Meet Helen Gifford, a lighting designer like we’ve never seen. She has done commissioned pieces for Gwyneth Paltrow, Rachel Weisz, the Las Vegas Aria Penthouses, and the Beijing Ritz Carlton, among others. Self-described as “industrial beach,” her designs breathe out power and grace. They are both ethereal and substantial, and her results are most definitely something to behold.
Read our interview with Helen and find out where she finds inspiration, why she is committed to an environmentally-conscious approach, and how living near the ocean with two great dogs fills her soul.
We have read that seeing the Northern Lights made you dream of light. Is that where your interest in lighting and designing was born?
It certainly made me look up and out, rather than within, and changed me in ways, at seventeen, that many of us have to wait for.
You grew up in places surrounded by water and now call Sag Harbor, NY home. How does the natural world—and the ocean in particular—inform your design and your perspective?
Ah, the chicken and egg adage regarding “life imitates art” and vice versa. My introductory collection, the Urchin Series, was definitely born of my love for art and artists first by virtue of the Dada movement and Marcel Duchamp, in particular. The second collection—the Concord Series, was once again informed by art via the Precisionists: Demuth, Sheeler, and early O’Keefe. The Vidro series was all natural world inspiration: Oysters, Osprey nests, Aspen birch trees, Bamboo, and Bubbles (Champagne actually-but they are grapes after all).
You have a passion for Stand Up Paddle Boarding. Tell us, what specifically do you get from paddling?
My first time Stand Up Paddle Boarding was with my dear friend Gina Bradley of Paddle Diva. We were at her home in Rincon, Puerto Rico, and she brought me out in a warm summer rain to try this new sport. I looked like a wide-eyed neophyte and Gina noted that this sport had a visceral resonance for me.
It’s like walking on water really quickly or slowly depending upon the winds and currents. Add to that a challenging balance element that you don’t quite notice as your core is being accessed without any crunches...plus you have a connection to water life, a visual of architectural structures, and a view to rival daily life on land. I also had no idea I’d treat it like a competitive sport. But last year when I finished first (all ages and both men and women) in a 9-mile race around Shelter Island for charity, well that brought the fun to another level.
Do you have a dream space in which you would love to see a HelenBilt fixture?
That’s an easy YES. HelenBilt lighting helps brand the look of the Lobby in a luxury hotel group. I’m ready for this commission! I see my work in a large sculptural installation at any indoor museum, but I do have my eye on Dia Beacon and Storm King Center in upstate NY for an incredible outdoor experience.
Your designs are amazing. Reflective, interesting, dramatic, like a carefully curated set of impulses. Industrial, but still having so much warmth. How do you fold in an environmentally conscious approach with your aesthetic?
Thank you for the kind words. The sheer fact that the incandescent bulbs have been repurposed to reduce impact is a great start, I also use recycled steel and glass. My team is within a 10-mile radius of my studio and so I ride my bicycle to most design meetings with them, and I (old school) Live/Work so as to reduce carbon footprints.
If you weren’t designing custom light fixtures and beautiful wallpapers, what else would you try?
I’d be an Orchestra Conductor. Hands down.
And… where is your favorite beach, your favorite place to wear your Helen Jon?
Paddle Diva’s beautiful East Hampton headquarters at the Shagwong Marina. It’s always both peaceful and exciting and there are so many options for a stellar SUP session. I’m also partial to the strip of water from Havens Beach to Barcelona Neck in Sag Harbor, minutes from my home, because my dogs swim the stretch while I’m on a board.
Thank you, Helen!