A Fearless Experimental Designer: Johanna Grawunder
29th Nov 2017
"A turned-off chandelier is one of the saddest things in the world," said Johanna Grawunder in an interview with dwell magazine. It’s almost as if Johanna Grawunder was born to work with lights. Although her repertoire includes a myriad of products, she is best known as a lighting designer and has, over the years, added lights to objects you would least expect – mirrors, tables, sofas, and even beds.
“I almost always do lights, I’ve done glassware, ceramics, but as an architect I always, from the beginning, specialized in lights. Architecture is basically a mechanism for distributing natural light,” said the brilliant designer and architect in an interview at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Paris where she dazzled the world with her American landscape inspired Big Sky exhibition.
Born in San Diego, California in 1961, Grawunder graduated from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo with a BA in Architecture in 1984. She spent the final year of her studies in Florence, Italy and moved to Milan in 1985 where she worked with Sottsass Associati from 1985-2001, becoming a partner in 1989 at the young age of 28.
She worked on a number of architectural and interior projects as part of the firm, co-designing many of them with the master of design Ettore Sottsass himself.
It was probably her 16-year long association with Ettore Sottsass, the founder of the Memphis Group of designers (famed for their fluorescent pieces), which sowed the seeds of light and color within Grawunder. Over the years, she perfected the art of combining form, function, and light and took experimenting with color and light to another level.
Grawunder parted ways with Sottsass Associati in 2001 to open her own studio in Milan and San Francisco. It was her experimentalism with light and color that drew exclusive design companies like FLOS, Boffi, B&B, Mikasa, Acme, Glas Italia, and Salviati among others to collaborate with her.
Johanna Grawunder, the trendsetting multidisciplinary designer, has worked on a broad range of projects and scales – from building entire houses and designing interiors to creating classic industrial products for a select group of clients and producing limited edition lights and furniture for various galleries in Europe and the USA.
Every piece that she works on is a signature Johanna Grawunder design. Whether it’s the pink acrylic and LED mobiles she designed for the restaurant at the Museum of Art and Design or the Color on Color mirror that she designed for Glass Italia, her mark on each of her products is distinctive.
For FLOS, Grawunder created the Wan Spot adjustable ceiling light. True to her art, Grawunder made sure that the somewhat understated modern table lamp was available in vibrant finishes including shiny white and enameled green.
The architect-designer, who is known to use energy-efficient methods of production, sticks to basic materials like stainless steel and painted metal using light, color, and shape to bring out beauty.
Her work has been included in the permanent collections of many museums including the High Museum Atlanta, LACMA, CNAP, San Francisco MOMA, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Art Institute Chicago.
For her, light is an important medium for design and she believes that the work of a designer is all about communicating ideas. The reason that she uses a lot of color and light in her work is because, in her own words, she wants to give people who use her products a “good feeling.”
Self-confident, innovative, and unafraid to take risks – Johanna Grawunder is easily one of the most fearless contemporary designers.