For years, acclaimed lawyer Gilbert Mathews kept a secret. He operates a San Antonio-based lighting company he founded, and is equally passionate about, called Lucifer Lighting.
After earning degrees from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia University School of Law for his first career as a lawyer, in his second career, Mathews has served as a Life Advisory Board Member for the University of Texas School of Architecture, sat on the President’s Development Board of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, is a Trustee for the San Antonio Museum of Art and the KLRN Endowment Fund, and is a member of the Board of Visitors of the North Carolina School of the Arts.
When developing Lucifer Lighting, Mathews’ goal has been to create invisible lighting that “designs, defines, and disappears” while elevating the built environment. The lighting company’s products have illuminated top retail stores, hospitality venues, galleries, museums, restaurants, institutions, and some of the world’s most iconic locations including headquarters and prime spaces for Microsoft, Google, Chanel®, Cartier, Tiffany & Co.®, Louis Vuitton®, and the historic Windsor Castle in England.
Most recently, the company has illuminated San Antonio’s new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Lucifer Lighting offers tours of the installation to show designers the possibilities in lighting for state-of-the-art performing arts centers. Among the features of Lucifer’s LED lines are the ability to accurately control the light path, spread, pattern, direction, intensity, and color temperature via proprietary gear and convertible lens systems resulting in minimalist fixtures that are invisible and seamless in their environment.
While working simultaneously in both the law and lighting realms for 16 years, Mathews realized the time had come to focus exclusively on one. Law’s loss became Lighting’s gain.
In this issue, Mathews sits down with lighting designer Mike Brannon of LightLink Lighting to discuss his ultimate choice and where the company is today.
Mike Brannon: Why did you ultimately choose lighting over law?
Gilbert Mathews: I think that there’s something magical in the way that light falls on objects and interiors. If you think about the world outside – the way that light falls on buildings, landscapes, and people – there’s something about it that is ethereal. [I began] thinking about the elusive beauty of light and how to design products that use light to stand on its own in industrial design, but with the benefit that is purposeful in the way that it’s transmitted.
MB: Did you have trouble finding designers and engineers early on?
GM: Yes, and we struggle with that every year. We’re not just looking for people who have talent, but people who are passionate, extroverted, and who are looking to make their mark.
MB: And you’re concerned with the environment and sustainability.
GM: Yes, very much. As it happens with the evolution of lighting and LEDs, the lighting that we’re doing now is really dead-on for where everyone needs to be [in regard to] light sources and efficiency.
MB: Did I hear that Lucifer’s building in achieved LEED Silver Certification?
GM: It’s an application that needs completion, but it would be one of the first manufacturing facilities to be LEED-certified. We’ve been completing improvements including substantial photovoltaics that are on the roof. I think we get 11-percent of our power from photovoltaics. We do catch some water and have done xeriscaping.
MB: In your opinion, what is most important: efficiency or light quality?
GM: Efficiency is important, but to me the quality of the light is the most important. My son has been able to get us to the highest quality of light with efficiency, where we’re not sacrificing anything. It’s amazing for me to think of semi-conductors that glow, emit light, and can now have collective light transmission collimated into a 13-degree spot that can throw light 40 feet and be bright.
MB: And all that’s done here?
GM: We go to Asia to find the components, then we find optics to work with the components to shape the light. The key is to find light that has a color temperature that is pleasing to the observer; that has a lot to do with how objects are rendered.
And then you also have another measure that’s called color rendition (CRI), which is how color is rendered, which is different than color temperature. So you need to find the sweet spot where everything aligns. You have color temperature, color rendition, the efficiencies, and then the shaping of the beam. Everything converges in the product into the best of what can be done.
I think that there are levels of lighting – in landscape lighting for example –where trees are lit and façades are washed, but many times you see the source. Part of the mystique of our firm is being able to engineer products where you don’t see where it’s coming from.
So the question is: where can we apply that mindset to do some really original product design that goes beyond what’s being done now.
MB: Lucifer Lighting exhibited at Light+Building last month. How does the company compare to what German firms are doing in modern lighting?
GM: We showed a very deep line of track and spotlights, and some really beautiful product. [Doing business in Germany is different than in U.S.] Europe has a lot of family firms; some are small, and then there are some that have gotten very large and have been sold to conglomerates. That’s been happening in this country as well. Our business in Europe right now is nascent, whereas in the U.K., it’s pretty strong. We’re looking to get more exposure and expand in the rest of Europe.
At Light+Building, people would say, “This is beautiful. Where is this product designed?” and we’d say, “San Antonio, Texas.” Then they’ll go, “No way. Where is it made?” and we’d answer, “It’s Texas-made!”
MB: Have you done business in Asia?
GM: We do a good amount of business there. A lot of the big hotel projects and retails stores seem to be in Asia and the Middle East. The specifications for the products are written in cities such as Sydney, London, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The challenge is to be in front of designers who are doing these lighting schemes and to have representation commercially and distributors in these locales to not only order the product and make sure it arrives properly, but ensure it is installed and serviced properly.
MB: So you oversee the whole line to completion.
GM: The whole thing to the end, and we stand behind it to the end.
MB: How does Lucifer Lighting work with building automation and controls?
GM: We test our products with the systems from national control manufacturers to make sure that the drivers and power supplies in our fixtures will sync with their electronics. It’s all electronic now; you’re doing semi-conductors on the lamp side, but you’re also dealing with semi-conductors, drivers, and power supplies.
[We are in a world where] you can use a smartphone to turn lamps on and off and to dim through wireless communication with your fixtures. There are firms – including one we deal with – that are developing LED modules with an operating system within the circuitry of the module, so it’s intelligent and has sensors that can sense daylight and movement. It will not be long before lighting will self-adjust to dim, based on ambient light coming in the space.
MB: Where do you think this technology will lead?
GM: If retailers want to know which parts of their stores are most trafficked, these lighting fixtures can keep track of movement and be synced to computers that can generate reports. They can also be able to tell you how long the lamp has been in service and when it should be changed out. There are also options for color in thematic elements. One of the manufacturers we deal with has a color-tuning option that has very real possibilities for healthcare, because the color used for in-patient care facilities has a lot to do with healing. We’ll probably be showing product very soon that is able to dial color.
MB: Tell me about the future of Lucifer Lighting. Your children, Alexandra and Ben, are now are now very involved in the business.
GM: In all honesty, I couldn’t have sustained this business without their help, and the emotional support of my wife, Suzanne, who patiently watched me struggle to juggle two careers – one in law and the other in lighting – for 16 years. We just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary this year and she has been not only my muse, but strategically involved in the business as well as instrumental in client outreach.