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Light It Up

From humble beginnings in a garage-based office, a lighting legacy takes center stage

The Sanger chandelier by AERIN adds glamour to a guest hallway at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York.

The Sanger chandelier by AERIN adds glamour to a guest hallway at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York.

Enter a well-designed room with attractive furnishings and take in the surroundings. What do you see? Your impression of the overall space is affected by color, texture and layout, but most of all, it is light that enables and enhances the room’s overall impact. Be it ambient, task or accent, great lighting establishes the mood of the room. For one company, supplying beautiful lighting for virtually every application is the focus of three decades of work.

“I started the company out of my house,” recalls Visual Comfort CEO Andy Singer, who had been a manufacturer’s rep in college and after graduation. “I wanted to continue in the lighting business, but as a maker.” Singer designed a handful of styles, then known as pharmacy lamps, out of his garage-based office in Houston and leased warehouse space for inventory. “My sister Gale worked for me for 10 years and eventually started Circa Lighting, which sells our products exclusively today.” Circa Lighting now has seven retail stores and is rapidly expanding. From humble beginnings in 1986, Singer’s vision began to take shape. Brands such as Jordache, Ray-Ban and Lacoste were sought after by consumers precisely for their name recognition, and Singer saw an opportunity. “I wanted to have lighting styles that were branded with names consumers recognized and respected. No one was doing that with lighting.”

Ron Rosenthal, principal at RSA Lighting, was Singer’s first sales agent. The two met at a sales conference in 1980 and stayed in close touch. When Visual Comfort was born, Rosenthal began to hit the road to sell the products. “This was way before cell phones and even fax machines, so we’d call on our customers in person and stick paper orders in an envelope and then mail them in,” he recalls. “We started with about six styles. All the funding came out of Andy’s pocket.” Perseverance paid off in 1994, when Singer signed Bill Blass as the first big name to design a collection for Visual Comfort. “That was so huge for us,” Singer says. “Bill Blass was very famous and had impeccable taste. Even though we were a tiny company, he really understood our focus and believed in us.” After that, lighting legend E.F. “Sandy” Chapman became the lead designer for the company and is still in that role today. From just a few pharmacy lamps, Visual Comfort Group is now the dominant player worldwide in decorative lighting, featured in virtually every home-design magazine that exists and even in movies such as “Something’s Gotta Give” with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, in which her character’s Hamptons beach house is lit softly with the company’s selections.