2013 Award winner
New York , New York
It's rare to find a designer who’s revered equally by haute design enthusiasts and the DIY set, but that describes Lindsey Adelman. Since establishing her studio and retail line in 2006, the lighting designer has been creating showstopping chandeliers that manage to feel industrial and sensual at once. Her custom pieces, manufactured in New York City, have attracted top architects and designers. But a few years ago, Adelman did something a little crazy: On her website, she posted detailed plans for a version of one of her signature fixtures, using parts from hardware and lighting-supply shops. “Everyone told me it was dumb,” the 45-year-old says with a laugh. “Why give it away for free? But I thought it would be cool to let people use elbow grease instead of their credit cards.” Adelman’s website now has four such “You Make It” light- ing projects, and she gets a “huge kick” out of seeing the pictures people send in of their re-creations. Adelman has no plans to change her current business model. Instead of moving to a lower price point and having her fixtures manufactured abroad, as she has been repeatedly advised to do, she prefers to keep production small and high-end—and to donate a significant portion of her yearly profits to two local charities. “I cater to the luxury industry,” says Adelman. “So it feels almost magical to have the option to support social change in my city.”
Do you remember the moment you decided to start your business? What was it like? I was scared. But felt like I had enough experience working in the industry that I would be able to figure it out. I still feel that way. You get in over your head and all those people that you were nice to over the years really help when you ask for it! It was an amazing feeling to be able to create a business the way I wanted to do it: slowly and thoughtfully.
What advice do you have for others who want to turn their passion into a business? Work for other people that you respect first. Then be true to yourself and –– practically-speaking –– meet regularly with a business coach to get it started. It helps you plan and helps turn what you love into profit so you can live off of your work. And honestly I believe everyone benefits when people follow what they love. The support will show up.
I cater to the luxury industry, so it feels almost magical to have the option to support social change in my city. Lindsey Adelman
What advice do you wish you had when you started?Well, after I had been in business for a while I read a David Byrne quote talking about "buying yourself creative time." I love that –– thinking about how completing a project paves the way for more experimentation and pushing further. I do make an effort to reserve time for myself to daydream and experiment. I now know: no one's going to do that for me. It is up to me. And buying yourself creative time really is the single most important thing. I wish I had been taught to trust myself. I give that advice to others now.
What do you think is the key to being a successful startup?Listen. Listen to what people are telling you. Pay attention to the response of what you are putting out there. Pay attention to the tiny voice inside your head telling you what's what. The truth is right there in front of you if you have the guts to look at it. I think getting a start-up going can be painful because of this. But once you do, it is an incredible ride –– and once you look at the ugly truth, there is no longer anything to be scared of.
Tell us about your workspace. Right now we have five spaces in one building because we couldn't get anything all together. But in a way it has forced me to have better systems for delegating. I float around to all the spaces but my favorite spot is to be able to spread out –– look at lots of drawings and references at once and to build 1:1 hands-on and have unself-conscious space to keep visualizing what isn't there yet.
What inspires you? I am inspired by uses of space. I am inspired by taking away bulk and clutter in space and I like thinking about designing form for the unused areas. Looking at the ceilings and walls and corners. I imagine how form can add functionally but also emotionally to a space and what kind of an effect I want my work to have on the people that are in it.
What technology do you depend on to run your business? Do you do anything the “old-fashioned” way? If so, why? Yes, my studio looks like Germany in 1928. But we do have a 3D printer and also prototype with the most recent LED's available in the US.