reflect the same refined style and quality of items found at a Paris flea market “but without looking like an antique.”

Browning’s clients, including homeowners and corporations such as Tiffany & Co., which commissioned a custom chandelier and sconces for its San Francisco flagship store, soon will see the designer in a different light. His forthcoming line of window hardware, cocktail tables, and drapery rods is now in development. “I find curtain rods and rings really in the same category as lighting,” Browning says. “Most of it is overly dramatic—and it just isn’t relevant to most modern homes.”


Jonathan Browning, 415.401.9999, www.jonathanbrowninginc.com

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