After designing for some of the biggest names in retail and hotel design, Jonathan Browning formed his own company, Jonathan Browning Studios, developing luxury light fittings. We chat to him about his design journey, where to find inspiration and what the real meaning of luxury is.
How would you say you work has changed over the years?
For the first seven years of my business, I designed by exploring my love of French Beaux Arts classicism, which I united with my love of industrial design. This combination created a new style not seen in the market before. Then, after year seven, I changed direction creatively to explore mid-century modernism. By taking inspiration from shapes and ideas from this era, but executing them in my own visual language of bronze, brass, crystal and porcelain, I have been able to again create an aesthetic that is original and fresh. The response has been phenomenal.
What has been your most challenging project so far and why?
The biggest challenge so far has been a custom chandelier for a huge gilded-age mansion on Astor Place in Chicago. I wanted to create a chandelier that spanned the entire ceiling of the formal dining room, which was huge, so the chandelier itself had to be massive. I ended up designing it as six separate chandeliers, but it looks like one continuous piece. It’s a gorgeous bronze tangle of branches, with more than 400 small bulbs.
Where do you find inspiration?
I always like to say: “In order to be modern, I go back…” By that I mean that I am a huge student of the past. I have an entire library in my home devoted to one subject: residential architecture from 1880 to 1920. I study those buildings intensely. To me, this was the golden age of American architecture. I find endless inspiration from examining these country houses, some I know so well I feel like I have lived in them. There are huge lessons to be learned by the work of masters like Stanford White, Louis Comfort Tiffany, or C.P.H. Gilbert.
What do the high-end materials add to a design?
Materials are everything. Design means very little if executed in the wrong, or cheap, materials. I use a very, very limited range of materials. Cast bronze, machined brass, lead crystal, unglazed porcelain and borosilicate glass. All of these materials are great to work with when executing very detailed, precise designs. Also, once completed, these materials add a gravitas to each piece. No one does higher quality fixtures than JBS. And you can see that because of these precious materials.
What does luxury design mean to you?
Luxury is authenticity. It is luxurious to carve a shade from a block of lead crystal on a lathe, then polish it by hand, rather than blow it in glass. It is luxurious to make a wax model of a wood carving and then to cast that wax in bronze, rather than stamping the fixture out of steel or aluminum. It is luxurious to hand-cast porcelain, then carve it to the thinnest wall possible and leave it unglazed, for use as a shade, its thinness allowing light to penetrate, rather than using a cheap silk shade. Luxury is about high end materials, designed and executed flawlessly.
Check out the slideshow below for pieces from Jonathan’s latest collection:
The Pentagon Chandelier hangs elegantly above a dining table
Pieces from Jonathan Browning Studios makes an elegant statement
Bold chandeliers add a touch of elegance and glamour to a space.
Jonathan's timeless designs work well in any living environment
Highlight image photography: Seth Smoot