Shop Talk with Little Wing Lee Vol. 12

04/23/2024

RBW

For this edition of Shop Talk, the interview series where friends and collaborators exchange ideas, discoveries, and sources of inspiration, designer Little Wing Lee of Studio & Projects reflects on the unique trajectory of her practice, and her new light fixtures made in collaboration with RBW: Cape, Cuff, Copia and Crepe.

Before pivoting into design, you were actually making documentary films. What inspired that change, and can you see any similarities in the work you’ve done?

I take a narrative approach to design, which makes me think a lot of architects want to be filmmakers and vice versa. Their processes are similar in that you have your big idea for the project, whether it's an interior project or a film, and then you work with those elements to create a story. I double-majored in African American Studies and religion and minored in film, and I was lucky enough to work on various projects for about 10 years. But thinking back, even as a kid, I'd always been interested in art and design. One year while I was between productions, I did a summer program at the Harvard GSD that changed my life trajectory. I really just fell in love with the process of design and how it works at so many different scales, from the handle on the door to someone’s home, a museum, or a restaurant.

You founded your practice, Studio & Projects the same year that you publicly launched the organization Black Folks in Design. Can you tell us about its mission?

In my mind, Black folks in Design is a project of Studio & Projects. When I was growing up, my parents were part of the Black Arts Movement in Boston, and I started Black Folks in Design as a way to connect Black designers across disciplines. When I was a part of the design team for the National Museum of African American History culture in Washington, DC, it was such a rare and amazing opportunity to work with so many Black designers on such an important project. I wanted to create this community to have that experience again. We started meeting informally to share experiences and resources—who you should call to build your website or collaborate on a new project with—and put plans in place for exhibitions and self-generated projects. In 2020, we had our first public exhibition, and in 2023, we had our second. And so I think that's something that's going to happen again in the near future.

For the three new collections, Cuff, Copia and Crepe, what were some of your inspirations? How do they express themselves in the finished fixtures, and what kind of conversations did you have during development?

The collections take inspiration from a range of sources, as well as the celebration of materiality and light’s different modes of perception. The body of Cuff was born from my interest in sculptural ’70s metal jewelry like my mom used to wear, layered with the idea of a glass shade nestled like a set jewel. For Copia, we were looking at ancient ziggurat structures and imaging what they might look like inverted and round, instead of rectilinear. I was also intrigued by the “film mode” quality of glass and the gentle type of light that it produces when placed on a wall. Our thinking around that along with my love of vintage glass was the inspiration for Crepe.

Expressing a sense of warmth through minimalist gestures has also been a central feature of RBW’s brand. You’ve collaborated with the team on a few projects over the years, including lighting the Ace Hotel and launching the Cape collection. What is your collaborative process with RBW like, and how has your relationship evolved along the way?

When I was working on a large hotel project, I was looking for something special, beautiful and functional, and RBW made that really easy. I had met the partners a long time ago, maybe at their first presentation at ICFF, and I've always been in touch. During the pandemic, I asked if they were interested in collaborating on a project, just based on my thoughts on materials and quality of light, and how that could meld with what RBW is doing. I'm excited that we have three more products coming in the pipeline.

Little Wing Lee

Founder | Studio & Projects

Little Wing Lee is the founder and creative director of the award winning interior design firm Studio & Projects. Prior to founding her firm, Little Wing’s sharp eye for color, texture and materiality along with her thoughtful and narrative-driven approach brought her to work with some of the most renowned and inventive design firms, including SOM, Rockwell Group, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, APPARATUS and Ace Hotel Group/Atelier Ace. Little Wing is also the founder of Black Folks In Design, an organization whose mission is to bring awareness to and promote the cultural contributions, excellence, and importance of Black designers.

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Shop Talk with Little Wing Lee Vol. 12

For this edition of Shop Talk, the interview series where friends and collaborators exchange ideas, discoveries, and sources of inspiration, designer Little Wing Lee reflects on the unique trajectory of her practice, and her new light fixtures made in collaboration with RBW: Cape, Cuff, Copia and Crepe.