Wendy Umanoff is a lighting fixture designer based in Richmond, Virginia. She's been running her own lighting design and build studio for the past 12 years and specializes in custom pieces inspired by architecture and salvaged materials. When Handyma'am Goods was still a very young company, our studios were in the same building and we quickly fell in love with Wendy's passion and excitement for her work. We've stayed friends ever since and recently took a trip back to her studio to see what she's been up to.
Tell us about your background and how you got started as a lighting designer.
I grew up in a glass house, where I learned that the ability to create comes from the ability to see. My father was a mid-century furniture designer and was instrumental in influencing my interests in the arts. Throughout my childhood, he taught me the importance of choosing a career path I love.
In 2010, I was working as a freelance photo stylist for RHome Magazine. During that time, I had been thinking about creating my own column in the magazine that would inspire and stretch people. Thanks to the support of Susan Weniecki, (associate publisher at that time) “Repurpose This” was born. The focus of each story was to create 4-5 products from various reclaimed and repurposed parts and pieces. For a segment I did on lighting, I created 5 different light fixtures made from salvaged materials and displayed them at Strawberry Fields Flowers (where I also worked as a visual merchandiser). A buyer from Shades of Light saw them and wanted to work together, which ultimately led to the creation of the collection “One of a Kind Finds” developed for Shades of Light. A long-term design relationship blossomed, and since then, I’ve continued to create exclusive collections for their online website while also growing my own brand, Umanoff Design.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The more time we spend fine-tuning our craft, the more value we’re able to bring to our projects. Having maintained a lighting fixture studio for 12+ years now, I’m very appreciative of the collaborative experiences that I’ve had with my clients — it’s truly my favorite part of my design process!
At the beginning of each project, I meet with my client in order to get to know who they are and what inspires them. Working with couples is so much fun because they often want different things, and helping them to communicate their visions and find their alignment with one another is very rewarding. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to create custom light fixtures that my clients fall in love with every day! This is what excites and inspires me to continue creating.
“I’m very appreciative of the collaborative experiences that I’ve had with my clients — it’s truly my favorite part of my design process.”
How would you describe your aesthetic and what has influenced it?
My design aesthetic is definitely eclectic. I’m known for my industrial modern light fixtures and of late, I’ve been focusing on materials that are considered more modern. But sometimes the creative choices that I make in collaboration with my clients is really a practice in balancing aesthetics. The finished product can often depend more on a clients’ emotions about the piece rather than the design of the light fixture itself.
Architecture has always been an inspiration to me, and lately I’ve been reminiscing about my days as a sculpture student at Parsons School of Design in NYC. Some of the wall sculptures that I created in college have recently inspired me to consider creating a collection of wall sconces influenced by Japanese architecture.
“ The more time we spend fine-tuning our craft, the more value we’re able to bring to our projects. ”
What is something you’ve worked on recently that you’re excited about?
At the end of 2020, I worked on a collaborative limited series entitled Illuminating Lives. Fellow Richmond artist, Ed Trask, started the project with the goal of pairing artists together to work on pieces that would ultimately be auctioned off to raise funds for Richmond organizations. It’s been a really meaningful way to give back to Richmond, while building relationships with other artists at the same time. I look forward to continuing to grow Illuminating Lives as an outreach project for non-profits in support of the arts in Richmond.
What’s next for Wendy Umanoff?
In the future, I want to continue creating custom light fixtures that will inspire my clients and challenge me! I’ve recently connected with new makers who work in wood and glass and am looking forward to seeing what we dream up together.