Designer Friday: An Aspire Exclusive Interview With Brett Anderson

As partner and principal designer at Focus Lighting, Brett Anderson reflects beauty by utilizing nature’s simplest gift – light. Focus Lighting, a New York-based architectural lighting design firm, has undertaken a stunning range of projects, illuminating everything from museums to hotels, hospitals to residences. In each project, Anderson and the Focus team use light not only as an architectural tool to define and enhance an environment, but as an emotional bond, a link between nature, art, and humanity. Introducing this week’s Designer Friday, Brett Anderson.

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Focus Lighting’s beacon at 1717 Broadway adds an electric gleam to the dazzling skyline of the city that never sleeps.

Focus Lighting’s beacon at 1717 Broadway adds an electric gleam to the dazzling skyline of the city that never sleeps.

Andrew Joseph: What was your first job?
Brett Anderson: My first job after grad school was here at Focus Lighting. But my first job EVER – was at a Sears department store. I REALLY wanted to work in the TV and Stereo department, but I ended up getting put in the paint and hardware department (apparently the TV salespeople were all on commission, and I guess they didn’t want to share their commission with a teenager). In a funny way though, my time there mixing colors, shaking paint, and exploring endless types of Craftsman tools was a pretty good introduction to my future career in design – so I guess it all worked out.

Andrew: If you could live in any home in a movie or television series, what would it be?
Brett: Hands down, the Dutton family ranch on Yellowstone. The log cabin and stone details are beautiful. And believe it or not – it’s a real ranch in Montana (yes, I’ve looked it up – I research everything! – you can even see it here on realtor.com). But the real treasures of that property are the incredible vistas. I’d just sit on the porch and gaze out at the mountains all day long. Wow!

Andrew: What would your dream project or dream client be right now?
Brett: An iconic bridge. I’ve always enjoyed designing large exteriors but have never worked on a bridge. I’d love the challenge of designing for a structure that is seen from so many perspectives, by so many audiences – people driving across, boats passing underneath, planes overhead, and everyone just viewing it on the skyline. Civic projects have unique challenges, but making a bridge come alive at night would be worth it.

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Anderson and the Focus Lighting team build from a classic structure to bring a subtly haunting aura (distinctively appropriate for a theater) to the Helen Hayes Theater in NYC.

Anderson and the Focus Lighting team build from a classic structure to bring a subtly haunting aura (distinctively appropriate for a theater) to the Helen Hayes Theater in NYC.

Andrew: What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
Brett: I really enjoy building or fixing things. Whether it’s constructing planter beds for the garden, or installing a new hot water heater, or just cutting up firewood with a chainsaw – the act of working with your own hands is incredibly gratifying. If I could take a 6-month sabbatical and help build a house with a master carpenter, learning all their tricks of the trade – I’d be in heaven.

Andrew: How would you define your work in three words?
Brett: Light, beauty, emotion.

Andrew: What’s your design pet peeve?
Brett: Arbitrary design choices. Every design choice should work in support of a central unifying idea or concept, something that the entire design team is working together to achieve.

Andrew: Must have clothing item everyone should have in their closet?
Brett: A great blue blazer. A blue blazer dresses up any outfit and goes with just about any color. But make sure there’s something fun or unique about it. My current favorite’s got red stitching and this totally wild and unexpected liner inside. It gets a positive reaction any time someone gets a glimpse of it.

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Focus Lighting finds the heart of its environment and builds from there – in Yvonne’s restaurant in Boston, the walls, plugged with books, art, and the resonance of inhabitants, glows like a hearth.

Focus Lighting finds the heart of its environment and builds from there – in Yvonne’s restaurant in Boston, the walls, plugged with books, art, and the resonance of inhabitants, glows like a hearth.

Andrew: Are you a good cook? If so, what’s your specialty?
Brett: During the pandemic, I started exploring one of my favorite foods – BBQ. I picked up an electric smoker and I’ve been experimenting with everything from salmon to pork butt. It’s fun because there are lots of variables (time, temperature, quantity of liquid, amount of smoke, type of wood – just to name a few), and an endless amount of advice online. So, we’ve enjoyed a LOT of different BBQ techniques over the last two years. I will say though, my baby-back ribs – which get smoked and grilled – are TO-DIE-FOR!

Andrew: What are your ideal weekend plans?
Brett: Being surrounded by nature at our lake house an hour north of NYC. Even better if we can get in some waterskiing, working in the yard, or an evening bonfire. My wife, Carrie, and I have been spending our weekends there for over a decade, and it’s been life-changing for us. Different scenery, different friends, different pace. Even just a couple days away from the City allows us to both recharge and be ready for another busy week.


blankAbout The Designer | For more than 20 years, Brett Andersen has been designing the lighting for projects around the world. As a Partner, and Principal Designer at Focus Lighting in New York City, Brett has collaborated with world-renowned design professionals on projects such as the Beverly Hills Hotel in California, Atmosphere Restaurant on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Tavern on the Green, and the Space Shuttle Pavilion at the Intrepid Museum, among countless others. Brett approaches every project with the philosophy that lighting should do more than just help you see – lighting should stir your emotions. His goal has been to blend architecture and light in unique ways that create memorable experiences for his guests. Brett has been honored with multiple lighting design awards, including numerous Lumen Awards and IES Awards of Excellence. Some of his speaking experience includes the National Arts Club, the IES’s International Lighting Journey, Lightfair International, and the Professional Lighting Design Convention in Rome.

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