An Interview with Andrew Smith- Lead Designer.

An Interview with Andrew Smith- Lead Designer.

Andrew Smith took his first step into the lighting industry in 1981. Now, with 30 years of lighting design experience and an incredible portfolio including Cotswold based prestige residential and commercial properties to his name, Andrew is joining forces with Brightbox Lighting. The future is bright for the combined powerhouses, and in this interview we learn more about Andrew’s past, his reasons for the merger, and his top advice for those building their own portfolio in the industry.

What first drew you to lighting and design?
It was the combination of creativity and practicality. I’ve always been aware of good lighting and wondering how that is actually achieved, and the interest is in working out how to achieve lighting effects really. 

How did you begin professionally working in lighting? Tell us about your journey!
A long time ago I went into business with a friend of mine who was manufacturing reproduction 1930s furniture, and selling it into furniture markets in London. One of the products was a floor standing uplighter which throws light up to the ceiling and then you get a nice ambient level of lighting coming back. And in those days that was very much the in thing. We went to an expo at olympia and had some interest in the uplighter, and so lighting moved on from there, from our point of view, and the whole business became about lighting. Then new technology came out, so we started introducing the new technology into our floor standing uplighters. Some of these lights would go into residential premises with dimmer units and everything to create a nice background, but this very soon became quite the thing in offices to use uplighters as well, because VDU screens were just coming in, and direct glare from a VDU screen is not a good thing. And uplighters- by shining light up from the ceiling and relying on the reflected light only- was the perfect way to light offices, so we then grew into lots of office lighting projects and developed ranges of products that way as well.
(What year was the Olympia event?) 1985 or 1986 probably- a long time ago! Well beyond last century, put it like that!
When I started in lighting, tungsten halogen lights had only just been invented and everyone was using them, and the floor standing uplighters that we used had a 500W halogen lamp in. One of the projects we did was for one of the big banks in Scotland, we did all their offices in floor standing uplighters, every single one had a 500W lamp in, there were about 180 of them, if you imagine how much energy they were using... It's absolutely enormous. If you want 500W now of effective equivalent lighting, you’d probably use about 30/40W of LED, and so the energy consumption is much lower. But in those days, nobody was thinking about it, it just wasn’t an issue. They were worried about good lighting (for in front of a computer screen) and the correct way to sit at a computer, but nobody was worried about emissions or energy consumption. That came fairly quickly afterwards in the early 90s, and then it all became compact fluorescent, so all the lights we made with halogen in became compact fluorescent, because that was the low energy version, that was the LED of the day, and then effectively LEDs came in. 

What drew you to joining Brightbox?
I went freelance as a lighting designer about 15 years ago, and got quite a good reputation. I was concentrating primarily on top end residential houses around the cotswolds and made a lot of contacts, one of whom was Jason at Brightbox.  I was buying equipment from Jason for various projects, because I was doing a design and supply, while Jason was doing a lot of the lighting control for me- I would buy the lighting control from him, and he would tell me what I needed, how to spec it, and his guys would come and do the programming. Slowly then, as I was thinking about slowing down personally, and ultimately retiring, Jason and I had a few conversations on a number of occasions, and it became clear that we were both up for putting the two businesses together. So effectively Jason has brought my business, and is keeping the name going on the lighting design side, because of the reputation that I’ve somehow built up. So we’re in the process now of coordinating all of that, and building a vision for the future.

What is your favourite thing about working at Brightbox?

It’s the challenge of building a team that is going to be able to do what I have got so used to doing, and is going to learn to be as pernickety as I was- and am- I still get funny looks now, because I am so pernickety! And people say “Why?”, and it’s because if we aren’t absolutely true and exact in what we put out, then the guys on site who are actually installing the light fittings haven’t got all the information they need, so you can’t skimp, you’ve got to be absolutely precise. You know, you put a light fitting on a plan, for a start the light fitting is out of scale with the plan, obviously, otherwise you’d barely be able to see it. You have to be very precise with a downlighter about how far back from the wall it is, so you put that dimension on the plan. But I used to do that occasionally, whereas we’re now getting into the habit of 

making sure that we do it with every single light fitting and don’t miss a trick. When I was working just myself I could see how I wanted to professionalise things even more, but I never had the time to do it. Now I’ve got a team, we can do that, we can concentrate on that, we can spend time on that, and we can make sure ultimately that what comes out of the Brightbox table is as professional as it can be.

Who inspires you, and why?

In a professional capacity? It has always been a lady called Sally Storey, who has been involved in lighting almost as long as I’ve been involved in lighting, is very very professional, started off doing work in London, now works internationally, and does all types of luxury projects. She is very softly spoken, she has a very good eye for light and colour and knows how to create an atmosphere in an interior, and I’ve been to a few of her presentations and I've been impressed. Yeah, she’s the guru.

You’ve told us your professional inspiration, so who inspires you in life?

Guy Martin! Totally! Because he is mad. Because he is an adrenaline junkie. What he does is fantastic, he’s very professional and careful at what he does. But underneath it is a real character who’s a bit wild and wacky. And… I’m a bit like that underneath! I can be wild and wacky- I really like him. He would definitely be my inspiration.

Which of your designs are you most proud of, and why?

I'm proud of most of them. The ones I am most proud of are the larger houses where the clients know a little bit about lighting and what they want to achieve, but don’t really understand it, but believe what I’m saying and go with what I’ve done, and then once the project is finished come back to me and say “this is absolutely fantastic, we are so pleased we used a lighting designer”. So, those are the projects that I’m most proud of, where you get that positive reaction from the clients; because at the end of the day, any project you do might be a project of a lifetime for the clients and it’s incredibly important for them, and potentially very stressful for them, and they don’t know much about lighting or heating or everything they’re asked to think about during the project. So if I can in some way help them create their dream house and have it properly lit, that floats my boat. That’s what makes me feel I’ve done a good job.

If you could say anything to your younger self, or a young person just starting out in lighting, what would you say?

I would say trust your instincts, to start with. Understand what your skills are, understand what you like and don’t like. And make sure that whatever you do with your life, do what you like, and do what you want to do. I’m getting really… I don’t know why I’m getting emotional about this! But I think it’s so important for people to not waste their time working, or working to live. You’ve absolutely got to be able to enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re not happy in what you’re doing and you have an inkling to set yourself up doing something, in terms of a business or become self employed- do it! Because there’s nothing like it, and being master of your own destiny is very very powerful. It comes back again to simply ‘don’t waste your time’, hating your 9 to 5, or feeling mediocre in your 9 to 5, make sure that that time is time you enjoy, because you never get it back.

So what I’ve learnt is never look back. And I don’t mean don’t review what you’ve done in the past, but never look back and think to yourself “why did I do that? I should have done it differently!” Because I don’t think there’s any future in doing that, because at the time you made any decisions you did make, you were who you were then with the experience you had then. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but you don’t have it when you make a decision- so that’s why I say, never look back.