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Beau McClellan

Issue 62 Aug / Sep 2011

After large-scale success in the Middle East, one artist-designer is preparing to tackle London.

For most designers, the offer of large-scale commissions comes after years working the international design circuit; the reward for an apprenticeship of reputation-building product development. For Beau McClellan, however, the journey has been a total reverse of this traditional route.

Though exhibiting at the London Design Festival for the first time this September, he has already accrued an impressive project portfolio, encompassing large-scale pieces for private clients, as well as some major corporate works in the Middle East.

Indeed, McClellan’s chandelier for one client in Qatar has been given the Guinness Record nod as the world’s biggest, but as the artist is quick to point out, this was far from the initial intention. “We never set out to break any records, and neither did the client,” he says. “He was really trying to get something that worked aesthetically within his building – that was our main focus.”

The building in question was the Al Hitmi office development that stands on the Corniche in Doha. A striking structure, it comprises two sections that appear to lean away from each other.

McClellan first saw the building on a postcard that was thrust into his hands as he stood talking to prospective clients on his stand at the 2007 Light Middle East show - delivered with a cryptic message that someone would ‘be in touch soon’. It was such a brief exchange that when the call finally came many weeks later, McClellan had all but forgotten about it. His services were required, the caller said. Was he free to fly out to take a look? Naturally, his answer was yes and the next day he was on a plane heading east.

The client wanted McClellan to create a piece to fill the vast atrium space between the building’s two halves. In particular, he was keen to include the semi-translucent mirrored glass pieces that had been shown on the designer’s stand in Dubai.

Mirrored glass has become something of a Beau McClellan calling card, and the story of its development is typical of the designer’s circuitous route into lighting. McClellan’s past reveals a tireless thirst for creative challenges; from time as a singer-songwriter; to a stint as art director on commercial films; to set design for the fashion industry; and eventually to Portugal were he set up as a sculptor using traditional blacksmithing techniques. The leap to lighting came when a client asked if he could incorporate illumination in one of his pieces, in effect creating a chandelier. He soon realised that, while he could create aesthetically beautiful structures, he simply didn’t have enough experience and knowledge of lighting to achieve the effects he wanted.

Charged with a new challenge, McClellan threw himself into researching the world of lighting design, visiting major trade shows like Euroluce in Milan.

It was on this expo-tour that he ended up on the stand of German manufacture Brumberg who he convinced to send him a selection of the technology – transformers, fibre optics, LEDs and the like – that they no longer needed.

Back in Portugal, having experimented with the technology, he started producing bespoke contemporary chandeliers for large residential spaces. While McClellan pushed towards experimental, contemporary forms, many of his clients had more reserved tastes. His solution was to introduce another new technology - semi-transparent mirrored pieces that would merge into their surroundings by reflecting back the more traditional interior design of a space, and yet allow LED light to shine from within when the chandelier was illuminated.

These commissions and exhibition showcase in Dubai led McClellan to create one of his greatest masterpieces, Reflective Flow for the Al Hitmi complex. Reflective Flow, is the largest interactive chandelier in the world - a shimmering mass of mirrored crystal plates reflecting its surroundings by day, and a mesmerising wave of subtle colour by night. Created from more than 2,300 hand-ground optical crystals containing 165,000 LEDs, the 126 ft long 20 tonne piece hovers 16 metres above the ground, visually pulling the two sections of the building together.
Exciting though these big projects are, the costs in both time and R&D are large. Because of this, McClellan started looking at ways to translate these big corporate art installations into signature pieces for large residential homes and, at the lower end of the scale, into high-quality branded products.

He has designed products before – as a ‘signature designer’ for Brumberg, the company that first supplied him with lighting technology – and indeed all four of those pieces received Red Dot Awards. But now Beau McClellan Design has brought the design and branding process fully in-house, expanding it with a series of new ranges. “We’re trying to avoid fads by going back to the old Italian way of designing pieces – creating more iconic type lamps that’ll stand the test of time,” concludes McClellan. Visitors to the London Design Festival can decide for themselves when the new range is launched at the designjunction show.


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