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Guiding Light - Shannon Lee Ross

Author: Lori K. Baker
Issue: March, 2016, Page 104
Shannon Lee Ross stands beside one of her masterpieces in the entry of Hinkley’s Lighting Factory’s design center in Scottsdale.

This hammered brass sconce (24"H
by 8"W) with a perforated steel cylinder is perfect for hallways or “man caves,” says Ross.
A Chance Encounter Leads to a Lifelong Passion for Lighting Designer Shannon Lee Ross

Chalk it up to fate or a random stroke of good fortune. No matter how serendipity is defined, it’s an unstoppable force in lighting designer Shannon Lee Ross’s life.

Her career journey began while she was a struggling college student. At the time, she held a job in framing at arts and crafts retailer Michaels to help pay for her schooling. While on a shopping trip with her sister, she crossed paths with Michael Jackson, her uncle and owner of Hinkley’s Lighting Factory in Scottsdale, as they journeyed up and down opposite sides of an escalator. They stopped to chat, and “he asked me if I’d come to work for him, even if it was only temporary,” she recalls.

She agreed, never knowing this simple “yes” would lead to her dream job. “It was a complete and total fluke,” she says with a chuckle.

Ross describes this fixture as “a rustic twist on contemporary lighting.” Measuring 54"H by 32" in diameter, its handmade steel ribbons were painted to look like aged steel. “I realized after I did my drawing that it looks a lot like my hair,” she says.

Flash forward nearly 17 years, and the 38-year-old self-taught lighting designer has played a role in illuminating some of the Valley’s most exclusive homes. Her work can also been seen at the Montelucia Resort & Spa in Paradise Valley, Arizona Country Club in Phoenix, and such posh eateries as Mastro’s Ocean Club, Dominick’s Steakhouse and Eddie V’s in Scottsdale. “She’s a creative genius,” says interior designer Paula Den Boer, who regularly works with Ross on interior design projects that require custom lighting.

Ross is also known for possessing an uncanny ability to quickly sketch the exact lighting fixture her client is imagining after only a few questions. She recalls a recent meeting with one such client. “I had an orange pen in one hand, and I grabbed a stack of Post-it notes that just happened to be on the table,” she says. “I just sketched it really fast. The woman stood there, staring at me with her mouth open. ‘That’s it!’ she exclaimed.”

With wood vigas, handmade steel shades with seam and rivet details, and forged hooks, this piece is perfect for a cabin in the woods. It measures 36"H by 46"L by 10"W.

Defying industry conventions, Ross relies on a pencil and sketchpad to design her creations instead of using a CAD (computer-aided design) program, which she says would only thwart her creativity. “I work like a police sketch artist. Whenever a client starts talking, a picture just pops into my head,” she explains. “It just flows. There’s no stopping it. It’s always there.” Once a sketch is approved by the client, Ross creates fully specified production drawings in two to three weeks that are not only a blueprint for Hinkley’s artisans but also a work of art.

“There’s nothing like a hand drawing,” says interior designer KT Tamm, who collaborates with Ross on numerous projects. “Her drawings come alive. They’re expressive. They have dimension. As I’m presenting lighting applications, she has her pad and pencil in hand, and she’s doodling away. It’s her way of communicating back what she’s seeing for the project’s needs.”

Ross teams up with artisans in Hinkley’s Lighting Factory to bring her ideas to life.
Beyond the beauty and practicality of her production drawings, designers turn to Ross for her unbridled creativity and use of unorthodox design elements, whether it’s barbed wire, spurs, belt buckles, tooled leather—even wine corks. Tamm says she will never forget commissioning Ross to design a lighting fixture for a dining grotto in an Italianate home that included “hundreds—maybe even a thousand” wine corks.

Still, the ultimate test of Ross’ outside-the-box design skills may have come in 2014, when Jackson asked her to design a
“zombie fixture.” Using a 55-gallon drum that was riddled with bullet holes as the main structure—for a post-apocalyptic look—she incorporated a gas mask, hatchet, brass knuckles, bandolier and crossbow into the design, with a biohazard symbol and color-changing LEDs as finishing touches.

After her initial concept sketch, she creates detailed production drawings for each fixture.

Shannon Lee Ross

Where Shannon Lee Ross creates her lighting confections combines her studio, factory, warehouse and showroom all under one roof. Just as each space flows into the other physically, so do the various functions she performs in each mentally. After envisioning, sketching, designing, producing and selling hundreds of one-of-a-kind fixtures for homes and businesses in the Valley and farther afield, Shannon has fused together the roles of artist, engineer and marketer.

Completely self-taught and part of a family-owned business, she is an increasingly rare breed in the highly competitive, highly corporatized world of residential and commercial lighting. Because she creates custom pieces daily for both clients and for the company’s showroom, Shannon has an innate understanding of what her customers want and need. The result? Art that lights up a room!

We at Phoenix Home & Garden name her a Master of the Southwest because she consistently pushes the design envelope while helping to keep handcrafted quality alive in Arizona. Congratulations, Shannon!
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