From commercial to the Cooper-Hewitt, Sean O'Connor is emerging as one of the industry's hot designers.

» Originally trained as an architect, lighting consultant Sean O'Connor started his firm Sean O'Connor Associates in 1997, making a name for himself with commercial clients such as Pottery Barn, the Gap, and Eddie Bauer, among others.

After stints as a display designer at the department store Barney's, in New York City, and later as a lighting consultant at design firm Architecture + Light in San Francisco, O'Connor claims that his own practice came about 'by accident,' as a handful of freelance projects soon snowballed into a thriving business. His company employs a total of four people-which is hard to believe, since the office typically handles a staggering 15 to 20 projects at a time. While best known for retail projects, the firm has also recently taken on a slew of large residences. O'Connor enjoys both typologies, 'retail, because it's always on trend and fast-moving, and the teams are always really strong-but high-end residential as well, because there are so many details, and you get to fall in love with every nook and cranny of the project.'

This year, his firm was recognized with a GE Edison Award and an International Illumination Design Award for SmartWrap, an exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, designed by architects Kieran Timberlake Associates. O'Connor's first exhibit, the project presented intense challenges. The museum gave him a load limit of one 20-amp circuit, which had to not only illuminate the installation (a pavilion demonstrating a high-tech, interactive, translucent façade material) but also power a 300W computer kiosk. 'That was a killer,' he states. Plus, the whole project had to go up in eight days.

At the pace he's going and with commissions continuing to pile up-including additional projects with Kieran Timberlake-O'Connor is more than an emerging personality in the industry; he has emerged. Anna Holtzman