An entrepreneurial spirit and an inquisitive nature characterize Tom Warton, co-founder and president of Sonoma, Calif.–based Vode Lighting. In his early 20s, he spent time in Brazil, importing mineral specimens to exhibit in the United States. To showcase the dazzling colors, he experimented with different types of lighting, using some of the first MR16 lamps available on the market. In the early 1990s, he was involved with several lighting companies, including SF12v, Sonoma Lighting, and Translite Sonoma. By the early 2000s, however, he was considering a career change, but several conversations with industrial designer Scott Yu at San Francisco–based Gingko Design convinced him otherwise. Together, they founded Vode in 2006 and brought on partner George Mieling to serve as chief operating officer. The company’s mission: To design architectural lighting using integrative environmental thinking, rather than viewing lighting strictly in terms of fixtures. With 2016 marking Vode’s 10th year in business, this has been a successful strategy that has guided the company well.
What fascinates you about light?
The constant change.
Do you have a design/lighting philosophy?
Make things that solve problems.
What makes a great luminaire?
Great lighting is actually not about the luminaire, it’s about people experiencing life in a certain way—in our case, that’s in the built environment. A great luminaire is the one that no one sees and no one thinks about.
How has the business of lighting changed?
Before: Pick a fixture. Now: System thinking, quality of light, connectivity, need it tomorrow.
What is the most misunderstood aspect of luminaire design and product development?
Nothing is designed in a vacuum. Context is everything. All projects have something special. Understand the problem.
What do you say to lighting designers that are frustrated by LEDs?
Look at the opportunities! The long spec cycle clashes with rapid obsolescence. Lighting designers need to advocate for involvement—and billable hours—through to the end of the project. As architectural product manufacturers, we have to do a much better job of promoting this concept to the market. When the lighting designer is not involved, projects suffer. •
“With all that is being discovered, it still comes back to design. Design is how we are using technology, knowledge, and experience.” -- Tom Warton, co-founder and president of Sonoma, Calif.–based Vode Lighting