Nasir and Nargis Kassamali

When you’re young, it’s easy to think big, to dream of a bright future, to give free rein to your imagination. But how many of us can claim to have fulfilled those wonderful dreams? Nasir and Nargis Kassamali dreamed of a place where beauty lay within the reach of all those ready to appreciate it. Now this place exists, and its name is Luminaire.
We met with them to find out more about this beautiful adventure that began 45 years ago and has now become a reality.

How the Luminaire idea firstly came in your mind?

From the age 14, I dreamt of having something like a church, where people could come to experience good design. As a teenager, I was inspired by the books and magazines my father brought back from his European travels. I seized this opportunity to devour information as little was available in Kenya, where I was born and raised. The idea for Luminaire emerged out of my love for the work of European design visionaries such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto and Arne Jacobsen, that developed while my wife Nargis and I were students abroad traveling through Copenhagen in 1970. When we arrived in the U.S., we wanted to translate our passion for design into a retail experience, where we would make the best contemporary, international design products from Europe directly available to American consumers.


Which steps did you take to manage to translate your passion for design into a retail experience dedicated to the American consumers?

When we first opened Luminaire, the retail environment was such that U.S. buyers looking for “good design” would have had to be working with an intermediary or travel to Europe. It was quite antiquated, a gatekeeper essentially keeping design from being available to anyone. Because of how important design had been to me, I wanted to create a place where the public could come, experience both icons of design, masterpieces, and the latest in contemporary design and be able to experience design visually and physically. Anticipating this pent-up demand, we opened a 500 sqft kiosk in North Miami Beach in 1974, which focused primarily on European lighting concepts. Within two years, the store grew to 4,500 sqft in Coral Gables expanding into furniture and accessories. The relationships with designers and manufacturers we developed during that time were critical to the initial success of the store, and many of the designs we introduced in Miami had never before been seen by U.S. consumers.


What’s the philosophy behind Luminaire?

At its core, Luminaire is about democratizing design – educating people to become fluent in its particular language. It’s simultaneously a classroom, gallery, laboratory and playground – Luminaire is most importantly a place of discovery, not just for design but how we can use it to accentuate and improve our lives.


You said you “see Design as a language”: how people can learn to speak Design?

Exposing an inquisitive person to good design causes a ripple effect. Once a person’s life is enhanced and they have a new perspective, they can then convey this to someone else. This is how a movement begins, and that’s what Luminaire has been doing for 45 years. We see design as a language not a style, one that has to be learned and practiced. But once understood it can be applied to all aspects of life.


What is the relationship between Design and a city? How a Luminaire showroom can inspire the citizens and also rouse the energy that defines the city in which it’s located?

Every city has its own unique energy— an almost palpable presence shaped by its residents, communities and physical attributes. Interwoven amongst and connecting these elements is the design sensibility of a location, what gives a city its distinctive flow and feel: crisscrossing streets, buildings rising to create a skyline, how one neighborhood gives way to another and the movement of people in and through these spaces. Responding to, channeling and redirecting this energy is a vital part of the Luminaire ethos. We have in Miami contributed a lot by bringing the best architects in the world to build in Miami.


What are the main virtues and vices of italian design to you?

After the war, the area of Brianza exploded with small entrepreneurs who using local craftsmanship started companies that adopted Design as a driving force. Companies such as B&B Italia, Cassina, Zanotta invited then young Italian architects to design products for them and in some cases direct the future of their companies. They were pioneers and of course took a lot of risks. They brought to the market innovative products that had never been seen before. We enjoyed a very close relationship with most of them. Unfortunately, over the years, the second generation sold these companies to Private Equity Funds who put financial professionals devoid of design thinking and they have lost their paths for short term gains, The world is changing and just a brand name will not get you very far.


Do you have any advise for the young entrepreneurs who want to start their new adventure in the Design field?

There are many ways to affect peoples lives by being design driven. Invent new ways to communicate the essence of Good Design. Be aware of what you have to offer to bring a new point of view to the world. Be honest with your offerings. Be connected.

How do you see the future of Luminaire?

Continuing to remain focused on our original mission of exposing good design. As we continue to grow, we want to continue to remain design focused and bring Luminaire into more areas to expand the propagation of our mission. We will continue to invent new ways to achieve this mission. Luminaire’s ultimate goal, is to inspire curiosity and to give people the power to understand good design and to experience a true Design store, not just a furniture store


Captions and Photo credit (from top to bottom)
– Ph. Kris Tamburello
– Chicago Showroom – Courtesy of Luminaire
– Los Angeles Showroom – Ph. Sam Frost
– Los Angeles Showroom – Courtesy of Luminaire
– Los Angeles Showroom – Ph. Sam Frost

Text by Cristina Bigliatti

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