Interview Mary Wallis | Yellowtrace

 

Today’s story is about a talented Australian expat, making waves in New York with her sensational lighting designs. Born and raised in Melbourne, Mary Wallis’ love of art and design started at a very young age. At the age of five, she began 18 years of study with a Master Chinese painting teacher. After a slight detour of studying science and working her way up to a PHD in genetics, Mary moved to England to further her education.

Upon graduation, Mary relocated to New York where her career in design flourished. She started out as an intern with Lindsey Adelman, rapidly developing into a Senior Designer with a key design role in the studio. In 2014, the Mary Wallis for Lindsey Adelman collection was released. Amazing!

Currently residing in the East Village, Mary’s design practice is based out of her studio in Brooklyn, an old metal shop that was once a casket factory. Her work is modern and forward-thinking, while preserving the craft of hand-bent neon. Her love of taking a material or familiar object and translating them into a new context is evident throughout her work. Her lighting collection also explores the theme of beauty in fragmentation – “I’m interested in reconstructing the broken, and making it more beautiful than it was originally”. All this aside, Mary sounds like a super cool chick. Read on to find out why we love her so.

 

Party Lights by Mary Wallis | Yellowtrace

Party Lights designed by Mary Wallis.

Light Line Sconce by Mary Wallis for Lindsey Adelman | Yellowtrace

Light Line Sconce designed by Mary Wallis for Lindsey Adelman Studio / Cold cathode sconce.

 

+ Hello Mary – welcome to Yellowtrace and thank you for taking the time to e-chat with us. Could you please tell us a little bit about your background and, the path that led you to where you are today?

I was born and raised in Melbourne. I studied science at the University of Melbourne and worked my way up to a PHD in genetics with stints at the University of Edinburgh, Australian National University and Cambridge University along the way. Then I moved to New York and studied design at Parsons and the Pratt Institute – phew, that’s a lot of schools! My first design job was with Lindsey Adelman Studio as an intern. We clicked from the very beginning. I still work with Lindsey, and she now produces some of my designs. I also have my own studio founded in 2012.

 

Light Line Table Lamp by Mary Wallis for Lindsey Adelman | Yellowtrace

Light Line Sconce designed by Mary Wallis for Lindsey Adelman Studio / Cold cathode table lamp.

Neon Floor Lamp by Mary Wallis | Yellowtrace

Light Line Tall designed by Mary Wallis / Cold cathode floor lamp.

 

+ How do you characterise your design sensibility and your aesthetic? Is there something that’s fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

My designs are modern reinterpretations of pieces or materials from the past. Neon, for example is usually associated with outdoor signage in bold bright colors. I love experimenting with bringing neon into a residential setting or with subtle colors of neon. I like to take a material or familiar object and coax it into a new context.

+ How do you go about establishing a concept and an overall direction for your lighting collections? Do you have a certain process that you always follow?

I design every day. I think of it as a craft you have to practice. The first step is sketching and then I like to make a full scale mock up before moving into CAD. The collection comes into focus in the weeks before New York Design Week. I look back sometimes and see that the collections are actually a continuation, even though each year they feel different.

 

Edie Chandelier by Mary Wallis for Lindsey Adelman Studio | Yellowtrace

Edie Chandelier (clear) designed by Mary Wallis for Lindsey Adelman Studio / Hand-cut and beveled glass with brass hardware.

Edie Chandelier by Mary Wallis for Lindsey Adelman Studio | Yellowtrace

Edie Chandelier (smokey grey) designed by Mary Wallis for Lindsey Adelman Studio / Hand-cut and beveled glass with brass hardware.

 

+ How important is the ability to balance the design and business in today’s market? How much time do you spend on each side of your practice?

Without both sides you won’t survive, so you have to find the way. Initially I was only interested in the design side, because that was my passion. But as the studio grew I realized I have to take care of taxes, insurance, rent etc., and that can’t be ignored. Some great advise I was given was to think about the business side also as a design project, because how you structure it and how you shape the business can be quite creative too.

 

Acorn Pendant by Mary Wallis | Yellowtrace

Acorn Pendant with Patine Verte designed by Mary Wallis / Hand-blown glass with copper hardware.

Acorn Pendant by Mary Wallis | Yellowtrace

Acorn Pendant designed by Mary Wallis / Hand-blown glass with copper hardware.

 

+ What are some of your methods to staying motivated, focused and expressive?

Deadlines. I have to book the show or take the job. Amazing things can come from a short deadline. It helps if behind the scenes you are well organized with the business, and that leaves more time for creativity, but also sometimes you just have to wing it!

+ Who or what are some of your influences? What other designers, artists, creatives or entrepreneurs do you admire?

Dan Flavin, Tony Duquette, Alexander McQueen, Eileen Grey and everything at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Melbourne Chandelier Mobile by Mary Wallis | Yellowtrace

Melbourne Chandelier designed by Mary Wallis / Made in New York from machined aluminium.

Neon Mobile by Mary Wallis | Yellowtrace

Neon Mobile designed by Mary Wallis / Made in New York from hand-spliced neon and aluminium.

 

Let’s get real:

+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made?

The best mistakes always happen when travelling.

+ Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

No one is going to give you a studio. You have to go out and make it.

 

Entangled Light by Mary Wallis in collaboration with Suzanne Tick | Yellowtrace

Entangled Light designed by Mary Wallis in collaboration with Suzanne Tick.

Entangled Light by Mary Wallis in collaboration with Suzanne Tick | Yellowtrace

Entangled Light designed by Mary Wallis in collaboration with Suzanne Tick.

 

+ What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

I’m left-handed.

+ It’s not very cool but I really like…

Metal work videos on YouTube – I have learnt so much from them.

 

Juliet Chandelier by Mary Wallis | Yellowtrace

Juliet Chandelier designed by Mary Wallis / Made in New York from hand-bent neon and aluminium. Two neon lights wrap around the lantern, which also has 4 internal incandescent lights.

Mary Wallis Studio | Yellowtrace

Mary Wallis’ Brooklyn Studio.

 


[Images courtesy of Mary Wallis & photography by Lauren Coleman.]

 

About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor
Google+

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

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