Ingo Maurer in an Interview
The Enlightened One

Ingo Maurer
Ingo Maurer | Photo (detail): Artcurial

Good light makes people happy, says Ingo Maurer, grand master of lamp-making. met with this poet of light in his Munich studio and spoke with him about his new projects, the future of his company and the high points of a long life in design.

Bulb, Ingo Maurer, 1966 Bulb, Ingo Maurer, 1966 | Photo: Ingo Maurer GmbH Congratulations, Herr Maurer! Exactly 40 years ago, the firm Design M, founded in 1966, became Ingo Maurer GmbH. How did the name change come about?

Thank you. Our company grew very fast in its first years, fed more mouths and therefore had to be put on a more solid footing. And also, during this time there was a great flood of firms that had “design” in their names. That was really inflationary.

In the beginning, you also designed other products, clothes hangers, for instance, or candle-sticks. How did you arrive at lighting?

YaYaHo, Ingo Maurer and his Team, 1984 YaYaHo, Ingo Maurer and his Team, 1984 | © Back then, I was thinking about light and form a lot, and in the process discovered my love for the light-bulb. The lamp in the shape of a light-bulb was a totally spontaneous idea, my first big success was “Bulb” in 1966, which then was accepted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In my years of working with lighting I’ve learned to pay more attention to the quality of light as well.

Can you describe your approach to design in one sentence?

Porca Miseria!, Ingo Maurer, 1994 Porca Miseria!, Ingo Maurer, 1994 | Photo: Tom Vack That’s very difficult, I also don’t like to analyse my own work, but perhaps thus: design should be there for people, my lighting should create a pleasant atmosphere in their homes. If I can conjure up a smile on the face of someone looking at my lamps, I feel happy and have achieved my goal.

You were both a designer and a producer from the start ─ are you also a brilliant businessman?

No (laughs), I don’t think so. But I don’t work alone, for years now, my wife Jenny and other employees manage the business side of things and demand that I think about expenses once more before I make a final decision for or against something.

What was the most important professional decision in your life?

When we began developing our low voltage system “YaYaHo” in the early 1980’s, the company’s very existence was at stake. Since we got no credit from banks for our crazy new ideas, we had to pre-finance everything out of our own pockets. But we were able to stick it out and had great success with “YaYaHo” – both in terms of design as well as in business terms.

You once said that bad light makes people unhappy. Can one draw the reverse conclusion that good light makes people happy?

Yes, absolutely. We notice it ourselves how good it feels when the sun shines for a long time in summer, how we relax and tank up on new energy. It’s the same thing with good home lighting.
  • My New Flame, Moritz Waldemeyer, Ingo Maurer und Team, 2012 © Ingo Maurer
    My New Flame, Moritz Waldemeyer, Ingo Maurer und Team, 2012
  • Porca Miseria!, Ingo Maurer, 1994 Foto: Tom Vack
    Porca Miseria!, Ingo Maurer, 1994
  • U-Bahnhof „Westfriedhof“, München, 1998 Foto: Markus Tollhopf
    U-Bahnhof „Westfriedhof“, München, 1998
  • Knot 2, Ingo Maurer und Team, 2013 Foto: Tom Vack
    Knot 2, Ingo Maurer und Team, 2013
You were one of the major opponents of eliminating the light-bulb. Have you now gotten over the loss?

To be honest with you, no. Although we now have qualitatively better substitutes than at the start of the prohibition, but nothing can match the warm light of a light-bulb filament.

Where are new approaches in lighting design currently turning up?

Right now, there are incredibly many developments going on in LED, and also in OLED. For instance, the new LED candle “My New Flame”, that we developed together with Moritz Waldemeyer fascinatingly and realistically reproduces the slight flickering of a flame. The diodes are getting smaller and smaller and more light-intensive – and what is also really interesting is the evolution in the area of planar light. We are working at the leading edge here and will be presenting some new innovations in 2014 once again.

“My New Flame” is one of your subtle, poetic designs, others like “Porca Miseria!” have a penchant for the dramatic … What inspires you?

“Porca Miseria!” for example, was my answer to a customer’s super-cool stainless-steel kitchen. When I saw that kitchen, it was instantly clear to me that a “big bang” was needed to break open this sterile atmosphere. Images immediately came to mind from the film “Zabriskie Point” by Michelangelo Antonioni, where an exploding villa is shown from various angles and in very slow motion.

Subway Station “Münchner Freiheit”, 2009 Subway Station “Münchner Freiheit”, 2009 | Photo: Tom Vack In recent years, you have doing a lot of work on projects in public space, such as subway stations …

I enjoy very much making a contribution to bettering people’s lives together. Especially in subway stations, several thousand people encounter each other every day on their way to work, home, or in their leisure time. These public spaces need a signature and a face. I’d like to have people feel comfortable in these places and linger for a few minutes.

You don’t give the impression of wanting to retire …

Broken Egg, Installation/Pavillon for Inhotim, Brasil (being planned) Broken Egg, Installation/Pavillon for Inhotim, Brasil (being planned) | Photo: Tom Vack I’ve been working in this company since 1965, and in the course of time it’s become my life’s purpose. Although I sometimes would really like to pack it all in because I have the feeling that it’s all getting to be too much for me, I then think about all those employees, so many of whom have been with us for so many years. When I founded the firm, I took on a great responsibility for these people and I want to support and advance the company as long as I can. Afterwards, they’ll have to do without me, but I’m very confident they will manage.

You have been heaped with distinctions, in 2011 you were awarded the Oscar from design, the Compasso d'Oro. Do you still have any unfulfilled dreams?

Yes, as a matter of fact, I do have some: at the moment we are working on a large-scale exhibition pavilion for the art park Inhotim in the Brazilian rain forest near Belo Horizonte. We are planning a large-scale enterable egg. In addition, about three years ago, I was asked to develop a concept for a stage setting for Tristan und Isolde. The commission came from the USA. When the concept was completed, the global crisis came along and the opera house no longer had enough sponsors to realize the project. I hope I’ll live to see them both …