All is Bright
Jennifer Choo 
The Terrazzo series explores polished stones in geometric shapes to create centerpiece lightings

When one thinks of good lighting design, whether it is the Flos’ iconic Arco lamp by the Castiglioni brothers or Louis Poulsen’s classic PH 5 pendant by Poul Henningsen, it is hard to imagine they made their debut more than half a century ago because they still look so timeless.

Form informed by function, simple yet appealing to behold, they have earned their rightful place at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. These days, lighting design seems to veer between the kitsch or industrial, more decorative than thoughtful variants catering to the trend of the moment. In Malaysia, lighting shops are awash with expensive Italian brands and China replicas; one would be hard pressed to find lighting that is actually designed locally.

For Wei Ming Tan, the unfavourable odds have not stopped her from exploring such an underrepresented area of design. The erstwhile graphic designer’s company Aureole specialises in lighting design and to date has created several small but considered ranges whose elegance in design process and form simply shine through.

Tan grew up in the suburbia of Petaling Jaya and went on to major in Typography Design at London College of Printing (now known as London College of Communication). Upon returning to KL, she practised as a graphic designer for a couple of years until 2007 when she had the opportunity to venture into a completely different field with local design firm, Tridi. Tridi was a collective of multi-disciplinary designers gathered to design and produce customised home accessories and interior pieces tailored to specific needs, covering fields like hospitality, fashion and culture.

“Here was the platform where I extended my skills to furniture and lighting design, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process, from paper to actual finished products. It was indeed a rewarding experience,” reminisces Tan.

This growth in skill and enrichment in knowledge gave Tan the confidence to strike out on her own. She decided to focus on lighting design out of interest, and after her stint with Tridi, she also had a firm grasp of the technical support available from local lighting manufacturers, an important aspect of industrial design.

The name Aureole was chosen, a poetic but appropriate moniker meaning the radiant light around the head or body depicted in painting of saints and other sacred personages. It also means the luminous area surrounding the sun or other bright light when seen through thin cloud or mist.

“The Aureole product brand started towards the last quarter of 2013 when I decided to create my own design pieces. I took about two years to focus on research and development. During this period, I enrolled in short courses, from wood working to ceramic classes. This gave me some basic knowledge of the materials and production techniques, which helped a lot when I design,” enthuses Tan.

Tan is one of a handful of lighting designers in Malaysia

Aureole’s debut collection was called Dugng, which literally means “cap” and “block” in Chinese. Employing a unique structural element of interlocking wooden brackets to create a signature base and reminiscent of ancient imperial palaces and temples, the Dugng collection comprised of not just lighting but also natural solid oak finished bench pieces.

Since that auspicious beginning, Aureole has developed three other series. The Line lighting series explores a pared down aesthetic using slim metal rods to create a framework that sets the shade afloat. The Geometry series presents the art of paper folding in the form of ceramic ware. The current Terrazzo series explores polished stones in geometric shapes and juxtaposed simple stone blocks to create centerpiece lightings. Aureole is currently available at Neiviv, Noir, Urbanedge, Entrér, Kedai Bikin and Entrepôt in Kuala Lumpur, as well as ilaika in Paramount Gardens, Petaling Jaya.

Tan’s design process begins with a concept, after which she moved on to prototyping. With selected collections like the Geometry light series that has a ceramic base, she works on the initial prototype pieces herself. When it is ready to go into production, she sources for manufacturers who are willing to spend time to explore her designs.

When asked about how she would describe Aureole’s aesthetic, Tan’s answer is simplicity. Indeed, while her lights are austere and one could say even minimalist, their purity of form is enriched by astute material choices.

As Aereole matures, we can look forward to more forays and experiments in materiality as Tan reveals she would like to have the opportunity to collaborate and incorporate Malaysia heritage craft techniques in the development of its collection. She also remains optimistic but realistic about the local design landscape: “The design community here has definitely grown a lot more vibrant, with many talented young designers. However, in the area of production and craftsmanship, the industry support is still very limited. This is a realistic challenge face by most designers and many opted out of production.”

Thankfully for the industry, talents like Tan continue to persevere.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 251.