There is a Dutch proverb, “Wie ‘A’ zegt, moet ‘B’ zeggen,” which translates to, “Who says ‘A’ should say ‘B.’” In other words, if you’ve taken the first step, you should go for it!
It was this mindset that led Renée Joosten into the world of lighting design. Joosten was born and raised in the Netherlands, where she attended art school and began her career as an interior designer. However, she felt that she was missing a crucial aspect of the designer’s repertoire. “As an interior designer, you always talk about how you experience a space. But, at that time, the Dutch curriculum didn’t include anything about lighitng,” she noted. She looked for ways to enhance her lighting design knowledge and discovered the Architectural Lighting Design program at Parsons in New York City, realizing, “This is what I have been looking for.”
Following Parsons, Joosten joined Cooley Monato Studio, where she worked on a variety of high-end retail and residential projects. She loved her seven years there – especially the opportunity to work with Renée Cooley. “She is, at heart, a teacher. That’s her nature. She took me under her wing and taught me the ropes at the beginning of my career,” Joosten explained.
In 2011, Joosten moved to ICRAVE Design Studio which, at the time, didn’t have an in-house lighting department. She was brought in to start and lead the lighting division and worked closely with the firm’s interior designers and architects. She enjoyed this setup, as she was involved in the design process of projects from the very beginning. “As a lighting designer, you are in a unique position to understand the design because you are responding to it. If the design is not yet fully fleshed out, it’s hard to find the logic in it,” she explained. “Working closely with the interior designers from the start of a project gave me the opportunity to impact the design and implement the lighting in a cohesive way, creating comfortable and impactful spaces.”
As the lighting director, she felt it was important to help her coworkers understand lighting. The lighting department hosted “Lighting 101” on Fridays to teach the interior designers how to think about lighting and to help them understand the different aspects of a project that lighting designers take into consideration.
It was at ICRAVE that she worked on two of her favorite, and most distinct, projects. The first was 53, an 11,000-square foot restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, next door to the MoMA. She and her team navigated the challenges of completing a project during the pandemic to bring this award-winning design to fruition.
The second was the new “MSG Sphere in Las Vegas” for which ICRAVE designed the public and F&B spaces. She noted that the project is not only impressive from an architectural point of view – it is at heart a “lighting project,” and a breathtaking one at that. “Everything is about the lighting – the architecture is the canvas. Lighting is the storyteller.”
The common thread connecting these two projects is their one-of-a-kind nature. There is no place for “cookie-cutter” solutions in these unique spaces. Instead, she and her team opted for custom-designed solutions to create truly memorable experiences for the guests and patrons.
Throughout her career, Joosten had always kept the idea of starting her own studio. She moved back to the Netherlands during the pandemic to be closer to family, continuing to work remotely for ICRAVE. At the beginning of 2023, she decided the time was right and opened her own venture, Joosten Studio, continuing working on projects throughout the world. The experience has been a rewarding one, she noted. After 20 years of experience, from designing hotels to cruise ships to healthcare, she can now focus on what she truly loves – design.
Over that time, she has seen the industry undergo major changes. She remembers designing retail projects with halogen and metal halide fixtures before the takeover of LEDs. “What’s interesting now is that LEDs are being incorporated in decorative lighting fixtures,” Joosten observed. “In fact, LEDs are pushing the design, instead of the other way around. Instead of having a design and applying an LED, it almost starts with the LED and inspires a different design.”
Artificial intelligence has been a recent transformative technology. Although fully cognizant of the capabilities of AI, Joosten hasn’t incorporated it yet into her process. She noted, “AI could be useful for work that isn’t very creative. But, a big part of being creative is being able to listen well and ask the right questions, and then take that information and put it into the right context.” Intuition and experience are key aspects of the design process, and AI’s vast datasets can’t replicate the abstract and creative ways in which the human mind works.
When she isn’t working, Joosten enjoys traveling with her husband and two kids. “I still have an American attitude toward distances. An 8-hour drive? No big deal.” She has taken advantage of being back in Europe, where many fascinating places are within a day’s reach. Seeing new places is one of the ways she finds inspiration. “Everywhere I go, I’m always looking.”