"Humor and the design process go together. A lot of times, you throw out a wacky idea. Everyone laughs about it, but, at the same time, you've expanded your thoughts by considering something that is ridiculous. It helps you see and think about the design problem in a different way."
Although trained as an architect, Richard Renfro's focus has never been far from lighting. One of his early introductions to the medium was as an architecture student at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, in a photography class. Knowing of Renfro's interest in light, a professor recommended that, as part of his post-graduation plans, he apply for the IALD intern program, then in its second year (1979). The internship brought him to New York and the office of Jules Fisher and Paul Marantz. Renfro thought he'd spend a few months in New York and then move on. That was more than 30 years ago, and he's never left. A partner for 14 years, when the firm was known as Fisher Marantz Renfro Stone, Renfro then decided to start his own practice—Renfro Design Group—in 1998. Work has taken him all over the world and he has produced an award-winning portfolio of sensitively designed cultural and civic lighting projects, often with roots in daylighting, and always using the design fundamentals he learned in architecture school.
Why did you choose to pursue lighting?
Lighting allows me the opportunity to work collaboratively and in multiple vocabularies.
How do you start the design process?
By listening to the architect.
What text has influenced you?
There have been many, but one of the firsts was Bill Lam's book Perception and Lighting as Formgivers for Architecture (McGraw-Hill, 1977). It provided me with a foundation for thinking about light.
How has the practice of lighting design changed since you first started working?
Design time continues to be compressed; it's problematic because there is still a process that needs to be seen through to completion.
What is misunderstood about lighting design?
The appreciation of what is necessary to do the job right. It comes down to value—value of time and value of design services.
What are some of the challenges facing the lighting design profession?
Lighting always takes a bad rap when it comes to energy usage. But it's not the buildings where a lighting designer is involved that are the energy culprits. We have to figure out a way to reach buildings that don't have a lighting designer involved.
What are important characteristics for a designer to have?
Creativity, curiosity, and dedication.