With a shared belief in the power of light to create atmosphere, Rich Brilliant Willing founding designers Theo Richardson, Charles Brill and Alexander Williams spoke with Editor, Helen Ankers about their design process and work with OLED technology.
Rich Brilliant Willing (RBW) is a Brooklyn-based studio that designs LED fixtures for hospitality, commercial and residential projects. Through an experimental approach guided by technology, creativity and simplicity, the studio continues to break new ground in lighting design with products ranging from subtle to statement pieces.
RBW’s three founders – Theo Richardson, Charles Brill and Alexander Williams met at Rhode Island School of Design while studying furniture design. As children, the three designers all shared a keen interest in taking things apart, to then learn how to put them back together, and it was a fascination with problem solving that sparked an interest in design as a career.
On graduation from Rhode Island, the trio found themselves working independently within fine arts, architecture and interior design in New York. Richardson and Brill landed their first jobs as associates at architectural firms, while Williams worked in a fine arts gallery in sales for sculptures. In 2007 the trio made the decision to share a studio in the East Village, allowing them the opportunity to work independently on projects, a move that would eventually lead to a collaborative partnership. The first project the designers worked on together saw them team up with Urban Outfitters – creating interior, store fixtures and fabricating display tables.
“The first ever pay check to Rich Brilliant Willing came from this project,” the trio tell darc. “We didn’t even have a business account to cash it out to – this lead to the birth of the business in 2009.”
Initially the RBW founders were more interested in creating a design consultancy and even travelled the world to pitch proposals to numerous agencies. “During this journey we were exposed to the marketing and sales distribution of larger design manufacturers and it struck us that we could come up with our own marketing plan via direct online sales. This turned our focus to creating and designing our own brand and products.”
With the foundation of RBW design studio based on the fostering of partnerships, the design team behind today’s product portfolio has since grown beyond the original founders, with Brenden Feucht coming on board as Lead Designer. Also influenced by design early on in life – thanks to his parents who both studied the subject, his curiosity with how things were made was instilled in him from a very young age.
“Being the collectors they were, my parents took me to countless antique shops where I was exposed to a long history of craft,” Feucht tells darc. “Although at the time I would never have admitted it, I am grateful for the experience and believe it affects a lot of my design decisions today.”
Feucht’s experience before RBW consisted mostly of custom architectural / fixture design, manufacturing and vendor management. With Feucht having always enjoyed the relationship between manufacturer and designer – there is a vital collaboration there in order to create product that makes an impact.
RBW is founded on a belief that light is a powerful thing. When it comes to hospitality, a warm, welcoming light is what sets us at ease and makes us feel at home. In the workplace, light sets the tone of an employee’s day. The right light lifts the mood, inspires productivity and motivates us. At home, light enlivens the little things – our morning routines or the moments we spend with friends. At RBW, the belief is that nothing is more important in shaping our sense of wellbeing than quality of light.
“The magic of illumination sets it apart from working with other product types,” the designers say. “It is so much fun to see ideas come alive when they emit light. Our design ethos is to use a luminaire to push technology and to determine what impact it has, or creates, in an environment. We focus on the intangible aspect of product opposed to just aesthetic. For example, our newest collection Vitis features flicker-free dim to warm capabilities allowing the product to stand out from the crowd.
“We had some great ideas at the beginning of our studio’s life – such as the Excel floor lamp, which helped put us on the map as designers of lighting. The adoption of LED technology, while exploring its new advancements allowed us to experiment with light in atmosphere. We recognise the benefits of utilising LED in contemporary design for its potential to bring both warmth and energy efficiency to everyday life. Lighting has a transformative element once lit and catches the attention and serves as a focal point of a room… the overall materiality suggests and creates different senses.”
For RBW, materiality inspiration is based on practicality – as in how efficient the installation, construction and application is of a fixture. “Lighting should bring ambience to a space,” they say. “It has the ability to change the mood of a room and ability to draw attention to furniture – it’s colour and it’s texture. Lighting can alter and enhance the way we perceive a room.
“At RBW we try to gain a different perspective when creating product by working with our end users… some of our most notable projects have been our collaborations with hospitality and interior design firms Meyer Davis and Rockwell Group. The products we created with them provided amazing insight into the way we look at our products being implemented in spaces people live and work in every day.
“We like to think of ourselves as having design personalities rather than a specific style, which allows us to draw inspiration from many areas. In doing this, we believe that our products offer a different perspective and inherently create a unique atmosphere in any space.”
For the design trio, architectural and decorative lighting go hand in hand – with architectural lighting providing layers of light to support the décor and decorative lighting creating a focal point for the eye.
The success of the RBW design studio stems from embracing and adopting technological advancements, pushing the boundaries of its services and product offering. The designers have invested heavily into research on OLED – an emerging source of illumination that has, until more recently, gone largely unexplored in the world of lighting design – however, they are now making their way into consumer goods.
“Because their entire surfaces are visible however, OLED remains exceedingly rare in lighting applications where any dark spot would be immediately apparent,” say the designers. “As manufacturing volumes increase, lighting with OLEDs is expected to become more commonplace, beginning with niche applications in automotive, aerospace and industry. While OLEDs remain at the infancy of lighting exploration, our experimentation is driven by the possibilities of lighting design to improve everyday life.”
Talking more generally around advances in technology – both positives and negatives – for the RBW founders, the smartphone is by far the best and worst development in design. “While we strive to be on the front line of technology within lighting – it may sound funny to say this – but while the smartphone is the most influential tool in our lives today, the amount of time we spend on it each day – instead of being immersed in our environment – is robbing us of some amazing experiences!”
Being able to be creative, experimental, individual and then seeing it all come to life at the end is, for Richardson, Brill and Williams, one of the best things about working within design and reward in itself.
Constantly looking to push themselves and find new problems to solve, Richardson, Brill and Williams plan to put more of an emphasis on public spaces over the next twelve months and how to better improve the atmosphere of these environments, which people can sometimes spend their entire days in.
“We believe in the power of light to create atmosphere,” they conclude.