At the vanguard of contemporary lighting design for more than 50 years, longtime Mamaroneck resident Robert Sonneman, a pioneer of modern lighting as art form, began his career at the tender age of 19 for lighting and accessory retailer George Kovacs. “I am a modernist with a historical sensibility,” says Sonneman, who is noted for his clean lines and seamless fusion of form and function. “But as contemporary architectural design has changed and morphed into several genres of style and points of view, I, too, have expanded my vision and perspective while adhering to the dogma of the original Industrial Modern Aesthetic. I learned color from the post-modernists, shape from the sculpturalists, and mixed metaphors from the deconstructionists and industrial revisionists.”
Sonneman’s career is impressive to say the least. Not only has he designed award-winning products for scores of well-known household brands, his work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Art Institute of Chicago, and Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, among others, and he’s taught at Stanford, Pratt, Parsons, and UCLA. In 1999, he was even president and CEO of Ralph Lauren’s Home Products Division. However, the designer always remained passionate about lighting, launching SONNEMAN—A Way of Light in 2003.
Today, Sonneman’s work appears more relevant than ever, and, indeed, one of his early designs, Orbiter, is still in production 40-plus years after its introduction. Working from a design studio in Larchmont with “a team of dedicated young people, eager to learn and anxious to invent their futures,” he continues to develop sophisticated, innovative designs. What’s next for the designer and his eponymous firm? “Design is often evolutionary and only rarely revolutionary, but today technology has excited a revolution,” he notes. “LED has invited rethinking of the form, factors, size, and scale of luminaires. We are now incorporating design innovation with the science and control of electronic illumination,” he adds. “The marriage of art and science expands our creative palette and allows us to change the forms of the objects we create to bring light to a task.” In other words? Sonneman’s still driven and curious and challenged—and psyched to be in the game at such an exciting juncture. The 2014 SONNEMAN—A Way of Light LED collection, encompassing more than 280 designs, ranges from the Gotham Sconce ($150) to the Aspen Eight-Light Square Pendant ($2,500) and can be purchased locally at Hi-Light in Yonkers and Klaff’s in Scarsdale.