Q&A with Astro Lighting: BCFA Member of the Month
Summer is finally here; despite the somewhat glum weather in the UK, things are beginning to open up again after an extremely challenging year for the Architect and Design Industry. But, even without the sun our next BCFA Member of the Month, Astro Lighting, have been shining a light through it all, powering on with some fantastic achievements to show. We had the absolute pleasure to speak with James Bassant, Design Director at Astro Lighting, about his new designs, recent awards and how Astro are maintaining their sustainability standards throughout the company.
Can you tell us about Astro Lighting?
Astro Lighting was started in 1997 by myself and John Fearon, and for the first 10 months our office was the small windowless basement of my house. We had worked together for several years and knew there was room in the market for a company passionate about British design and quality lighting. As with many businesses an opportunity to go it alone presented itself and we decided to grab it and see what happened. At the time we had just one customer and a handful of products, but fortunately they were successful, and we began to build on the range and accumulate new customers. We have steadily grown and are now housed in an 8,000sqm warehouse and office in Harlow, with a further four offices located in New Jersey USA, Singapore, Italy and China. Today, we are recognised for creating and supplying contemporary designs for both hospitality and high-end residential projects across the globe.
You’ve just launched the SS21 Collection, can you tell the story behind it and any stand-out pieces?
We always try to design timeless products for our interior, exterior and bathroom collections and SS21 epitomises this with exciting product launches in all these areas. There is an essence of simplicity in SS21, with durable designs that complement and enhance the surrounding environment. Our in-house creative team have developed new combinations of finishes and materials in products like the Miura, that will never tire in style, and experimented with form and metallic finishes to deliver a range of futureproofed designs materialized through elegant engineering and staple lighting materials.
Glass has played a key role this season, interpreted into the signature Astro style by creating elongated glass rods that elegantly refract the light. This is certainly prominent in our newest design Avignon, which has a sparkling effect when illuminated.
The stand-out products for me are the Hashira range for its purity yet striking architectural simplicity and our first solar powered lantern range the Kuro, which is portable and able to be used both indoors and out.
You are soon to celebrate 25 years of Astro, how has the business evolved?
We started in retail lights but now we are split 50/50 between retail and a growing and important contract lighting range. Moving into contract and hospitality lighting was an important gamble that has really paid off, it has given a real strength to the company to weather the vagaries of business cycles.
Another key milestone was the expansion into different markets. This is never easy and has many pitfalls. Fortunately, we have managed to develop great teams in the US, Singapore, and China who are pivotal in the businesses continued global success.
People are at the heart of Astro and recruiting the right people at the right time has been so important. Today, we have world class sales, marketing and operational teams who are at the core of the business.
Your capsule collection has recently won several awards, can you explain the concept behind the products and collection?
The design process for the Capsule collection was completely unique to each product within the collection; from the materials and production processes used, through to the individual challenges that had to be overcome.
My love of lights and my fascination with orreries obsessed me to design the Orb, an orb of light at its centre about which a planet mirror orbits. Mechanical machines have always fascinated me, – gears, cogs, chains, and their interactions in analogue mechanical devices. Mechanical perfection seems crystallised in an orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system and at its centre my other design obsession, light (the sun). For years I kept coming back and refining the design to capture the essence of an orrery into a functional light, the Orb.
The inspiration for the io came from the fluted detailing of the ancient Greek pillars. We used the unique production process of gravity-fed glass extrusion for the first time, which involved taking a circular 2D design and extruding the glass downwards, to create a perfectly ribbed cylindrical form. We could then discreetly hide the luminaire’s components within the glass, allowing the glass to be the hero of the product.
The concept for the Halftone began as a basic pencil to paper sketch, focusing on the simple form of a circle. The subtle, gradient-like etched pattern that we created starts from the edge of the disc and increases with intensity, creating a vivid ring of light. The transparency of the acrylic allows the wall to still be visible, both when the light is switched on and switched off. Designed in two sizes and depths, Halftone can be layered to produce more intense and striking illumination that will add interest to the surrounding architecture.
We spoke with Rachel Bartlett last year about how Astro Lighting addresses sustainability in the business. Have there been any advances since then?
Over the course of the last year, we’ve made fantastic strides in becoming a more responsible business, with all departments core to our Sustainability strategy taking ownership for ambitious short – medium term targets to easily measure our impact and progress. In terms of specific advances made since last year, we have over thirteen exciting projects currently being progressed by our Product Development team, which are all helping to improve the circularity of our designs, such as designing for disassembly, identifying parts for recycling, and designing for optimised performance – to name a few.
We are also in the process of expanding our social impact strategy to have global reach, which will see us partner with yet more incredible charities and community organisations that support children or families, local to each of our five Astro offices.
Creating mindfully and being a responsible, transparent business has always underpinned what we do. Our vision of the future is where business, people and the planet can live more harmoniously together. We know it’s rarely that simple, but small acts that challenge the way we do things today will lead us towards creating a more positive future and minimize our footprint on the environment.
Astro is known for its timeless aesthetic, what influences your designs and what materials, or processes help you achieve this?
John and I always tried to apply a simple rule to any Astro design, answer yes to the question, “would I buy one?” Sometimes it is too easy to be swept along by the design process and not stop and ask this simple question. If the answer is yes, then it stayed in our portfolio. This gives the understated but well-detailed and distinct handwriting that underpins an Astro product.
I strive to design lights with a purity of idea that imbues a timeless quality. Astro does not want to fill the world up with more and more lights just for the sake of it, we want a light that performs well and looks great now and for many years to come. It can be the slightly intangible influences that impact my designs, the detail of a tap, a door handle, half glimpsed architectural motifs, the compound curves of a bottle, a vase. It is about being open to visual stimuli and enjoying the excitement of using those in a light fitting.
There are different requirements for many types of lighting, a bold statement light can be the star of a space and define it completely. Much of Astro’s ethos and success has been designing lights that sit quietly but confidently in any scheme; casting light where needed but expressing great quality and detail when attention falls on them. Sometimes it’s all about light, not the light fittings but decorative lighting can be used as an additional layer of stylist flourish within a scheme. Adding and building the layers of a lighting scheme is an incredible skill and when it is right, we almost don’t take any notice, get it wrong and we will.
What is your favourite product you have designed/what is the most enjoyable part of the process?
Choosing a favourite is almost impossible. The designs in our collection are all snapshots in time and they hold memories of moments and experiences in my life. Older products with a distinct architectural form like Tokyo or Ascoli I am forever proud of, or products that I look at and think I would change nothing about it even if I could.
I still get a huge enjoyment out of the design process, sometimes it feels like an addictive personality trait. I want to get that emotional high from designing something I love, and hopefully other people will too.
What’s next for Astro Lighting?
There are always exciting things in the pipeline at Astro, it’s certainly never boring. We recently segmented our product ranges into clearly defined retail and professional collections, and this already has had some positive impact for us but most importantly for our customers.
An area no company can afford to ignore is a commitment to sustainability and we are consistently developing exciting new strategies along our journey. – We are delighted to be working with award-winning lighting designers Cundall Light4, to raise awareness of the environmental challenge of light pollution and how we can help to protect our Dark Skies. We already have a great choice of Dark Sky Friendly exterior lights, but we are now focusing our efforts to develop this even further, as well as helping customers to understand how they can limit risk of light pollution from their exterior lighting schemes.
Discover Astro Lighting’s full range and story on their website.
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