Chris Poehlmann, Founder of CP Lighting, first fell in love with design while studying photography in Salzburg in 1985. That love stuck with him throughout his travels through Europe, and led to a desire to constantly learn everything he could about design.
From the beginning, when he designed tables, chairs, and clocks as a hobby, to the transition period from self-study to actually becoming a maker, to today as the Founder of CP Lighting, Chris Poehlmann has always focused on creating meaningful, artful objects with function.
CP Lighting was officially born in 1994 after the introduction of the whimsical Cup & Saucer wall scone, which was published by 40 magazines worldwide ranging from Metropolis to Country Living. Now, Chris Poehlmann has designed a collection for Nadarra Lighting, The Poehlmann Collection x Nadarra, which stays true to his foundation of creating meaningful, artful objects with function. Below we catch up with him, to talk about the past, present and future of innovative, but beautiful lighting design.
How did you originally get into lighting design? Are there any life experiences that shaped your career path?
I fell in love with design while studying photography in Salzburg in 1985 and that love has never left. Traveling in Europe introduced me to contemporary and historic design objects that I had never been exposed to in the States. Suddenly I had an obsession and have been in a constant state of learning ever since. That a-ha moment where I viscerally connected with the designed world in the mid-80s is something I value and strive to achieve still with each new design.
I started out making tables, chairs clocks and lamps around 1988, after letting that design obsession grow to a point where I needed to do more than self-study and actually become a maker. The important thing for me was making meaningful, artful objects with function. Light fixtures were just part of that mix of useful objects that we live with. I started exhibiting at art galleries around the country and then graduated to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in 1994 where my light fixtures proved to be the most sought after sector of my work. CP Lighting was officially born the following year when I introduced my whimsical Cup + Saucer wall sconce at the ICFF – around 40 magazines published images worldwide ranging from Metropolis to Country Living. It had universal appeal and put me on the world stage.
Since then, I have been grateful to receive press coverage for many of my products in nearly all the shelter and design publications across the globe. I have built a sustainable business on designing and making objects that interest and engage me as opposed to designing specifically for a market. Sometimes this takes time to build a market for new ideas but the R+D and bringing an idea to reality is exciting and satisfying work. In the end, I have come to think of my career as being parts entrepreneur, artist, designer, engineer, inventor, and craftsperson.
What do you believe is the most critical element in designing lights that are not only unique but true works of art? I have always thought of the objects that we choose to live with and place in our homes as being imbued with meaning. Sometimes it is the story of where that object was found or purchased or handed down from. Sometimes it is the more involved back story of its concept or creation. The objects I design and make are intended to have long lives and hopefully be part of the legacy of our time for future generations to appreciate. Regardless if I am making a one-off for a gallery installation or designing for production, I want my work to resonate with good aesthetic value and often with imbued meaning and references similar to how a painting can carry similar reference points.
Talk to us a little bit about your vision as you started to create the Poehlmann Collection x Nadarra. My first encounter with Nadarra’s CEO Bill McDonnell was at Boutique Design New York (BDNY) in New York City in 2019. We instantly felt a symbiosis and the OLED technology struck me as exciting and an important move forward. We often see new technology used first in its most primal form, however, my first impulse upon seeing the OLED modules was to dress them up while still capitalizing on their extraordinary slim profile. We decided that a variety of shades that would work in harmony with the existing fixtures while adding interest and visual engagement was needed. The Flur shades are colorful and quite playful. Our laser cut steel shades, Cassi and Rionna, reference lace shades or abstracted view through the trees, but also allow the freedom of potential customization with our ability to translate customer branding to the shades. As a designer, I enjoy working within the limits of a given company’s abilities while pushing their aesthetic boundaries in order to open new doors to styles ranging from traditional to contemporary.
Where do you believe OLED technology will be in the next few years, and how do you think it will shape the lighting design industry? I see the potential of the OLED module expanding both in available standard sizes as well as the ability to customize shapes. We are moving more and more into a made to order, direct to press type of manufacturing world as opposed to a one-size-fits-most. Mass customization is a way to personalize and imbue meaning.
Do you think OLED lighting, and/or other “healthy” design elements, will change how spaces are designed moving forward? Do you think in the future there will be more of a focus on the health and wellness of spaces, as opposed to just the external aesthetic? Humans are often slow to accept change, the advent of LED lighting took time to get into the mainstream largely due to the general public being so used to the standard warm white light bulb and that yellowish incandescent glow. LED companies adapted as did the public over time and now we see more thoughtful consideration of color temperature choices than ever before. OLED presents an even healthier light alternative than standard LED – with our new economy of COVID19 regulations including physical distancing and stay at home mandates, we see an even greater need to focus on quality interior design decisions, and a healthier built environment than ever before.
Do you have any tips for someone looking to add new elements of lighting design to their space? Create a story within your interior. All objects do not need to be matchy-matchy, but they do need to talk with each other. We are in an age of eclectic choices and there is a ton of latitude for mixing and matching style and substance. Hopefully, the Poehlmann Collection will be seen as fixtures that can stand on their own, stand out boldly in groups, and play well together with other designs.