Lindsey Adelman’s first client was Donatella Versace—sort of.
Adelman, who had partnered with fellow lighting designer David Weeks on buzzy-but-underground studio Butter early in her career, took two years off in the mid-aughts to focus on motherhood. When she returned in 2006, it was under her own name, to do a one-off project for a housing development in Brooklyn. The result was the now-iconic, then-unknown Branching Bubble chandelier. It attracted just enough attention at the time for Adelman to take the piece to ICFF, and there, on a creative whim, she imagined Versace as her client—a thought experiment that manifested as a gold-plated version of the chandelier.
When Adelman opened the shipment, she was—unpleasantly—shocked by the sheer glitz of it. “Was I having a margarita when I made that decision?” she says, laughing, to host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “What was I thinking? People are going to hate this!” In fact, people loved it. And though they mostly ordered the Branching Bubble in nickel or brass as opposed to 24-karat gold, it was a smash hit—the first of many—and it launched Adelman’s career. Today, she counts dozens of top designers, as well as celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, as her enthusiastic patrons.
Adelman is a deep believer in the power of instinct, play and humor. Originally an English major, she worked in the editorial department of the Smithsonian museum after college before realizing that the people developing the exhibits were having more fun building them than she was writing about them. Almost on a whim, she applied to RISD, knowing little more than that it was a place where people learned to work with their hands.
“It really did change everything,” she says of earning a degree from the acclaimed design school. “I’m so glad that I followed that little instinct. … I think that’s such an important way to go through life. You can’t expect anybody else to really understand that or tell you it’s a good idea. … My friends and family love me, but no one would be like, ‘Yes! Risk everything!’”
On this episode of the podcast, Adelman discusses whether she thinks the industry is due for a slowdown, the power of Instagram and why designers need to keep one foot in the reality of commerce and the other firmly in the realm of whimsy. “To follow that little voice in your head that’s curious?” she says. “Those are definitely my favorite memories—and also the pivots of my life when I look back and I’m like, ‘Oh, wow! That took a turn for the better!’ It’s usually when it’s like, ‘Oh, it looks kind of fun over there.’”
Homepage image of Lindsey Adelman by Hans Neumann.