I can easily spend hours in lighting stores. The textures, finishes and shapes mesmerize me. Sometimes my husband gives me a look, cueing me that we’ve been under the lights too long. Like a child getting kicked off an iPad, I try to soak up every remaining minute. I completely understand why someone would choose a career in lighting because it’s where form meets function.
I’ve had the privilege of speaking with three Rochester women who work in the lighting industry: Becky Holmen, Ami Olson and Heather Hughes. They’ve been able to combine their knowledge of lighting with their love of people. Their insights may even pique the interest of anyone looking for a “bright” career.
Becky Holmen is a lighting specialist at Bright Ideas lighting store in Rochester. Her career in the lighting field was anything but planned. “To be honest, it kind of was by chance that I came into this specific design career. As an interior designer, I came to Rochester with an open mind, looking for a position in the design field.” She was thrilled to find a showroom that specialized in lighting, as it was a great fit for her. She adds, “Lighting is a very important part of interior design and is often overlooked.”
Ami Olson, a sales consultant at WT Lighting in Rochester, also bumped into the lighting profession accidently. “I actually came in to buy lighting for my new home, and they offered me a position to work on their computer. Shortly after that, the housing boom started. I was thrown into the sales area, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Sometimes, identifying our strengths is what leads us down our career path. This was the case for Heather Hughes, lighting specialist at Dakota Supply Group (DSG) in Rochester. Hughes began as an electrical manager at Menards. “When I first started out in electrical, I had opportunities to help customers design houses and apartment buildings. I realized it was something I really enjoyed doing and was a strength of mine.” Recognizing this strength is what led her to become a lighting specialist.
THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIGHTING
Olson thoroughly enjoys her role as a lighting sales consultant. She looks forward to client interactions, both listening to them and assembling custom lighting plans for them. Her mission is to help “create a home they want to come home to.” She adds, “I enjoy going to the job sites, working with the builders and the electricians to make everything come together. There is a nice feeling of accomplishment when a home or project is completed.”
Holmen says that being a designer and lighting specialist also has its perks. “The most rewarding part is the smile on a client’s face when ‘they see the light,’ so to speak.” She witnesses the joy they feel when finding the perfect light or selecting the final fixture for their dream home. She says that in either case, “the look is the same, an over-joyous smile.”
A reward for Hughes is knowing she helps her customers find what they need, while saving them money in the process. “Around 60 percent of the jobs I do are electrical-engineered projects, and the other 40 percent are jobs I help the contractor design/retrofit.” She summarizes her biggest reward quite simply as, “Helping design jobs, start to finish.”
CHALLENGES FOR WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY
The lighting design industry is fairly young, having emerged in the 60s and 70s. As a result, there are fewer challenges to women lighting professionals than one may think. Holmen explains, “Interior design, specifically a lighting specialist, can be seen as a female-dominated career choice. Lighting and design are part of the big picture of the building industry, which is a male-dominated field.” She’s observed a positive trend in the last decade. “The lines of communication are open, and people are listening to their specialists, be it male or female.”
Olson adds, “Once in a while you run across that person who thinks they need a second opinion, a man’s opinion. And when that man says the exact same thing (as me), they wholeheartedly agree. It can be frustrating, but it is one of those things that you have to shrug off and move on.” She does, however, share a redeeming aspect. “I do get a lot of support from the builders I work with and the electricians out on the job sites. So that makes up for those few who do not trust in a woman’s opinion.”
Hughes shares her take on the issue, “I think everyone has challenges in the lighting industry. I don’t feel being a woman makes any difference.” After two decades in the field, it’s very encouraging to hear it has not been an issue for her.
CAREERS IN LIGHTING: ILLUMINATING THE PATH
Careers in the lighting industry vary from architectural lighting designers to associates in a lighting store. Regardless of the career direction a person chooses, Olson gives some advice, “It is a learning process. Technology is changing all the time, and electrical codes are changing all the time. Use all the resources available to learn, and keep up with the changes. Be confident in what you know, and ask questions when you don’t.”
Hughes also advises those interested in the field, “Make sure it is something you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t excel.” For those interested in the technical side of lighting, there are certifications available. Hughes has attained the AGi32 certification, which taught her about luminaire photometrics, calculations and CAD. She explains it in laymen’s terms, “AGi32 is a lighting design system that allows a person to see how much light you will get by using certain light fixtures.”
Holmen shares wisdom for those interested more in the design side of lighting. “Be creative and open to new ideas. And just like fashion, lighting styles change and cycle around.” Her knowledge goes much deeper than just design though. She holds the lighting specialist certification from the American Lighting Association (ALA). She shares how comprehensive it is, covering “every aspect of the residential lighting industry, including industry trends, technology and technical developments.”
PRACTICAL TRENDS IN LIGHTING
It’s absolutely clear that LED is the top trend in lighting. Olson says, “I think LED lighting is one of the best inventions to hit the lighting industry. Imagine the amount of electricity it takes to run a 100-watt bulb. Now cut that down to a 15-watt LED bulb that will give you same lighting output without using the same amount of electricity.” LED bulbs are also cooler to the touch, saving both energy and the homeowner’s fingers.
Minnesota code regulates that 75 percent of all new construction lighting must be energy efficient. Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) offers energy rebates for those switching over to LED and energy efficient lighting. They do energy audits for commercial sites, helping them reduce energy costs. WT Lighting offers a complimentary service to homeowners. They provide an estimate on the cost of switching from incandescent lighting to LED lighting. Hughes has observed another trend: Kelvin color changing lights. These lights adjust from warm white to bright white, reducing the need for multiple bulbs.
These new innovations keep the lighting industry ever-changing and always interesting. It’s no wonder so many women find the lighting profession to be such a great fit for them.
Sara Lohse is owner and professional organizer at The Rescued Room, TheRescuedRoom.com.
Design Trends in Lighting
The statement piece
LED and smart fixtures
Matte black with gold
Geometric shapes and straight lines
Natural Materials concrete, wood, marble or granite
Retro Designs with a touch of elegance and opulence
Romantic – fun, soft shapes and textures
Warm Metallic Finishes – soft gold and copper
Courtesy of Becky Holmen, Bright Ideas