Updated: February 19, 2024
An interview with Rosie Li , owner and designer of Rosie Li Studio.
A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, Rosie Li opened her eponymous atelier, Rosie Li Studio, alongside engineer Philip Watkins in 2012. Together the pair leads a team of eight individuals in creating made-to-order lighting designs. While paper, preferably the weight of cardstock, remain Li’s dream medium, her Brooklyn-based studio most often works with the traditional materials of stone, brass and glass to create lighting fixtures that seamlessly adapt to and illuminate the interiors in which they’re hung.
Devising elegant solutions of light for private homes and hospitality spaces, Li’s highly sculptural designs are geometric renderings of organic elements found in the natural world, like pebbles, bubbles, tree branches and leaves. Her work aims to play with perception by blurring the line between art and design, much like her first design produced by Roll & Hill in 2013, a mirror sconce inspired by optical illusion art (Op-art). We caught up with Li to talk about her philosophy of design, the nuance with which humans experience light and how industrial construction is inspiring her latest work.
What is your design philosophy or mission statement?
I’m always thinking about ways to combine metal, glass and light into fixtures with details and textures that draw you in for a closer look. My work explores the simple geometry of natural forms.
Our on-going lighting series explores the link between nature and geometry through iterative organic forms, often pairing crisp machine-made parts with softer hand-formed elements.
What makes for good lighting—is there more to it than simply illuminating a space?
We experience light with such nuance. I love thinking about light as a material, and focusing not only on the illumination source, but also the quality of the light reflecting off the fixture and casting into the space.
The instant transformation you get turning on a lamp is a ‘wow’ moment, it gets me every time.
What is your design process? Does it start in the studio, or does inspiration strike you in unexpected ways?
I feed my inspiration with museum pilgrimages and getting out to see art shows. I’m also a nature lover and get inspired outside. I enjoy taking time to notice organic patterns and unusual leaves.
Design doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Sometimes you have to position yourself near sources of inspiration in order to find it!
And then how does something go from an idea to a design to an actual product?
Sketching, sketching, sketching… Once I’m bursting with ideas, I make a paper model and start touching the actual materials, playing with the light.
We model the designs in 3D, undergo engineering and work on building prototypes. It can take a few rounds of prototyping to get to the final product.
What is the most unexpected thing you’ve found inspiration in for a project?
Bridges, trusses and signal lights! I’m working on a new collection inspired by industrial construction.
Can you share a favorite design of yours and the story behind it?
Bubbly is one of my favorites. It’s light and buoyant, like blowing bubbles! Yet the building system a robust, all-brass sphere construction so we’re able to hang it off a single point or two.
We discovered the design by playing around with stacking brass spheres and gravitated towards a certain organic grouping. I suspect there’s some latent inspiration from my high school bio-chem classroom!
We’ve also updated the series to include hand-blown glass options. I love the contrast between the soft hand dents against the crisp spherical frame.
What keeps you going? What keeps your creative energy charged? What’s next?
I could have never predicted our path when I started my studio practice in 2015. What began as a small-scale manufacturing shop quickly turned into custom commissions. I embraced each one as learning experience. That mentality challenged me to keep going, to stretch myself and our capabilities.
As we celebrate all the women who have paved the way for generations to come, do you have anything to add about being a woman in design?
To be a woman in design takes conviction and passion. You really have to thread the needle in your business and career, and exhibit grace under pressure. I’m glad to see more women rise to the top.
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