WHEN PABLO PARDO arrived in California in
the mid-1980s, he wasn’t sure what he wanted
to do. He had recently graduated from the
University of Cincinnati’s prestigious industrial
design program and moved to Los Angeles to
be near his sister and twin brother.
First, he worked in auto design, like his
brother, devising concepts for motorcycles and
BMWs. Then he joined ToyLab, where his sister
worked, designing toys. In 1990 he moved to
San Francisco to be an industrial designer for
the global firm IDEO.
It was only when he rented a small space from
a furniture company in the city’s Bayview neigh-
borhood that he literally saw the light. Inspired
by the work of others around him, he started
making a small lamp. He created a pliable base
that looked like a miniature leather punching
bag and topped it with a minimalist aluminum
shade that “floated,” so it would remain level no
matter how the base was angled. He called it the
Piccola. It was modern and playful and witty.
Others thought so too. Pardo took the lamp
to the New York International Gift Fair in
1993 — and walked away with 600 orders and
a manufacturing contract. It was the nudge
he needed to found Pablo Designs, where he
is creative director. It also coalesced the vision
that inspires his work to this day.
“I think what drove that particular design,
the Piccola, was my interest in bringing a more
human quality to lighting,” Pardo says. “I
wanted lighting that was more interactive, more
tactile, and that used premium materiality. And
there was this magical point that happened with
that design, when I almost allowed it to design
itself.” He remains fascinated by this “human
quality,” and the belief that light can create har-
mony between people and their environment.
For proof, one only need visit his showroom
and studio in a large warehouse in San Francisco’s
Dogpatch neighborhood. Located by Pier 80 and
across the street from train tracks, this doesn’t
seem like a place where you’d feel particularly
Zen. And yet: his fixtures have clean, modern
lines that enhance or blend into the setting. The
light emitted is soothing and warm, even though
it’s all produced by LEDs. Despite the creative
chaos — the clutter of prototypes, the computers
and drawings of concepts-in-progress — there’s
a sense of order and ease.
BY LAURA HILGERS VOICES
Pablo Pardo seeks the human
element in lighting design.