PaperCity Magazine

January 2018- Houston

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Page 53 of 83

40 design talents," Singer says. "That set us apart." Ralph Lauren came on board in 1999 — after 12 years of Singer's persistence — with a private-label line of lighting designed by Visual Comfort. The two continue to produce lighting together. "Andy went after real tastemakers whose sense of style he loved," says Houston-based designer J. Randall Powers, who has designed a collection with Visual Comfort since 2008, that includes classically styled brass floor and table lamps and gilt crystal chandeliers. For the first time in the industry, interior designers and architects had creative sway over how decorative lighting could be styled in this critical, but long-overlooked area of their business. Alexa Hampton developed her first lighting collection with Visual Comfort in 2007 because she saw holes in the market that only a decorator could fill. "I especially wanted to make the most mundane fixtures, like the flush mount, more beautiful and user-friendly," Hampton says of her neoclassic-inspired lighting. Aerin Lauder teamed with Visual Comfort in 2013, a year after launching her own global lifestyle brand, Aerin. "I always start the design of a room with lighting," says Lauder, "so when I set out to create Aerin, lighting was a very important category for me to get right." Designers say Singer empowers them to be creative, yet provides guidance at every step. "Andy is wonderful to collaborate with because he's very inquisitive and appreciates design," says designer Thomas O'Brien, who has worked with Visual Comfort for 15 years. "Andy is present in every stage: product development, manufacturing, leadership. He's in it all the way." Visual Comfort brings new designs to market two or three times a year — a six-month process that starts with an initial concept meeting with the designer. "We'll sit down and review their concepts, then edit down to what will be a digestible launch," says Singer, who also considers whether to include additional sizes or similar products, such as a wall sconce, to complement the original idea. Next comes a discussion about materials and finishes, then detailed drawings. Engineers are consulted to ensure that the outside envelope is not only beautiful but also functions perfectly. Unlike designing a chair or a table, lighting can be a lot more complicated, with "wires and electricity, sockets, and light that needs to be aiming in the right place, doing the right thing, and operating at the right levels," he says. "All these components have to work together, and hopefully it looks exactly as the designer envisioned it." Singer and his team have spent decades refining the manufacturing process at the company's network of production facilities, which are primarily in Asia. "It's very easy for designers to use our lighting in architectural projects, because the quality and finishes are consistent," Singer says. Powers notes that designers don't want to put their name on something unless they know the quality's there. "With Andy, I know it'll be done the right way every time," he says. For consumers, consistency generates loyalty. "It's a lot like fashion: Once people find a label they like, they know what to expect and they usually stay with that brand." Craftsmanship is key, but freedom of expression keeps the company's long- term design partnerships thriving. "Visual Comfort allows the Aerin collection to have its own feminine, modern point of view," says Lauder. For Hampton, it's a true collaboration. "Visual Comfort supports my vision, of course, but they also have a clear view of who they are as a company," she says. "The quality will always be impeccable, and that's the best thing a designer can ask for in a partner." Singer's affable personality and generous spirit have made him beloved in the industry. "He's an example to us all of how to succeed while maintaining integrity and decency," Hampton says. "He's a good guy that finishes first. I'm a fan as well as a friend." O'Brien also notes that Singer "has the best collection of bandanas and other handkerchiefs that he ties around his neck. He's a very stylish guy." Powers, who has known Singer for more than 20 years, describes him as a "let's go get a Starbucks" kind of guy who impressed him early on with his ease of conversation. Singer still has traces of a New York accent, but "he's a Southerner at heart," Powers says. "He's laidback. He was the first guy I knew who wore sneakers every day to work. Now the whole world is wearing them." Visual Comfort has expanded from a solo effort to a team of 220 people who work out of its offices and distribution center in northwest Houston. Eight years ago, Visual Comfort expanded into Europe and Asia, with distribution centers in London and China. To accommodate the growth, Visual Comfort is building massive new headquarters in Houston, slated to open in Spring 2018. Set on 26 acres across the street from its existing facilities, the complex includes 40,000 square feet of office and product development space and a 300,000-square- f o o t d i s t r i b u t i o n w a r e h o u s e . With 4,500 active wholesale customers and 225 store-in-store galleries around the country, including massive new spaces inside Dallas Market Center and New York Design Center, Visual Comfort's focus remains to the design trade. But the Savannah-based retail store Circa Lighting, which was opened by Singer's sister Gale Singer in 1998, carries A worker detailing a chandelier Muhammad Ali portraits in Singer's office Singer's first factory trip to Taiwan, 1983 (continued from page 51) Sleek warehouses

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