Cultured Magazine

June/July 2015

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The gem-like, multi-faceted, high-sheen lighting fixtures conceived by Brooklyn-based designer Bec Brittain borrow their forms from myriad sources of inspiration—crystal formations, planets in orbit, Walter Gropius, Victorian-era toys. "What's the opposite of a dilettante? That's Bec," says fellow lighting designer Lindsey Adelman, who employed Brittain as the design director of her studio from 2008 to 2011. "She is a rare combination of having fun with fashion and pop culture, with a brain big enough to absorb all the science papers and nature programs she is obsessed with." Brittain, now at the helm of her own studio in the Bushwick neighborhood, and with four years of collections under her belt, often opts for the word "geek" to describe the wide breadth of interests that feed into her creative output. Her résumé chronicles a series of shifts from discipline to discipline in search of the vocation of best fit. She originally rejected product design, abandoning her degree at Parsons in 2000 because of the industry's inevitably commercial leanings, to instead earn a degree at New York University through its school of individual study, which enabled her to learn both philosophy and design theory. That, in turn, proved to be too immaterial. "I really liked philosophy, but I wanted to draw diagrams of it instead of writing papers," Brittain says. Naturally, it seemed that architecture offered a more three-dimensional alternative. In 2002, she moved to London to attend the Architectural Association School of Architecture—alma mater of Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid. In 2005, she landed what could have been her dream job at Work Architecture Co. in Manhattan. "If you don't love architecture," however, Brittain soon realized, "the quality of life as a young architect is pretty brutal. It wasn't my love." Switching gears again, she came full circle to return to product design. After more than a year of designing door parts at an architectural hardware company, she found Adelman's studio and consequently, her love of lighting. Today, in her Bushwick design and manufacturing facility, the transdisciplinary nature of her work combines the workman-like approach of an engineer and the delicate sensibilities of a jeweler. "The beautiful execution feels as authentic as her curiosity of the natural and built worlds around her," says Adelman. Brittain's unique process renders mathematical concepts into luxurious fixtures using a select few lustrous, hand-worked materials: metal, glass and light. The first example was SHY light, a monogrammed homage to Brittain's grandmother, Sarah Hitchcock Yerkes. The geometric fixture borrows the physical properties of crystals, swapping molecules for thin LED tubes to form modular, adaptable structures. Having continued to play with the concept over the years, she launched new iterations of SHY under a new collection called Zelda at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair this year, updating the original triangular design with new planar forms. Brittain treats each new project as what she calls a "formal exercise," a set of puzzle pieces to configure and reconfigure—undeniable proof of how architecture left its indelible mark. "It taught me a skill set of problem solving," she says. Like her individual collections, Brittain's practice as a whole reflects a spectrum of influences, which she describes plainly as "the things that pop into my head and excite me." Ultimately, this series of past pursuits, abandoned for never being quite fulfilling enough on their own, have harmoniously come together in a way that brings a palpable joy to Brittain's studio. It almost doesn't seem like work. "I love being geeky and playing with my hands," she says. "I came around to lighting design because it satisfied both. At the end of the day, I'm just playing." 114 CULTURED Bec Brittain combines math, philosophy and a touch of irreverence to create her sought-after designs. BY JANELLE ZARA ALL OF THE LIGHTS PHOTOS COURTESY OF BEC BRITTAIN For her VISE lighting, right, Bec Brittain uses hand-blown double-fade glass, each named after a specific sunset; at left, the modular SHY light can change form.

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