Grace Rote embarked on a distinctive path in lighting design during her college years, a time when most college students are evaluating their career options. She was captivated by design and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design. Upon graduation, an opportunity with Boston-based rep agency Reflex Lighting presented itself, and she realized that lighting is where she wanted to be. She found the combination of design and critical thinking to be very exciting and pursued it without hesitation. She hasn’t regretted that decision since.
Working with a rep agency is not the typical path into lighting design, but the experience was invaluable. “It was a great entry point. I was able to experience everything, from working with designers on the specification side, to seeing the purchasing process, to understanding what the contractor is seeing and how they deal with issues that arise on-site.” After spending 7 years at Reflex and gaining valuable experience, she realized that sales was not her calling.
Grace became a full-time lighting designer at HLB Lighting Design’s Boston office in April 2022 where she brought the knowledge she gained at Reflex. She reflected, “Design is not just picking out what I think is best for the project aesthetically or technically – it’s understanding the project as a whole and communicating that to the contractor ensure the design vision is realized.”
Grace believes that her experience at HLB was the missing piece to completing her lighting education and enhancing her expertise. At HLB, she was given the opportunity to work on much larger projects across the country.
Last April, Grace took a big leap by starting her own firm, Light+Form Studio, a boutique lighting design and consulting studio. “I love the intricacies of lighting. I love the opportunities that allow for creativity and critical thinking. I love being able to be directly involved in the process locally. Throughout my career, I have prioritized different aspects at different times. After a decade of learning, growing and wearing various hats, I decided to fully devote my passion to exceptional architectural lighting design in Maine,” she explained.
Grace’s love for Maine was evident throughout our conversation. “My passion is for the local area, and I love being a part of the community,” she commented.
In Maine, Grace noticed a significant need for quality lighting design. It’s not like the Boston market, where lighting design is well-understood and appreciated. Customers need help understanding the difference between good and bad lighting and the chance to include good lighting in their spaces.
She spends a significant amount of time building her business, sharing her passion for good design with her customers, and educating them on the subject. She strives to demonstrate the level of expertise that she is bringing to the table. “Everything up front needs to look professional. On the back end, everything needs to be seamless and streamlined,” she explained. Undoubtedly, her meticulous approach is a result of her unique journey into the profession.
Currently, her work is a mix of residential and commercial projects, preferring the commercial side. Unlike residential projects where clients often come in with predetermined ideas of what they want, commercial projects allow her to flex her creative muscles. “Commercial is all about visual hierarchy. How do you direct people through a space? How do you draw their attention to what you want them to see?”
Projects are most enjoyable and memorable when architects and designers recognize the importance of lighting and collaborate to achieve their vision. One of those projects was SoPo Seafood, a fish market and raw bar in South Portland. Mainers take their seafood very seriously, and the chance to work with Salt of Maine Design Co. to bring quality lighting and a coastal vibe to the space was very rewarding.
Grace is passionate about sustainability and considers herself an “LED-for-lifer”. While it may be popular to admire traditional light sources, she finds it difficult to support incandescent bulbs due to the sustainability benefits of LEDs. She recognizes, however, that energy efficiency isn’t the only important variable. Design considerations such as moderating glare, incorporating warm dimming, and making LED sources visually appealing ought to be the focus of the industry moving forward.
Grace shares the best piece of advice she has ever received, “Develop your passions; don’t follow them.” Ten years ago, she never imagined that lighting design was her calling. Having made the most of the opportunities presented to her, she discovered a passion for lighting and is now sharing its beauty with those around her.