addison kelly

Last week, at the end of my Lightfair conference presentation titled “Ambient Luminescence and Experiential Design“, a crowd of people came up to me at the end of the conference to ask me questions, connect, etc.  Patiently waiting until the very end, a woman introduced herself to me as Addison Kelly.  She gushed at me, exclaiming “Surely you must have known I was going to attend and made your slidedeck just for me?

At first, the name didn’t connect in my head, until Addison added: “I’m Richard Kelly’s daughter!

Wow!  For a lighting nerd like me, that is like meeting lighting royalty. Richard Kelly, the famous mid-century lighting design from New York, is well known in the lighting industry for the numerous technical and design innovations he brought to the lighting world as well as his famous clients, such as Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen.  Over the past several years, in my presentations  promoting the concept of “embedded lighting” — fusing lighting directly into the surfaces that surround us — I’ve used Richard Kelly’s principals and design examples to provide a concise framework of richard-kelly-herounderstanding for my listeners, while simultaneously grounding my concepts in history, demonstrating that many of the concepts are actually timeless and not just some technology fad.  Addison just loved that, to see her dad’s principals applied to the most cutting-edge technologies.

Addison herself studied lighting design at Parsons, moving from a graphic design background to take up the family tradition.  She runs her own lighting consultancy and has been actively involved in the IES NYC chapter for several decades.  When she introduced herself, she vividly remembered the chapter meeting where they decided to award me the IESNA Richard Kelly Grant – astonishingly, after 18 years, she remembered even tiny details of my original grant proposal, such as creating luminous chairs for an interactive theater-in-the-round concept.

Richard Kelly_Light Meter_MrKellysMagicLights

Addison related to me a great story about growing up with her dad and mom in their Manhattan apartment in the early 1960’s (I’m paraphrasing as best as I remember):

My mom and dad used to have cocktail parties all the time.  My dad secretly controlled a bank of dimmers:  When their guests arrived and sat in the living room, dad would would slowly fade the lights to a very dark setting – so dark that it would make the guests just a bit nervous as to what was going on – but then bring up the magical “light curtain” by the window.  It created a wonderful sense of drama that guests loved.  Mom made the light curtain by hand stitching wiring into white burlap fabric, with hundreds a little incandescent “twinkle” lights.

Richard Kelly_LightCurtain_HouseAndGarden1961

It is at once deeply gratifying to see how my own work echos so much of Richard Kelly’s work, but also somewhat disturbing that much what I’m advocating as the “future” of the lighting industry is the same thing that Kelly advocated for about 57 years ago!  Right down to the concepts of “e-textiles” and luminous materials!

Richard Kelly_LuminousCeilings_HouseAndGarden1961

Addison followed up our conversation by sending me 4 articles from the 1960’s.  Check these out – they are a fantastic treasure for anyone in the lighting industry!  A totally retro “Mad Men” vibe with gorgeous architectural and lighting designs and indepth interviews with Kelly on many of his projects and technical innovations (the links below are the original PDFs):

House+Garden_September 1961_Kelly Apt

New York Times Mag_May 18,1958_Kelly Apt

New York Times_Feb 23,1954_Metal Type


Thanks Addison for the big dose of inspiration!  And thanks again to the IES for the Richard Kelly Grant – it was a terrific encouragement early in my career to pursue the future of lighting.