Interview: lighting, furniture & product designer Paula Arntzen of Studio Arntzen

"I like the drama of light and shadows"

There’s nothing we love more than talking to women with amazing jobs, and Dutch lighting designer Paula Arntzen of Studio Arntzen more than fits the bill. She took the time to chat to us about how to get into design, what the challenges are, and her best advice.

Paula Arntzen

Hi Paula, thanks for talking to us. Can you tell us a bit about your company?

Studio Arntzen is a design studio specialising in lighting design for domestic and public spaces. An open process of exploration, focusing on a concept, re-definition and mastering material skills are key to my work process. I’m fascinated by moments of transformation, and the raw material of light.

Transformation, lighting and a sense of tactility come together to create products and projects with their own distinctive, theatrical identity.

How did you get started in lighting design?

At the beginning of my study at the Academy of Art (ArtEZ) in the Netherlands, I discovered my love for designing lighting. During this period, I realised two site-specific projects that re-organised and re-shaped the space with lighting. The very first project was for a New Year’s party where I made an installation of lights that were totally lit up by the use of black light and fluorescent paint.

After the second project for the fashion week in Arnhem, where I designed another site-specific project in a huge white church, I knew I wanted to continue in lighting design.

The sculptural and theatrical aspect I really like. I like the drama of light and shadows. Playing with contrast of light and casting dynamic patterns on the ceiling, wall or viewers. Light is space; it creates space on its own within a space. And each time, I experience this process of shaping the light as exciting. Designing a fixture goes beyond the product: it responds to the environment and the experience of the people during that specific moment.

“In the early days, a fixture was designed around a light bulb — nowadays there are so many options with different light technologies”

Most people still underestimate the impact of lighting within a space. Since I’m working at the NIA Academy as a teacher in interior lighting design, I’m trying to create an inspirational ‘re-education’ of the importance of lighting design in an environment. Trying to change the mentality by creating awareness of the new possibilities there are regarding lighting.

In the early days, a fixture was designed around a light bulb — nowadays there are so many options with different light technologies, so interior designers should think more architecturally in relation with the lighting, material surfaces and interior.

What are the best and worst bits of your job?

I will start with the worst bit since the best bit is more important for me.

Honestly, working as a self sufficient designer is a very individual process. There is no one way to achieve your goal. All my designer colleagues work completely differently. Everyone is walking their own individual path. Which is nice because it makes it so personal, but occasionally it can be a lonely process.

At the same time, the best bit is that you work as a pioneer, discovering new ways of looking at things on a functional, cultural or economical level. Researching, experimenting and finding a suitable design language for the specific context. Or figuring out a strong concept for your client to realise products or projects that suit them.

I see this as a challenge, to solve a puzzle by getting a grip on a project and then materialising it. This gives me a tremendous enjoyment, it gives me so much satisfaction.

What advice would you give women who want to get into design?

I’m a small business owner, a woman, working within the male-dominated manufacturing world. I experience this as very supportive, but the only advice I can give to women that want to get into design, is not to get intimidated by men.

“You have to be a chameleon and a tiger”

Sometimes this is challenging — especially during the fabrication process — but make sure they take you seriously by letting them know that you do know what you’re talking about. Prepare for your meetings and be confident about your goal, they don’t need to understand your purposes all the time. They only need to know how to pursue your needs.

Another thing that I would advise everyone that wants to get into the design world is have an awareness about all the layers that working as a designer contains. Running your business, timing, product development, technical knowledge, material knowledge, project developments, distribution channels, sales, communication, networking, packaging, transporting — all these facets are of great importance to success.

You have to be a chameleon and a tiger: nurture your interests, ignite your passions, be curious, self- assured and someone that does not give up quickly. It’s a lot that you have to start making your own, but it’s a nice challenge to discover.

Want to see more of Paula’s work and maybe even have some in your home? Check out the Studio Arntzen design light shop

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 285 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.