The Curator Of Cool

Tim Jackson of Urban Lighting

Visitors from all over the world come to Tim Jackson of Urban Lighting in San Diego  for his carefully chosen selection of contemporary lamps and fixtures.

As a high school student, Tim Jackson spent much of his free time helping out at Cabrio Lighting, a lighting store in California where his mother worked. “I did deliveries and assembled house packs; I was schlep boy,” he jokes. Jackson was so dedicated and proficient that he was appointed assistant manager at the shop before he had graduated high school.

A few years later Jackson worked at Inside – a San Diego lighting showroom opened by decorative arts and fine contemporary design expert Michael Dunsford – where he learned about antique furniture as well as high-end contemporary lighting from artists such as Dale Chihuly and industrial designers such as Ron Rezek, Philippe Starck plus architecturally inspired firms such as Artemide, Memphis, and AI (Atelier International).

In 1990, Ron Rezek opened his Highlights lighting showroom in San Diego (there were four other Highlights galleries: Santa Monica, San Francisco, Seattle, and Miami) and it was Jackson who served as the VP/Sales & Showroom Operations for 13 years, honing his expertise in high-end Contemporary lighting design under Rezek’s tutelage.

When the opportunity arose in 2004 to buy Highlights in San Diego (Rezek had sold his group of galleries in 2002), Jackson and his husband/business partner jumped at the chance. They kept Rezek’s tenet of offering the best in Contemporary lighting design and eventually changed the store name to Urban Lighting in 2006.

Needing assistance with the back office duties, Jackson turned to someone with decades of relevant experience whom he trusted implicitly: his mother, Sandi Ray. “She keeps us in line,” he jokes. Coming in two days a week by choice, Sandi Ray is proud of what her son has accomplished and is all too willing to help.

When the Recession began brewing in December 2007, Urban Lighting was more prepared than most. Jackson’s husband – whose background is in real estate management – accurately predicted that the boom would not hold. “We began scaling back on our hours and buying,” Jackson explains. As a result, “for 2015 and 2016, [our numbers] were up over the previous years.”

Urban Lighting in San Diego
The interior of the showroom is kept a monochromatic clean white, while the front window displays are for showing pops of color to attract attention.

Located in the city’s historic Gaslamp Quarter and within walking distance of the San Diego Convention Center, which attracts thousands of vastly different industries including the notoriously eclectic Comi-Con International, Urban Lighting draws people in. “We had someone from Georgia walk in recently who noticed a design in the window and said she had to have it,” Jackson recounts. “We’ve also had customers from China and Japan who are here on business.”

Clients are split between architects and designers (60 percent) and residential customers (40 percent) as the merchandise mix reflects. “I want to carry products from manufacturers who take care of their showrooms,” Jackson states. Some of the companies represented are local to California (Cerno, Ultralights, Ron Rezek, and Pablo), however, European manufacturers such as Artemide, Flos, Foscarini, Fontana Arte, Terzani, are also showcased. “We’re very niche-oriented here and have in-depth knowledge,” he states.

In addition to Jackson, Celia Rivera has been with the showroom for the past 14 years and is bilingual, which is especially helpful considering San Diego’s proximity to Mexico.  “Our [Mexican] clientele is on a different level of sophistication. Many are very wealthy who either live in this area or have a second home here,” she comments. While they may be able to speak and understand English, having someone knowledgeable on staff who is fluent in Spanish makes it easier for conversation about design ideas to flow more easily.

Through Urban Lighting’s Trade Program, local architects, interior designers, and lighting consultants receive benefits such as discount pricing; real-time dedicated customer support (in-store, by phone or email); product training; literature and specification sheets; and access to finish and fixture samples.

The surrounding community is a strong support of Urban Lighting, voting the store a “Favorite Shopping – Home Décor” destination in the Gaslamp district’s prestigious Lamplighter Award several times – “even when Design Within Reach was nearby,” Jackson quips. The Lamplighter Awards are bestowed by the Gaslamp Quarter Association, a non-profit trade organization representing the 400 businesses located in the Gaslamp Quarter National Historic District.

Regular customers know to pop in frequently to check out the store’s new arrivals. Jackson and his team change the front windows every few months and bring new merchandise in (and old items out) approximately once a quarter.

In addition, Urban Lighting does a brisk Internet business, offering free shipping on most items and a price-matching guarantee (including shipping and tax) on the identical product from any U.S. authorized dealer in writing. 

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