NYC lighting design studio and manufacturing shop, Juniper, was founded in 2001 by Shant Madjarian. Leaving behind a successful career in finance, Shant launched Juniper to embrace his creativity and thirst for innovation ...
What motivated you to make the move from finance, to setting up Juniper?
All startups, regardless of the industry, require passion and naiveté in equal parts. Looking back, my sole motivation to leave banking to start a business in design was to apply my creative ideas to a successful business of my own.
I enjoyed my finance career. I worked at a great company where I was allowed the freedom to generate and develop new ideas with little interference and was paid well to do it. However, like many who venture out of the corporate world, I wanted to put my vision to test in a way that was more aligned with my personal interests and values. It was about business, but it was also idealistic – if that is possible.
I have no regrets. What we have created with Juniper in the past five years is far beyond my expectations, but it also came with challenges that were equally unexpected.
Looking back, all of the challenges were common to startups, but you simply don’t account for them when the adrenaline is rushing at the very beginning. I suppose, if I had, then I might never have gone through with it in the first place, and we would have never gotten to where we are now as a prospering business. Hence the required naiveté.
“I have no regrets. What we have created with Juniper in the past five years is far beyond my expectations, but it also came with challenges that were equally unexpected”
Could you provide a brief overview of the company’s progression from inception to the current day?
The company, quite literally, started in my second bedroom. It was there where I set out to build a collection of thoughtfully designed furniture, lighting and accessories. The first two years were spent learning the industry while developing what would be Juniper’s first collection.
To be fair, it was fraught with errors and miscalculations (which later I would learn is normal with even experienced firms). Still, a couple of our lighting pieces really connected with the market, and they set the foundation of what is now a growing collection of advanced architectural and residential lighting. Juniper is now based out of our manufacturing facility in Industry City, where we continue to innovate and explore new opportunities in lighting.
You’ve mentioned that it’s important for your products to be ‘disruptive on some meaningful level’. Could you explain further about what this means for you?
Disruptive is quickly becoming an overused word, and I, myself, may have misused it. My understanding of the term ‘disruptive’ is some form of technology or use of technology that fundamentally changes a long-standing business standard or cultural norm.
I am not sure Juniper has meaningfully disrupted the markets quite yet, but we are certainly thinking on those lines. We take the approach that to be sustainable as a business in this environment, you need to be offering something new; something that fundamentally changes the way people do things and in a way that matters to them.
The use of LEDs changed the industry, but they didn’t necessarily change the user experience. We look to change people’s experience with lighting, and for that you really need to think about how lighting is used. What value does lighting bring to people? What is the experience of using and purchasing lighting? How does it fundamentally improve our lives on a practical and on an emotional level? This thought process is at the core of our daily discussions.
We don’t pretend to have the answers … not yet anyway, but we think the lighting industry is poised for further innovation and potentially meaningful ‘disruption’ by those who can find a way to truly connect with users.
"We don’t pretend to have the answers … not yet anyway, but we think the lighting industry is poised for further innovation and potentially meaningful ‘disruption’ by those who can find a way to truly connect with users"
What would you say are the advantages and challenges that come with Juniper’s emphasis on starting with a blank canvas?
Design is ubiquitous, especially in a city like New York or Milan. You can very easily get caught up in trends and fall prey to a pattern of imitation even if it feels as if you are innovating.
It’s a double-edged sword really, because communication and idea exchange are important for the advancement of technology, while a blank slate and an unaffected perspective can lead to something completely new and exciting.
A blank slate can also result in costly mistakes, which can be avoided by referencing existing methods — you must know where to be adventurous. In other words, pick your battles. We no longer try to reinvent everything we do, and certainly not all at once. But, as part of our company culture, we stay far away from normative statements such as “everybody does it that way” or “no one cares about that”.
Could you talk about the importance and value of collaborations with other designers? How do these relationships begin/ develop?
Juniper’s relationships with its designers all had unconventional beginnings, or maybe they didn’t, depending on how you see it. It always seems to start with a casual but inspiring conversation, and then moves to mutual interest in each other as people, to then an almost irrational feeling of confidence and excitement in a partnership.
It has never been complicated. But despite simple beginnings, this collaboration is one of the most important and gratifying parts of our business. We have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity of work with brilliant young designers, who bring a fresh perspective to our collection and to the industry.
Ideas are plentiful, and many of them, I believe, if brought to market as intended would probably do very well. Getting them there is the bigger challenge; it takes a close relationship between designer and editor over a grueling period of two years for those ideas to materialise. If you don’t connect, then that will show in the development of the product, all the way through to marketing and sales. You cannot separate the designer from the product, and you shouldn’t want to.
How would you describe the lighting design scene in Brooklyn?
I came into furniture and lighting in some part because my family was in the business back in Montreal, and I grew up around it and in appreciation of it. However, I had no idea that Brooklyn was on the cusp of becoming an important center of lighting innovation five years ago.
In fact, at that time I was considering opening a bakery before I shifted directions into design. I would like to think Juniper has something to do with the lighting movement in Brooklyn, but it was probably serendipitous at first, and in recent years a momentum has set in that I think could sustain for decades.
Great things are happening here in lighting – mostly on the very high of the market. We are working with local organisations to make sure Brooklyn continues to welcome small industry beyond the craft market even as population and rent prices rise.
Could you talk a little about the make-up/ specialisms of the Juniper team?
First, I think we lack a certain physical make-up. I mean, we don’t have a look or a projected personality as such. Mostly, we are a bunch of hardworking and curious individuals. We are all creative, but we are also very technical. At this stage in our business, it is important that all members have a sense of ownership and passion for the business. We seek to make interesting things, and so curiosity is also a very common trait. And most of all, we get along. We push each other to do better.
Could you talk about a recent hospitality project Juniper has worked on?
We were hired to complete the entire lighting package for the Marriott renovation in downtown Brooklyn. The project entailed the development and production of seven unique designs exceeding 4500 units installed across 667 rooms.
We worked closely with the boutique design studio, Krause & Sawyer, for over a year to realise the complete custom lighting package. It was a very rewarding experience where we had the opportunity to apply our strength in engineering and our specialisation in integrated LED technology to push the limits of hospitality lighting.
What would you say are the key hospitality lighting trends to look out for in the coming year(s)?
Hospitality design has undergone a huge shift, and lighting is a big part of it. Above all, we are seeing a convergence in residential, hospitality and office design, where spaces feel more integrated and fluid.
For lighting, specifically, warm finishes such as brass and mixed materials including honed marble, stitched leather, dark woods and smoke glass can be integrated within a single fixture and repeated across other parts of the room.
Once uncommon in hospitality, we are now seeing more articulating light fixtures emulating residential design. On the light source, energy efficiency is now a requirement in most hotels, and designers are taking this beyond LED replacement bulbs by specifying custom integrated LED fixtures that would not have been possible with incandescent bulbs.
Are there any upcoming launches/ projects/ collaborations you’d like to mention?
We have a full pipeline of interesting projects for 2017. We are collaborating with one of our favorite design firms in NYC on a luxury co-work space that has our THIN collection of linear LED lighting as a central part of its design intent.
This is one of our most exciting projects to date as it will demonstrate the full versatility of our lighting collection, and to have that as part of a cool new project right here in NYC is a reward for all the hard work and stubborn persistence it took to get us here.
We are also working on an inspiring new collection with an outstanding jewelry company. We met, fell in love with each other’s vision, and we knew right then and there we had a to do this. It will be a series of light fixtures inspired by their eminent jewellery collection. There is so much good energy around this project. It feels so right. Now comes the hard work.
What are your aspirations for Juniper in the coming years?
We want to feed our successes and see where that takes us. A good friend advised us to “place our stone” on the one thing we do well and to double down on that thing.
We have been successful at making well designed, technically precise lighting. Our goal is to be better at doing that, and to expand our products and service in areas of lighting where we feel we could be most helpful.