Q. Did you have a conventional childhood? Where did you grow up and go to school?
No I didn’t have a traditional childhood. My father was a civil engineer and was sent to various places. One of those was the Outer Hebrides, so between the ages of four and nine, I spent most of my days in the wilds, by the beach. I would say it was one of the times that most informed my character today. After that, we came back to Edinburgh.
Q. Were your parents artistic?
Well, my father was a civil engineer, so I get the technical side of things from him, and my mother worked in fashion, running a boutique, so that gave me a creative side too!
Q. I understand you trained as a sculptor. Do you still sculpt?
Yes, I did train as a sculptor, and I do still sculpt. My preferred material to sculpt in is forged steel.
Q. That could be seen as a far cry from lighting design, although I believe the transition was via a commission for an artwork that involved illumination. Where did you go to start learning about lighting design?
I don’t think it’s such a great departure. I’ve always been fascinated by natural light, and spending so much time in a forge, I always think you can’t get better than a naked flame: it’s a fantastic light source. It was a commission that got me started in lighting design. I had been working with stainless steel and glass. After that first commission, I realised it was something I wanted to get into.
Q. What about the technical aspects? Did you find it necessary to retrain, or do you employ lighting experts to make your designs possible?
As an artist I was taking old techniques and producing contemporary pieces of sculpture, so after I decided I wanted to be in lighting, I decided to take a sabbatical to find out more about the industry. It was fantastic. I went to Hong Kong, Milan, Germany and just tried to gain as much information and experience as possible. A real turning point for me was when I visited Euroluce and found German lighting manufacturer, Brumberg’s stand. It was incredible, it was about five or six years ago yet they had this fantastic range of LEDs and fibre optics. I ended up talking to the people from Brumberg and explained how I wanted to be a lighting artist
They sent me a container of just bits and pieces and I spent the next six months playing around with them.Eventually, I built my first ever large-scale chandelier. Brumberg got to hear about it and asked me ifI’d do a collection for them and that’s how the Beau McClellan for Brumberg collection came about.
Q. Your first commercial collection won four Red Dot Design Awards. Did that unprecedented level of attention make the job of launching your lighting career easier, or did it add to the weight of expectation?
Obviously, it’s great to be recognised for your work. It’s nice to know what I was doing in lighting design was going in the right direction, and yes, it made things easier to an extent. Winning awards is not what drives me though.
Q. Do you work alone, or with a team?
No, I don’t work alone any more. I’m travelling so much that I have a team working with me. I have a full team ofengineers and an R&D department too. The main design hub is right here in Portugal, as is the assembly hub.
Q. I understand your studio is in Portugal.
What area of the country – and why? Surely London, Madrid or New York would be more accessible to the design industry? Maybe, but many people underestimate Portugal as a design destination. There is a lot happening creatively in the Algarve, Lisbon and Oporto – those places would really be among my tips for design cities for 2012. There’s really a lot happening culturally there, from restaurant festivals to music and much, much more. I love it there, it’s so beautiful and inspiring, I wouldn’t be anywhere else. Our design studio is in Loulé, a town in the Algarve.
I’m inspired by all sorts of things that surround me. For one of my projects – Cardume – it was all about the natural world. Cardume means shoal of fish in Portuguese, and here it was about evolving reflections similar to a sun-dappled underwater world.
Another time I was flying in to Hong Kong airport. In these high buildings on every floor, there seems to be a different colour of light. Someone will use a daylight tube in their room and then their neighbour down below are using some halogen lights, then the neighbours below them are using LEDs to create an effect in their home. You have these multi coloured blocks of light and I wanted to recreate this by turning the whole cityscape upside down to achieve something very, very special in terms of a light sculpture. That’s how Metropolis, a lighting sculpture for a private residence in Emirates Hill, Dubai came about.
Q. How long, on average does it take you to design a commercial collection?
I’ve completed my first product collection, which launched last September at the designjunction event, which was part of London Design Festival. It took around four or five years to develop. We have a base of around nine designs, many of which come as table, wall and task lights to give customers complete flexibility where they can use the products, we can evolve the collection more quickly and we hope to continually add to it. What I’m really coming back to at the moment though is my bespoke work, that’s something I’m looking to develop further.
Q. What are the main problems or stumbling blocks you’ve come up against?
One of the main problems I encounter with LED lights is the colours of RGB: the primary red, green and blues. These colours tend to be very harsh, so my team and me have spent a lot of time trying to break them down to make them much more pastel in colour. We take the coloured light and magnify it to make it much stronger, then push it through a hand-ground, optical crystal. Because the optical is frosted on the outside, it dissipates the harsher colours to give us a more pleasing pastel shade.
Q. Have you had any spectacular failures along the way?
Yes, of course, but they tend to happen behind closed doors – before I assemble the pieces for a client for instance. We test everything rigorously, and when you are trying to push the boundaries, it’s inevitable some things will not work as you’d hoped. But I believe there isn’t really such a thing as a failure, it’s all experience to make you better asa designer!
Q. What do you think will be the next big development in lighting technology?
Everyone’s looking to do their bit for the environment. Specifying products that are more ecologically sound is a massive trend in interiors right now. And that’s where LEDs come in and will develop into a much more mainstream part of the lighting business. It makes sense really; they have so many advantages over halogen bulbs.
Q. What do you believe the future of lighting to be?
Flexibility. That’s the key. Customers increasingly want to have something unique when lighting their homes, and LEDs offer a great range of colour options. This is another reason they have really taken off. Nomad, a chandelier concept I first exhibited last year, can be controlled by iPad, so you can have the colour combinations you want. Nomad is also the perfect example of another future lighting trend: democratisation. Nomad is fully modular, you can specify how many elements you want. It’s what we call a ‘plug and play’ approach to lighting. We want people to have fun with it. Just because you don’t have space for the full version, doesn’t mean you can’t buy in to the creative vision.
Q. If you could choose one person to create a piece for, who would it be? Why?
That’s easy. It would have to be the late Steve Jobs. For me, he was one of the most inspirational people of our generation and without question, one of the biggest losses to design. He never backed down and made sure every product that went to market was flawless.