Marine life finds a home in lighting, furniture design

California designer Roxy Russell has created a series of pendant lamps that draw from the delicate beauty of jellyfish, along with ottomans inspired by coral growth. Through her work, she hopes to bring the realm of design closer to nature and its processes.

The “Medusae” collection of lamps began as her graduate thesis project at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, where she studied environmental design, she told Sparked by email.

“We mostly studied the built environment on land,” she said. “I wanted to explore the relationship we have with our ecosystems from a ‘deeper’ perspective.”

Polyp lamp by Roxy Russell

“Polyp” pendant lamp. 14-inch diameter, 36-inch height. All images courtesy of Roxy Russell.

Hydra lamp by Roxy Russell

“Hydra” pendant lamp. 15-inch diameter, 36-inch height.

Design approaches often try to separate us from nature in an attempt to improve upon it, she said. She prefers instead to emphasize our relationship with nature and what we can learn from it, following ideas such as biomimicry and biomimetics, or the study and adaptation of biological processes to solve new problems. (Such as burs on a dog’s coat leading to the idea of Velcro, as this excellent National Geographic photo gallery illustrates.)

The collection’s name, “Medusae,” comes from “m├ędousa,” the Greek word for jellyfish, and the pendant lamps come in four distinct styles, as described on Russell’s website.

The lights are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a recyclable plastic often used for plastic bottles. Part of the driving force for creating the series was to highlight the environmental problem of plastic waste, so it might seem strange to use that very same material in the product, notes an interview on her site.

“I did see the irony in this, but also the poetry,” Russell explains. “I don’t believe that PET is an evil material, it’s the way we use it.” We tend to think of plastic as disposable, when instead we could be using reusable containers, for example.

Ophelia lamp by Roxy Russell

“Ophelia” pendant lamp. 13-inch diameter, 36-inch height.

Medusa lamp by Roxy Russell

“Medusa” pendant lamp. 15-inch diameter, 36-inch height.

The lamps were created with an eye toward their environmental effects: The plastic can be recycled; the lamps are lightweight and packaged flat, which reduces shipping space; and a percentage of the profits go to the Ocean Conservancy, according to Russell.

“The use of plastic in such a way shows a middle ground in [how] we use our technologies,” she added. “And hopefully elevates it, in a way.”

Her coral-inspired ottomans also relate to an environmental challenge, as the delicate ecosystems of coral reefs can be damaged by pollution and other stressors. The ottomans were inspired by the way coral species grow by depositing layers of calcium carbonate, similar to the rings in a tree cross-section, she told Sparked.

Coral ottoman by Roxy Russell

Coral ottoman, 85% recycled felt, water-jet cut.

Coral ottoman by Roxy Russell

Coral ottoman, plywood, water-jet cut.

“I wanted to represent this by showing the layers of material,” she said. One version of the ottoman is made of birch plywood, while the other is recycled wool felt.

What triggered Russell’s interest in nature? In good news for PBS fans, it was a little forced TV watching. “Starting at a young age, my father used to make me watch ‘NOVA,'” she said.

Approaching such topics as a designer perhaps gives her a different viewpoint.

“As a creative and not a scientist, it enables me to explore ideas and connections from a layman’s perspective, and hopefully communicate them in a way that resonates with people on an emotional and humanistic level,” she said.

For more information on her work, visit roxyrussell.com.


Nicole is an editor and writer living in San Francisco.

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