Max Gunawan

INDONESIA (1980)

As architect and designer Max Gunawan was growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia, “buying a toy was a luxury that happened rarely.” Embracing that limitation as a challenge, he began making his own toys from found objects – and gained confidence in the process. Gunawan remembers, “I had to use my imagination to keep myself occupied. That's part of the reason I enjoy making things with my hands.” Making things also got him thinking in terms of “having more, using less,” a theme that would appear later in his work.


Gunawan earned a bachelor’s in architecture from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he was inspired by the work of Japanese architect Tadao Ando. “I was immediately drawn to his simplicity in design, and the way he sculpted light into his buildings through simple forms really moved me.” That Japanese aesthetic stayed with Gunawan as well.


After 10 years as a practicing architect, designing retail spaces, Gunawan became restless and started experimenting with product design – beginning with a folding modular house that would fit into a car. He now runs his own San Francisco-based design studio full-time. Always drawn to good lighting, he made his product debut with the Lumio Book Lamp (2013).


The backstory: Gunawan was moving a heavy pendant light when it occurred to him how much empty space it held, and that gave him an idea for a light fixture compact enough to be toted from place to place. He jotted the thought on a piece of paper and placed it in his sketchbook. From there, multiple design references – origami, an unfurling bridge in London, that original modular house, even the sketchbook itself – influenced the final form of a traditional book. Ultimately, says Gunawan, “I was looking for a functional solution to how to make the design as portable as possible, and the book, something I always carry with me, was a natural solution.”


“At the core,” says Gunawan, “I wanted to create beautiful lighting that people can experience wherever they are.” Uniquely versatile, the Lumio Book Lamp resembles a book when closed, then unfurls into a lamp that lights from within when opened. “It’s functional,” he says, “but I also love the parallel between the idea of a book that enlightens you intellectually and an object that literally illuminates.” Lumio can be laid flat, fanlike, or opened a full 360 degrees for a classic lantern shape.


The origin story of Gunawan’s business is a modern one. First, he raised capital on Kickstarter, then went to Shark Tank, the TV show where hopeful entrepreneurs present their ideas to business moguls. Every host wanted to invest in Gunawan’s idea, and Lumio sales took off.


After the success of Lumio the lamp, Lumio the company became focused on “creating objects that will impact people with their beauty and functionality,” says Gunawan. Lumio has won several awards, including the 2015 Good Design Award for Product Design, Best in Category.

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