‘Lighting Is as Important as the Architecture,’ Says Designer Nicci Kavals
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‘Lighting Is as Important as the Architecture,’ Says Designer Nicci Kavals

By Eric Grossman
Tue, Jun 11, 2024 8:45amGrey Clock 4 min

One of the leading luminaries in the world of lighting design, Nicci Kavals actually started her career as a chef, relocating to cook at a restaurant on the Greek island of Naxos, before she moved to Paris to work as a food stylist for the magazine Votre Beauté.

“My experiences as a food stylist taught me the process of reduction and simplification,” she says.  “What remains—whether on the plate or more broadly in design—needs to have purpose and relevance, even if its significance is hard to articulate.”

Kavals eventually returned to her native Australia, working as Melbourne editor at Vogue Entertaining + Travel magazine, and then as a homewares and hard goods product designer for the lifestyle brand Country Road, before she ultimately established Articolo Architectural Lighting in Melbourne just over a decade ago.

“I felt there was a gap in the market for superbly designed artisanal lighting that was unique, sculptural, detailed yet timeless,” she says.

Now, with showrooms in Melbourne and New York City, Articolo has designed artisanal lighting for Nobu Restaurants, the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest, the Tiffany & Co. flagship store on Fifth Avenue, and residential clients including Robert Downey Jr.

The company relies on artisanal workmanship, Kavals says. “Each of our pieces embodies their expertise.”

Articolo has steadily expanded its global presence, having made its European debut at Salone del Mobile Milan in 2019. The company reached a pair of milestones last year, as Kavals unveiled a new identity and rebranded the company as Articolo Studios—reflecting its evolution into a luxury lifestyle brand—while opening its North American flagship showroom in an elegant, gallery-like space with soaring ceilings across from New York’s Madison Square Park.

Articolo Studios’ New York showroom
Eric Petschec

As her designs evolve, Kavals acknowledges the need to stay ahead of ever-advancing technologies. Last year, Articolo launched its first tuneable white light source known to restore the body’s circadian rhythm in a decorative fitting.

In April during Milan Design Week, the company introduced Articolo Home, a capsule collection of small-scale furniture pieces. And last month, the company launched rechargeable lighting.

Kavals, 68, recently spoke with Penta from her home in Melbourne where she lives  with husband, Vic Kavals, also co-founder and director of Articolo Studios.

Penta : Among design elements, how important is lighting?

Nicci Kavals: It can change our perspective on how we view and appreciate the space around us—lighting is as important as the architecture, the interior design and finishes and the furniture selection. Lighting provides the soul to a space. It often provides a moment of awe, where you are moved by something beautiful.

How much of a difference does bespoke decorative lighting make?

When each fixture is purposely selected to enhance the space with shadow play of light, there is a sense of atmosphere and soul—the animation of light dances within the space, patterns and striations casting movement, layering, and providing depth. I love the notion of moving through a space and happening upon a beautiful fixture or light, which is more like artwork and makes you stop, pause, and exhale, where you take in that moment of beauty and then move on.

How do you describe your process?

I have a huge library or body of designs that I am continuously working through and refining. I tend to mull over them endlessly to perfect them before being ready to take them to market. We like to explore and experiment with new materials. … It’s important that each design reflects the many hands that have produced it, celebrating the craftsmen and -women whose skill and talent I deeply respect. It’s the human element that in many ways we’re losing through mass production—I strongly believe there’s no substitute for the handmade.

Where do you look for inspiration?

To express myself creatively through the play of light and shade is a genuine gift. I find inspiration everywhere I go; from the washed, bleached colors of Marrakech and Mexico to the architectural detail found in minimalist Japan. I love to explore the local crafts, and pore over the work of local artisans of different lands. The Japanese are exceptionally talented in porcelain, whilst the Mexicans are experts in beading, embroidery, and silver.

How would you describe your progression from an Australian firm to a global one? 

At the time of starting Articolo in 2012, designing and manufacturing lighting in Australia was quite uncommon, with most of the high-end decorative lighting coming out of Europe and the U.S. In the beginning, my knowledge of lighting was minimal—which in hindsight, was perhaps a blessing as I may never have embarked on this journey had I been aware of the challenges. As I don’t come from a lighting background, I’ve found that I’m not restricted by a traditional approach. As we expanded globally, we had the option to expand into Europe or the U.S. I have always been drawn to a European design sensibility that celebrates craftsmanship, timelessness, and the artisanal. However, knowing that the U.S. was the harder option, we went in that direction as we never make the easy decision and have challenged ourselves at every turn to be better and improve constantly. This was a completely new ball game for us—certification standards to comply are vastly different in the U.S. than the rest of the world.

What does the future hold for your field?

Embracing cutting-edge technologies can elevate the functionality and aesthetics of luxury lighting. Integration with smart-home systems, customisable lighting experiences, and the use of innovative materials and finishes can provide clients with a truly unique and immersive experience. I expect to see a surge in demand for intelligent lighting solutions, and I am optimistic about the potential for transformative advancements in this area. While technology is crucial, I also value the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into creating luxury lighting pieces. I hope to see a continued appreciation for handmade, artisanal designs that showcase the skills of talented craftsmen. Balancing traditional craftsmanship with modern design sensibilities can result in timeless pieces that stand out in the market.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.



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A cash prize from Kanebridge Quarterly magazine, offered for the first time this year, drew a record number of entries for the design competition

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A versatile stool with a sense of fun took out the top prize at the Australia’s Next Top Designers awards at Design Show Australia last week.

The ‘Cheeky’ stool designed by Maryam Moghadam was the unanimous winner among the judging panel, which included Kanebridge Quarterly magazine Editor in Chief, Robyn Willis, Workshopped Creative Director Olaf Sialkowski, Design Show event organiser, Andrew Vaughan and Creative Director at Flexmirror Australia, Matt Angus.

Designed as an occasional stool or side table, the Cheeky stool comes in a range of skin tones. The judges applauded its commercial applications, its flexibility to work in a range of environments, and its sense of play.

In accepting the $10,000 prize, designer Maryam Moghadam quipped she was pleased to see ‘other people find bums as funny as I do’. A finalist at last year’s awards, Moghadam will put the prize money towards bringing her product to market.

Winner Maryam Moghadam said the $10,000 prize money would be put towards developing her product further for market.

Australia’s Next Top Designers is in its fourth year, but this is the first year a cash prize has been offered. Kanebridge Quarterly magazine has put up the prize money to support the next generation of emerging industrial design talent in Australia.

Editor in Chief Robyn Willis said the cash prize offered the winner the opportunity to put the money towards whatever aspect of their business it would most benefit.

“That might be prototyping their product further, spending on marketing, or simply paying for travel or even childcare expenses to allow the designer to focus on their work and take it to the next stage,” she said. “We’re thrilled to be supporting this design program and nurturing emerging design in a very practical way.”

The Coralescence lamps from the Tide Pool series by Suzy Syme and Andrew Costa had strong commercial applications, the judges said.
The Mass lamp by Dirk Du Toit is crafted from FSC-certified oak or walnut.

Two finalists were also awarded ‘highly commended’ by the judges — Mass lamp by Dirk Du Toit and the Coralescence lights from Suzy Syme and Andrew Costa at Tide Pool Designs. The judges agreed both products were beautifully resolved from a design perspective, as well as having strong commercial applications in residential and hospitality design. 

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