Kate Sweater

August 29, 2019

As part of our annual ‘darc designers’ feature, this year we take a closer look at some of the emerging talents in lighting. darc first met lighting and product designer Kate Sweater at Wanted Design in New York.

Having graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in Furniture Design, and an interest in metal work, blacksmithing and sculpture, Kate Sweater ‘accidentally’ stumbled into her first lighting job at Aurora Lampworks – a lighting restoration, replication and custom fabrication shop in Brooklyn, New York. 

Initially hired to help remove some gigantic pendants from a cathedral and catalogue the parts as they were dissembled, Sweater stayed on and eventually started working with customers on lighting fixture modifications, as well as designing and engineering new custom fixtures. Sweater recalls learning so much about metalwork, restoration, wiring and electricity, finding herself completely hooked.

“The work was creative and hands-on, design-based but technical and there was so much to learn and explore,” she tells darc. “I have worked in lighting ever since, either as a fixture designer / engineer, architectural lighting designer, or in lighting research.

“After graduating from college I had a lot of ideas about possible career directions and worked in a wide variety of odd jobs before landing in lighting. Looking back on my trajectory though, it seems I would have found lighting eventually because it suits me so well.”

Sweater’s next career move was to Focus Lighting in Manhattan where she learnt a lot about architectural lighting design on the job. “I loved this work,” she says. “It opened a whole new world of architectural design. I loved meeting with clients, learning about drafting, and working on large-scale projects. Since then I’ve had a short stint at a light fixture engineering firm, worked at Moooi in the Netherlands and then Tillett Lighting Design in Manhattan before starting my own company Dwaal Lighting Design in December 2016.

“Dwaal is a Dutch word meaning ‘to wander’ – as an architectural lighting design firm we have had the pleasure of working on a variety of projects including private residences, colleges and even an eclectic recording studio. We also recently started a branch of the company called Ozzy & Wes that focuses on custom lighting fixture design projects.

“Ozzy & Wes were the names of my grandfathers; one spent his career working on power and light, the other on sound and communication. We have a couple of fixture lines currently in the works including a line of acoustic lighting fixtures.

“The core of my design philosophy is that understanding the end-user is critical to achieving a successful design. I try to maintain perspective on the broader goals of the spaces I design and I value the voices of those who are directly impacted by the application of my design process. 

“I try to design for equitable use, whether that is creating outdoor spaces that don’t stigmatise any group of users or creating interior lighting that won’t disturb plant and animal life near the residence. If I am designing fixtures I consider where the materials come from and who is making the components for me.

“Regardless of the client and end-user, I consider sustainability in the design process. I think about the lifetime of the project and of the lighting fixtures I either make or specify.

“When I work in the role of an architectural lighting designer I think about what the client or end-user wants to see in the room. The best compliment for an architectural lighting designer is when someone doesn’t notice the actual fixtures, but they see all the best elements in the room and feel comfortable and supported inside the space.

“I work hard to understand how the client and end-user will view and use all the spaces I’m designing. In most cases the design style of the project depends on the client or the location. I have some preferred lighting brands that I return to over time because I like the quality but I do keep an open mind and open palette for each project. I love getting suggestions from clients because it helps me to understand their design language.”


Quick Fire Questions:

Lighting Hero  Dawn Ladd, owner of Aurora Lampworks. She is a real force of nature and is a determined business owner, designer and all-round creative person. She works hard to create beautiful lighting fixtures. Howard Brandston and Jean Paul Freyssinier are also lighting heroes to me.

If I could have worked on  Lighting for a science museum – this is something I’ve always wanted to do. When I was at Focus Lighting one of the other teams did the lighting design for the Science Storms exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It would be such a great challenge to tell a story both overtly and covertly using light.

Stand out project I’m currently working as a lighting fellow for ‘Opening the Edge’ a project of the Design Trust for Public Space in partnership with the New York City Housing Authority. It seeks to design a new green space to facilitate interaction between residents in NYC’s public housing developments and the larger neighbourhood of the Lower East Side, Manhattan.

Decorative lighting  Is more about the object itself, the aesthetic interpretation around the lighting source. Some fixtures are more design forward, however some cross over into architectural lighting when they provide substantial light for the users. 

Moving forward  I look forward to seeing how Dwaal Lighting Design grows and changes over the next few years. I would like to grow the office, but want to maintain the flexibility to be selective about the types of projects we take on. I’m very excited about the work we’re doing at Ozzy & Wes too!

Working with light  Is everything I could want it to be. 

“This is my morning, even outside my city window a cicada sings, light, it seems, as a miracle.” – An except of a poem by David Riggle.