Episode 6

Light is More: Meet FLOS

The universal allure of light, and the history and technology of Italian lighting design as explained by Jack Scheur, CEO FLOS North America. This 20-minute crash course interview reviews current design and technology enabling such marriages as that of hand blown glass and LED lighting to create high design light sources. Famous designers from the Castiglioni brothers in the 1960’s through Phillipe Starck, Jasper Morrison and Konstantin Grcic today, illuminate the human experience.

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We're big believers in using design to solve human problems. Jack Schreur, CEO of FLOS USA


CCB (One Workplace): [00:00:00] Good morning. I am CCB with One Workplace and we are podcasting from the pop-up marketplace on Maiden Lane. And I'm sitting here with Jack Schreur. Did I say that right?

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:00:13] You said that exactly right.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:00:14] I'm so happy to hear that. OK, Jack. So tell us a little bit about why you're here.

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:00:20] I am the chief executive officer for North America at FLOS. And you guys have done a fabulous job featuring our design lighting products throughout your pop up space. And we're here to talk a little bit about both what FLOS is, who we are, where we're going, but also some of the some of the lovely products that we've got here.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:00:39] That's fantastic. We are surrounded with some amazing FLOS lights and we're delighted to have them here. And I will tell you here in the front space of the pop-up, those lights are drawing an enormous amount of attention. So tell us a little bit about that light.

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:00:54] Well, you guys are one of the first installations in all in North America with a lamp from the great designer Konstantin Grcic called Noctambule. Noctambule quite simply means sleepwalker and their hand blown glass. And they have this really, I think, a very FLOS personality of they're the latest innovation in technology in LCD lighting with the craft of hand blown glass. And that's a very FLOS thing. It's also not an easy thing to do. Matter of fact, the technology in those lights are pretty new. Couldn't have made those lights even three or four years ago. But taking that latest innovation, combining it with great Italian craftsmanship, FLOS is an Italian company. And and again, the hand blown glass creates a really unique and kind of remarkable dynamic product.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:01:44] It certainly does. So you just threw out a number of questions that I'd like to ask you in that particular answer. So first off, I want to ask about the FLOS design philosophy. So you talked about the makers and the designers, and we'd like to hear a little bit more about where they come from and why you choose the people that you do.

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:02:06] Well, you know, FLOS was born in 1962 in Milan, Italy. And because of that, we're very Italian company with a very Italian heritage. And really what we try to do is combine the latest breakthroughs in technology when it comes to lighting and innovation with that idea of Italian craft and multi thousand year reverence for beauty and design. And I think that's what sets us apart. We're also big believers in using design as a way to solve human problems and particularly for lighting. Lights have to do lots of things. First of all, they have to be lights, right? So their first job is to light a space. But in the process of lighting the space, they also have to be beautiful. They have to be useful. They have to define the space. And they have to work across a lot of different kinds of aesthetics and across a lot of different kinds of applications. So what I think we've been good at over the last what going on 60 years is to take that idea of craft technology and innovation. And marry it working with the world's greatest designers into products that are super useful for the way people live and work every day.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:03:14] Thanks. I'm thinking about this, the problems that you solve that FLOS lighting solves. And if we were going to tie that to a workplace issue that you hear about on a regular basis, what would your first go to be?

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:03:30] Well, so a great example is the increasing desire to create living room type settings within commercial spaces. So very few people 20 years ago when I started in interiors, furnishings, business, you would walk into a space and there would be acres of cubicles, right? And the sixth floor looked like the 10th floor, which looked like the 15th floor. And the only floor that looked different was generally the floor you walked in on on the bottom and the 25th floor where all the senior executives sat. Everything else was kind of a sea of sameness. That's just not true anymore. First of all, workers today want something fundamentally different than that. And secondly, because they can work from anywhere they want to. And even when they're in the office, they want to be dramatically more comfortable than just sitting at a cubicle. Absolutely the right thing to do for lots of heads- down work, but not the best place to meet and collaborate with colleagues. Not always the best place to meet with people who are coming from outside of the business. So for us, what we're able to do is use lamps to both create a much more residential feel, but also use it to define the space. So you might have an area with three or four soft seating kind of options in a space that might be in the middle of a room. Well, if you don't want to put up permanent walls, how do you create something that's cozy? Use lamps. You can use lighting to absolutely define the space, to warm it up, thinking about how you use the right kind of color, temperature, etc. Working with the designer all of a sudden, you create a very living room like type setting. Even if it's in the middle of an otherwise very standard kind of commercial space, that's a pretty typical problem that we're asked to solve today.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:05:07] And I think you're doing a remarkable job and you're adding to our portfolio of options to be able to offer to the many, many clients that we have here in the Bay Area, which tends to be on the bleeding edge of a lot of design. I want to go back, though, to the the Italian heritage. First off, I want kind of a little bit more about how the company actually started. I'm going to stop with that, because you answer so many wonderful questions.

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:05:37] No, it's answering too many in a row. You know, FLOS came about in 1962, a guy by the name of Sergio Gandini, whose family's been involved with the business ever since. Up until Piero was CEO, up until really just his son until a few months ago. So Sergio Gandini was a guy who loved great design and he loved beauty. And if you think about Italy in the late 50s, it's coming out of World War Two. They're rebuilding with a lot of help from the United States. And they're also starting to become an industrial nation for the first time in their history. But they're combining that with the the crazy, beautiful Italian craft that has always been a part of Italy. So you've got industrialization happening on the one point. You've got a coming into modernism that's happening on the other side. And then you've got this reverence for beauty. That's what two thousand years old or more in Italy? And out of that together, you have a guy named Sergio Gandini who got to know a couple of brothers called Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni. And they're really the godfathers of kind of Italian design in so many ways. And out of that first came the 1962 collection with lamps that everybody knows, the Arco Lamp with the beautiful Carrera marble base and the arch lamp and the torture, et cetera. And that's really where FLOS began. And the idea was to take great design and apply it to, what, in 1958, 59, 60, 61, and then 1962, when the first actual series of products came out to what they would call modern problems. And for them, it started with modern living and then very quickly moved into modern living, working, etc. That's where we got our start.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:07:17] So it was initially an Italian company, but it's so international.

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:07:22] Global.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:07:22] Exactly. So let's talk a little bit. Tell us a little bit more about how did that migration start?

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:07:27] You know, it started with making great things and making great products that solve problems and that people found really beautiful and useful. And so, you know, the first Arco's came to America almost accidentally. They they didn't wake up. And, you know, there was no big master plan in 1962 that said we're going to become a global multinational company design company that provides design lighting all over the world. It was. Wow, that's a great idea. Let's make this great product and let's make it really well. And then lots of people would come through Italy and they begin to see the FLOS products and whether they were French or from the U.K. or from the US or from Japan. There was a lot of "how can we get that?" And initially it was "I don't know." And, you know, being Italian, the answer was always, "yeah, we'll find a way." And and that's how FLOS grew up. It really did. And now to become the, you know, the global probably the world's leading global design lighting company.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:08:22] That's so exciting. So that's going to make me ask that question about the Steelcase partnership. So Steelcase and all of Steelcase distribution is thrilled to have FLOS as a part of the partnership. How did that occur?

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:08:36] You know, it's really simple. I spent 20 plus years in the interior furnishings business and got to know a number of the folks at Steelcase over time. And when I went to lead FLOS in North America, it was pretty clear we needed a great partner in the contract furnishings business. And as the next evolution of us taking our great products and great design products and making them available more broadly, started talking to the folks at Steelcase and decided, hey, you know, we've got great stuff. You got great distribution, great sales teams, you've got these customers who are looking for our products. Let's figure out a way to work together. And it was really that simple of how we got together. And we spent about six months talking and then decided this was going to work. And that was a year and a half ago or so. So pretty fired up.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:09:26] Pretty fired up. Are you getting a lot of traction?

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:09:30] We are. I mean, the good news is, is, you know, your team, the Steelcase team, Steelcase dealers, they love good design and your customers love good design. So we like to think we make great designs. So that coming together has been really good. And of course, we've also just been really gratified by the response of the dealer partners from Steelcase and the way they've welcomed it with open arms. Now, you know, it's not without some struggles because if you spent your whole life not thinking about how to plug things in or to hang things from the ceiling, there's a learning involved there. And we're working through that. But it's. But it's been great and it really has been, I think, a win for both sides.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:10:14] Ok. So do you have one great installation story?

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:10:20] You know, I would I'll point you to a big New York bank that has asked to remain nameless, but a big New York bank. There's some of them. And that was looking to go from the staid, stodgy kind of banking image where everybody's wearing a tie and they're all sitting behind, you know, very boring kind of workstations that were probably last renovated in like 1985 and really wanted to change their look and feel and particularly wanted to create a big kind of living room type space midway up in their high rise and working with Steelcase and working with one of the big design firms in New York. We were able to take our lamps and help them really define the space and help them really kind of take it and using things from all the way back from 1962 like the Arco lamp and the Taccia lamp, as well as brand new designs like Jasper Morrison Superloon, which is just a couple of years old. And were able to create, I think, a really striking space and not just using FLOS and not just using Steelcase branded products, but also using a lot of the other Steelcase design partnership products. And its pretty cool and looks great.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:11:34] That's amazing. I want to share with our listeners that at OneWorkplace.com, we have an Inspiration page, which we populate with some of the most amazing designs that we're running into. And FLOS is going to be jumping on that page.

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:11:49] Love it.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:11:51] Do you have a favorite FLOS light?

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:11:58] Yeah. You know, for me it is from the 62, but it's the Taccia and it's Achille Castiglione. And I had the great fortune to get to know his youngest daughter, who runs the Castiglione Foundation. Her name is Giovanna. She's lovely and amazing and she told me the story of Taccia. And so I bought one from my house. It's basically if you took a pendant which hangs down from the ceiling and you turned it into a floor lamp or a table lamp. You turn the pendant upside down, created this beautiful glass bowl that you can arrange. And it's lovely. There's nothing else that looks like it in the world. And I love it. I own one, I bought my kids one. And, you know, at some point I've actually run out of room. And I live in New York. I've run out of room in my New York space for lamps. But it's one of my favorite designs. And Achille is this really unique person. He's been gone for a while now, but he had this sense of both wit and charm and just putting things together in ways that are highly unlikely. You know, one of my other favorite lamps is a lamp called Toyo from Achille. And he took a Fiat headlight and the idea of a fishing rod. And he took this really simple, thin thing like a fishing rod. The first one actually was a fishing rod. And he put this Fiat headlight on the top and he wired it to a really basic transformer. And he stood in the corner of his of his workshop in Milan. And he's like. And it's it's one of those things that nobody in the world would go "fishing rod, Fiat headlight. How are we gonna do this?" And it's an amazing lamp that's been in continuous production since 1962. And I have one of those as well, by the way. So really, for me, anything from Achilles is top of top of mind for me.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:13:44] Ok. I'm going to say that many of us are going to want to come visit you in New York just so we can see what's in your space.

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:13:50] Yeah. Houston, Houston and Green Street in Soho. Please come.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:13:52] Ok. Please give me that address sometime later. I would like to ask you. There's so many amazing things that you guys are up to and they fit into the challenge that we are all dealing with these days with coming up with innovation and beauty in combination. And that's a huge demand here in the Bay Area. And so we'd be interested in knowing what you are curious about.

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:14:23] You know, I think the great thing that's happening in lighting right now is the LD revolution. First of all, it's a dramatically more sustainable way to bring power, bring light into an candlepower in in any kind of a space, whether it's your home or commercial space or retail space or anything. And we're just starting to figure out all the things that you can do that actually solves problems with it. So, for instance, Jasper Morrison, Superloon Lamp, one of my very favorite lamps, a big disc of light with edge to edge LED lighting. Again, something that five years ago literally, the technology didn't exist. But it's moving fast enough that even as Jasper was developing the lamp in connection with FLOS, the technology was developing as they were expressing the need going, well, how do we bring this beautiful warm light, not what you think of with classic LEDs which are super blue, white and a little cold and not so great. How do we bring a warm moon like glow into a space using LEDs? Out of that came Super Loon, which was a marriage of a great idea from Jasper Morrison and a a really cool technology and ability from FLOS to put it together. So that's where I think taking that. What can we do with LEDs and combining that with. All right. What problems are there out there for us to solve? I think that's the next the next thing.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:15:49] So when you when you frame it that way, there's the portability issue in the workplace today. You address that early on that people like to work everywhere because they can through a lot of the technology and. Well, so we're seeing work take place all over. And how does FLOS start to think about mobile light?

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:16:12] Actually, great point. First of all, we're really working hard right now on battery life, for instance, because we do believe that portable lighting is a super important thing to do. With two lamps right now, the Bon Jour Unplugged from Philippe Starck and the Bellhop from Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby that are all about picking up and moving with you. I've used each of them in different places and they they do different things. But there's still this idea of, OK, if I want to work over in that corner, but I don't really have that set up for me. How can I move a lamp there? So getting the battery life right. This way, LEDs are super helpful because LEDs take so much less power to run than halogen. So whereas you might get 10 hours or twelve hours a light out of the charged with LED, you would get two or three with a halogen lamp. So the opportunity is great around just portable light. Then there's also the opportunity for indoor/outdoor. And how do I take something outdoor when I need it? Then bring it back inside. Again, the technology's moving super fast and working together with big technology companies that are designing the next LED chips. We're able to think about what's the possibilities for us going forward. One of the great things about being one of the leading--the leading--design lighting company in the world is as the big lighting manufacturers, the big lighting chip manufacturers are thinking about their next generation. They're actually coming to us and going, hey, if we could do this, what would you do? And our answer is, I don't know, but we've got some smart people who could think about that with us. Then we reach out to our our army of great industrial designers to help figure out what we could do next.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:17:49] So that's interesting to think about the designers and the content manufacturers. How do you integrate the user requirements?

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:18:02] Yeah. It's a continual, I think, virtuous circle where we're constantly talking to folks about how they use lamps, what do they need, what do they want to do, and constantly working with designers on that. And at the end of the day, fundamentally, your job is to solve human problems with design. And in order to do that, you have to understand what the problems are. So talking to folks about what they're trying to do, talking to your customers, you know, what are you trying to do in in your spaces? How can we help that both in taking what we've already done all the way back from 1962, as we, by the way, bring LED technology into some of those old lamps, but also what we just designed yesterday and what we're thinking about tomorrow. We want to talk to commercial customers. We want to talk to residential homeowners. We want to talk to folks like me who live in tiny New York apartments and say, what do you need? What can you do? And then match that up with the best designers in the world with our knowledge of the best technology in the world to solve that.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:19:01] Jack, you started with that solving problems design and you're wrapping it up with that. I want to say thank you very much. I have one more question for you. What about FLOS? Is there one thing about FLOS that would surprise people?

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:19:36] I don't know if it would surprise people, but I think the dedication to craft married with the latest technology. And again, I think the lights right behind us are a great example of that. I just don't know any other company that would combine a really ancient craft technique like hand-blown glass with the very latest in LED technology and to work with a designer like Konstantin Grcic to bring that together and to create something that's unlike anything that's ever existed before. But like most great design feels timeless and classic the minuted you first look at it. I think that commitment to craft is really unique to us. And these are hand blown. We don't stamp them out of a factory. Ten thousand at a time. Somebody has to blow each one of these large scale glass objects. I think that commitment to staying connected, which is a very Italian thing, to stay connected to that idea of craft is is what sets us apart. And I don't know if it would surprise you other than it would surprise you in our dedication to continuing down that path.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:20:44] That's fantastic. Thank you very much.

Jack Schreur (FLOS): [00:20:47] Thank you. Appreciate the time.