Modo is a lamp within a lamp featuring traditional glass bulbs encased in smoky globes; Gridlock is, its name implies, an architectural brassy matrix inspired by the Brutalist movement. Meanwhile, Knotty Bubbles, a cluster of clear baubles tangled in rope, is both rough and refined, while Mexhedron is a mesmerising, geometric pendant reminiscent of the constellations from outer space.
These are some of the lights produced by Brooklyn-based lighting company Roll & Hill. Beyond function, they are in themselves works of art that beguile and entice. These lights are defined by clear forms as well as an unmasked use of materials articulated in authentic ways that are clearly experimental but also contemporary.
It’s a design language that is refreshing and loved by the media, resulting in the brand’s growing popularity since being established in 2010 by Jason Miller. Before that, the American designer was self producing some of his own designs. Many of the more successful ones were lights. At the same time, he noticed that many of New York’s designers were designing inventive lighting. Two and two came together, so collaborating with some of these designers, he founded the company and debuted Roll & Hill’s first collection in the 2010 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York.
Miller took the company’s name directly from his grandfather’s last name. “He was a product of, what they call in the USA, the greatest generation; he grew up during the Great Depression, fought in World War Two, then came home and made a family. There’s something about that era that is very different from the way we live today and something about that which I admire and want to emulate,” Miller shares.
A raw tenacity and honesty – these are traits reflected not only in the designs, but also something that Miller hopes are etched in the company’s philosophy and culture. On the website, the lights are juxtaposed against rugged, earthy sceneries. The manmade against the natural – the juxtaposition is poignant but also beautiful; what is also suggested is how the forms and materials of these lighting fixtures are derived from the earth itself. A most literal example is the Superordinate Antler collection, created using antler forms to bring the wild outdoors in.
What is also clear is Miller’s championing of American design. He has the keen eye of finding interesting young American designers, such as Bec Brittain, Jonah Takagi and Rich Brilliant Willing, to add to his fold. “I try not to choose designs. I don’t just want to produce a collection of half a dozen pretty lights every year. What I’m really trying to do is to pick designers that I believe in, designers that I think have a clear aesthetic, and then develop products with them” says Miller.
It’s helpful that the New York community of designers is a tight knit one. Many of the designers who have worked with Roll & Hill were friends first with Miller. It not only cuts short the time in building client-designer relationship, but also allows for open and genuine dialogue – crucial for unbridled self expression. This shows in the pieces.
The lights are assembled entirely in Brooklyn, where the brand’s 20,000-square-feet workshop is housed, together with design and shipping offices. What is striking about the space is the expansive view of the water with Manhattan in the near distance, as well as the copious amount of natural light that floods the industrial shell.
It’s a comfortable and inspirational space to work for Roll & Hill’s 35 staff. The company is so successful it is hard to imagine how modest its operation really is. Miller explains Roll & Hill’s production philosophy, which has helped keep costs low and quality high, among other benefits.
“We make almost everything in our factory in Brooklyn, and we make on demand, which means that we don’t have a warehouse full of lights and we don’t make things by the thousands in Asia. This allows us to be very flexible; we can take risks when it comes to design. We don’t have to invest huge sums of money in making a production line. We can produce something, prototype it, get it ready for production and if it only sells one or two units, that’s not a huge loss for us,” says Miller.
Another plus point is the possibility for customisation, which is a common requirement of architects and interior designers who order the lights. “Very often, they want something bigger or smaller or in a different finish or a different configuration, etc., and by making products on demands, we can accommodate those needs,” Miller elaborates.
Miller runs a tight ship, but it is one that is very detail-oriented and considered. At the same time, the brand’s success is timely with the post-2009 crisis resurgence of the Maker Movement, where, originality and craft trumps bling and mass consumerism As Miller aptly describes, “I think people now want more individual objects; they don’t just want to have the same things as the people down the street. They want to feel human about the things they use.”
Roll & Hill