Q&A with Robert Chelsom, Chelsom

RobertRobert Chelsom is joint Managing Director with son, Will, of Chelsom Limited, and is a former President of the Lighting Industry Association and a past Director of the BCFA. Chelsom is a third generation family business designing, manufacturing and supplying lighting to the global hospitality and marine industries for almost 70 years.

Having been immersed in the industry from a young age, Robert has a real passion and flair for product design and in collaboration with Will has created the extensive Chelsom lighting collection entirely in-house. Created with the international hospitality marketplace at the core, Robert’s designs have helped the company to win numerous industry awards, most recently including the BIBA ‘Creative Business of the Year 2014’ and ‘Exporter of the Year 2014’ which subsequently led to Chelsom being appointed as UKTI North West Export Champion in 2015.

How did you get into Lighting Design?

Quite simply I was born it to it. My parents owned antique lighting shops in the North West where they began to manufacture reproduction period lighting for distribution to retailers and interior designers across the country. One of my earliest memories is of my brother and I following my parents round the flea markets of Paris as children where we were rewarded with 1 French Franc if we spotted a nice design so I suppose I grasped the concepts of proportion, style and taste from a young age.

“we were rewarded with 1 French Franc if we spotted a nice design.”

In more recent years we have moved a large proportion of production to China in a bid to improve product quality. The result is excellent manufacturing but a distinct lack of design direction from our partner factories which is really how I, and now my son Will, have come to design all our lighting collections in-house. I may not have any formal design training but I have lots of experience, hopefully some good taste and ultimately understand the contract requirements and what will work in the hospitality environment.

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Do you have an inspirational board? If so what’s on it?

My inspiration board is in essence every international interior designer around the world who comes to Chelsom- we are seeing so much cutting edge hotel design from every country for every type of hotel at every style level it’s hard not to be inspired daily just by the very nature of the industry of which we are part and the people in it.

Other key sources of inspiration for me are really the leading interiors exhibitions such as Maison et Objet, Decorex, Euroluce and obviously the worldwide trade press.

What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?

As a company we are governed by a 2 year catalogue cycle. However our creative process is continuous, inspiration never sleeps. As a rule of thumb we tend to work on product development for about 18 months of the 2 year cycle and then about 6 months is taken up with the actual production of the catalogue. We work on all facets of the design process in-house from initial design conception through to finalising the entire collection, all of which involves producing original sketches, shop drawings, 3D renderings and creating prototypes before the products are shortlisted and the collection is complete. No two projects are ever the same especially where custom requirements are involved which is increasingly becoming the norm. Having said that the overall design process involved is still pretty much the same but it is very much driven by the client with our input on lighting technology and value engineering processes.

What has been your favourite project with Chelsom? 

We have been very lucky to have worked on so many fantastic projects over the years it truly is hard to pick. However if there was one recent project that really does feel iconic it would have to be Mondrian at Sea Containers in London, Mondrian’s first hotel outside of the USA. This was a challenging project to be part of on so many levels and more than 2 years in the making but it is without a doubt one of the most exciting and rewarding I have been involved in.

Photographer Credit : Ed Reeve

Working in collaboration with Tom Dixon we created an entirely bespoke lighting scheme for the guestrooms and suites along with statement lighting pieces for public area spaces.  Not only did the lighting need to really look the part, there were also extremely exacting demands to be met in terms of light output and functionality too.

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What do see as the next big thing in lighting?  

Lighting is, as with all areas of design, constantly evolving and never stands still which makes it an exciting industry to be part of but having said that I don’t think there will be much in the foreseeable future to rival the LED boom which has really transformed and shaped the future of lighting in recent years. I think we will be looking at developing even smarter ways of integrating LED light sources without losing ambience, such as increasing the options with diffused and reflected light. In terms of the aesthetic side of things, trends come and go but clients will always want a little something extra when it comes to product design- it’s about adding small design intricacies to make a fairly simple product special.

“we will be looking at developing even smarter ways of integrating LED light sources without losing ambience”


And Finally, How do you think guest rooms and guest suite have evolved? And are you seeing major differences between budget and Luxury hotels? 

There has been a distinct move away from generic interior schemes especially where the luxury hospitality market is concerned. International hotel operators are taking much more notice of vernacular styles and realising that a hotel room in Istanbul shouldn’t be a carbon copy of a hotel room in Prague if there is to be any real sense of authenticity or individuality.

“A hotel room in Istanbul shouldn’t be a carbon copy of a hotel room in Prague”

No matter whether a hotel is geared towards the luxury market or at a more budget level it’s still all about ensuring guest satisfaction at the end of the day and economies of scale whether you are working with a big design budget or a more economical one. There will always be a lot of pressure for the more luxurious hotels to deliver a unique interior scheme that offers something special and that bit different when it comes to design so the more generic scheme wouldn’t cut it for such projects and designers have to keep one step ahead of the game to deliver exciting and original interior concepts if they are to stand out. Despite often rolling out more on the way of generic interior schemes, budget rooms have improved drastically in recent years whilst still maintaining similar pricing structures and as a result luxury rooms have had to move much further forward to justify the gaps in room rates which has again triggered this requirement for even more individuality.


There has been much less structure and formality in terms of design schemes overall and in particular where lighting is concerned with the eclectic look becoming extremely popular to create much more in the way of a home away from home as desired by guests the world over. The lighting schemes of any hotel interior from 2-star through to 6-star need to work much harder than it ever has before if it is to to deliver against the increasingly multifunctional requirements of the guestroom and the varied uses that go with it.


In recent years as environmental issues have become more prevalent and the pressure on budget efficiencies take hold we have definitely seen a surge in LED lighting across the board, a trend that is set to continue for the foreseeable along with an increase in more diffused and dimmable lighting solutions to create the ultimate in ambience. There has been a distinct shift away from product finishes such as Chrome and Brushed Nickel with more varied and bespoke finish options coming to the forefront including Copper, Bronze, Brass, Stone and Concrete- much more in- keeping with the industrial trend being executed in many schemes.


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About Alys Bryan

Alys' experience as a furniture designer, along with her in-depth marketing knowledge, makes her uniquely placed to work with the BCFA as the Editor of Design Insider and run her marketing business, Method Communications.
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