Light Keeper

Lighting designer Robert Lewis has long been a luminary—you just didn’t know.

Robert Lewis creates these leaded mica pendants in his L.A. studio.

With a career spanning more than two decades in three states, lighting designer Robert Lewis didn’t seem to really hit his stride until he moved to California seven years ago. From his L.A.-based workshop, he’s crafted custom light fixtures that illuminate the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs (and the soon-to-open Ace in downtown L.A.); Kiki de Montparnasse boutiques in L.A., Las Vegas and New York; Farmshop restaurants in Brentwood and Marin; the Yelp headquarters in San Francisco; and a host of private homes. Lewis’ work, which he describes as “modern brutalism,”  is a mashup of industrial elements with thoughtful touches of craft: a Buckminster Fuller-inspired, faceted pendant lamp made of hand-cut mica; blackened steel lamp bases supporting bare filament bulbs; table, floor and pendant lamps with bases and cords covered in gorgeous, chunky macramé. “My work seems to be coming together nicely in a sort of primitive, organic fashion,” he says. “The Italian boom was really influential, but people don’t want plastic Alessi lamps anymore. They want stuff that feels comfortable.” 

Originally from New Jersey, Lewis studied advertising and graphic design in New York City and spent his so-called “punk years” partying at Studio 54, working for Jerry Van Deelen’s iconic store, Jerrystyle, and making bamboo lamps that were sold in influential design shops like Zinc Details in San Francisco. In the early ’90s, Lewis flew south to Miami, where the acclaimed Rubell family asked him to design lighting for one of their hotels (he created pieces for the Greenview and the Albion). That commission helped launch his custom business, which came to include clients like Studio Sofield, Shamir Shah, SHoP Architects and even Ikea. Flash forward a decade and Lewis, now firmly ensconced in a light-filled downtown L.A. studio, credits his newfound creativity in great part to collaborating with Commune Design. The L.A.-based firm brought him in on many of the aforementioned projects. “Robert has an endless ability to create,” says Roman Alonso, one of the founders. “With him, you’re working with a true artisan. He’s not sending it out to some factory; he’s putting the pieces together—creating it with his hands.”