We visit Tala Studios and meet with Design Director Joe Armitage to talk sustainability, truth to materials and just how far you can push the design of a light bulb...
Single Hanging Tala Voronoi I Bulb
Collection of Hanging Tala Voronoi III Bulbs Overlooking the Bethnal Green Gas Holders
First of all, Tala was founded by friends whilst at university. Where did the idea come from?
Well, the guys were all studying areas that kind of overlapped, with common interests in sustainability and creating a business around that ethos. They were working on a summer project installing solar panels at a winery in Portugal and they got talking to the project architect about ways in which they could make the winery even more sustainable. It sparked a conversation about the winery’s lighting and the architect’s reluctance to change them to LEDs because of the negative connotations of energy-efficient light bulbs being clunky, ugly objects. The guys saw the business opportunity this presented and that was that! And then one thing led to another.
I was interested in lighting because my grandfather had designed a lamp in 1952 that I put that back into production, and my grandmother is a wallpaper designer who has created a whole host of beautiful patterns. I basically decided to manufacture my grandfather’s lamp with her wallpaper as shades, and because the shades were made from paper I needed to find a bulb that didn't give off any heat. It was around this time I met the founders and we ended up joining forces.
You say your methods and materials are carefully selected for their integrity/quality. What’s your approach?
One thing I like to focus on is truth to materials, so when you choose a material you’re asking the question ‘how can I represent this material and its true qualities?’ So if that's brass then really focusing on finishes that enhance its look, and obviously the timber that we're using, we're not putting paint or glossy lacquers on them, we're trying to really let them speak for themselves. Then, obviously, glass in itself is such an interesting material considering the forms you can make and just the whole process is quite poetic…
The company was founded with the promise of ‘conservation through beauty’. Why do you feel it’s important to focus on conservation?
I think it's incredibly important because there’s been an ongoing push into those areas which I feel has really come to the forefront of the public’s attention in the last few years. It's a really hot topic. The way we're approaching it, really, is in 4 parts: the first is that we're creating low energy products; the second is our tree planting scheme; the third is that we're creating products that are built to last, so we're challenging the perceptions of light bulbs as a commodity or as a disposable item. We're saying actually, because of LED technology, we can create these as beautiful features that can last a long time; and then the 4th way, which is something we're just starting to implement, is using recycled materials.
Tala's Integrating Chamber
A Voronoi II Inside the Integrating Chamber
You say designs for your products take inspiration from nature. How does this translate into the finished product?
So the way the Voronoi III was designed, there's two areas of nature from which it takes inspiration. One is the actual form of the glass and that's derived from what's called a Voronoi pattern which you find in tree canopy formations, for example. You also see them in giraffe skin and turtle shells. It's those sort of irregular hexagonal shapes, and in three dimensions you can see them in pomegranate seeds and soap bubbles, for example. And then the filament in the middle, the distribution of that vertically is actually in the Fibonacci sequence, and that comes from things like pine cones you find on the forest floor. That design's actually quite a good example of how we're using nature as a kind of source point.
Do you feel sustainability is becoming more important in modern product design?
I think a lot in terms of the materials that are being used. The plastic waste problem is becoming very public at the moment so at a lot of the design shows and the places I've been looking around there's a lot of innovative uses of recycled materials. People are really trying to create materials and products that tell the story of where they come from and I think that's one of the most attractive parts of it.
Who else in the world of sustainable design do you feel inspired by or look up to?
I think Piet Hein Eek is doing amazing things, he's a Dutch designer based in Eindhoven. He makes furniture, and he has this whole, this ex-Philips factory that he's converted into this workshop and gallery and he creates amazing stuff from recycled materials. He's just done a big collaboration with Ikea as well, and he was saying that just the scale of waste savings you can make when you're operating with a company that big is huge. Usually his principles are to make sensible cuts so you're not creating too much waste but if you're doing that on such a big scale then you're actually making a really big difference.
How far can you push the design of a light bulb? What makes a Tala light bulb different to other low-energy bulbs?
I think it's the approach. Fundamentally, we're arriving at the problem of lighting from a design perspective rather than from a commodity perspective. With our Classic Collection the focus is on creating the highest quality light output. And then with our Design Collection, we're really just re-defining light bulbs as design objects in their own right. A light bulb really has to be a light source, but there's no limiting size or shape. You have standard fittings, but we're even redesigning those. We've already released the world's largest sculptural light bulb and I think that's a first for us, but there's so many different options out there, especially with the new technology that's coming through. There's no heat given off so the restrictions are just minimal.
That's the thing, because if you treat it as a commodity then the competition is just to try and get it made as cheaply and as efficiently as possible. All the other companies that have been approaching the problem for years have just been on a race to do that, so that's why we're different.
You promise to plant 10 trees for every 200 units sold. Can you tell us a bit more about the scheme?
We feel the ten trees scheme is a really important as part of our mission and to date we have planted 24,800 trees across the U.K. and U.S.A in areas with the greatest need. I think there's going to be some new announcements on the program soon but yeah, it's fundamental to what we do, how to tackle carbon emissions.
Finally, what’s the most interesting or obscure place we’d be able to find a Tala light bulb shining?
The most interesting/obscure place our bulbs are would definitely be a Cat Cafe here in London! I haven't visited it yet, but I love cats so I'm looking forward to it!
Books and Plants in the Tala Studio
Tala’s ‘Porcelain’ Light Bulb Series