Let the Light In


Julie Neill recounts her journey to Visual Comfort & Co. — insisting, in the grand tradition of all great storytellers, that there isn’t much to say. (We beg to differ.)

Look at any piece in Julie Neill’s collection for Visual Comfort & Co. and a few words leap to mind. Whimsy. Warmth. Personality. It’s no coincidence that Neill herself could be described along the same lines. After starting her career as an interior designer and decorative painter, she shifted gears to have a family. As she prepared to open a shop in her native New Orleans — mostly painted furniture, inspired by 18th and 19th century French and Italian pieces — she signed on to do a room at a decorator showhouse. The room needed a chandelier, and in a stroke of pure serendipity she happened to walk past a flier advertising copper fountains, “the kind of thing you just see in New Orleans,” she says. She figured anyone who could make a fountain could make a chandelier, so she called the number on the ad and designed her first piece of lighting. “Making lighting ignited my soul,” she says. “It came and visited my life and I let it in.”

In a serene corner of her New Orleans design office, Julie Neill sketches new pieces for the Alberto series.

The opportunity to partner with Visual Comfort & Co. meant new audiences, new horizons and new opportunities after nearly two decades at the helm of her custom lighting business.

In early conversations with founder Andy Singer, Neill says she was honest, telling him “My stuff is a little to the side of what you typically do. Are you sure?” His response was the sign she needed: we can take what you do and share it with more people, he told her.

The Alberto series is inspired by the lush beauty of hakuun tulips.

Collaborating with Visual Comfort & Co.’s executive vice president, Charles Neal, Neill soon found her collection could be every bit as beautiful as the pieces she produces in her namesake atelier.

“I’m not a cerebral designer, I’m a maker, and Charles took the time to understand. He flew to New Orleans to see how I work, which is how he can replicate my process and finishes.”

Neill trims gold-foil butterflies for a Farfalle series maquette.

The designer and her sales director (and daughter!) Isabelle inspects the finish on a stately Iberia Chandelier.

Neill trims gold-foil butterflies for a Farfalle series maquette.

The designer and her sales director (and daughter!) Isabelle inspects the finish on a stately Iberia chandelier.

Just like the artist herself, the Julie Neill Collection for Visual Comfort & Co. is infused with authenticity, integrity and connection, and it all starts at home.

“I use my house as an experiment, and I’m fortunate to live in a place where I can do basic prototyping,” she says, “I can ask a piece what it wants to become, and before you know it, I’ve got a new chandelier in my hands.” The romance and modesty of this account are two languages Neill speaks fluently, and her work is at its delightful best wherever they meet.

Art imitates life: the Dumaine series draws its inspiration from dramatic foliage that can be found right in Neill’s backyard.

Up until the fairly recent present, she points out, all art was made by hand as a matter of necessity, and the spirit of craft is one she aims to capture with every piece in her collection.

“Drawing inspiration everywhere from glass pieces unearthed in Pompeii to iconic Giacometti furniture forms to the lush landscape of Louisiana, Neill’s point of view has a clear common thread: imagination. Spend a few hours under the glow of the chatty Dumaine chandelier (designed to look like the banana leaves in Neill’s backyard), the fluttering Farfalle (which began as a dream about butterflies) or the bubbly Talia (inspired by a cluster of raindrops) and you come away imprinted by a feeling, a memory, a moment. That’s exactly the point. “Lighting brings a thrill to people,” Neill says. “Everywhere I go, somebody comes up and tells me I’ve designed something that lights up their life. I can’t imagine anything better than that.”

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