Panos Ferentinos

21st April 2023

As he celebrates 20 years in the lighting industry, Panos Ferentinos, Associate at QODA Light, tells arc about his unique route into the industry, and how his background in graphic design shaped his approach to lighting.

Throughout our time as a publication, we’ve interviewed many lighting designers, and have made a point to ask each of them how they arrived in the profession.

Discounting the many that found lighting design “by accident”, there are some very common routes – architecture, theatrical production, interior design, and lighting manufacturing in particular.

However, London-based Greek designer Panos Ferentinos found the world of lighting design through an entirely different path.
“I originally studied Graphic Design, and after I finished a Master’s degree in Art & Graphic Design, I started my career working at magazines, well-known publications, and advertising companies in Athens,” Ferentinos told arc.

It wasn’t until he moved to London 25 years ago that Ferentinos discovered the world of lighting design, although he said he has always had an interest in the effect that lighting has on architecture.

He continued: “When I decided to move to London, I worked for a short time as a graphic designer, until I fell in love with lighting. I was always fascinated with how lighting defined architecture, but I was not aware of the skills that it required to design lighting for spaces.”

With his background in graphic design, Ferentinos got a job with Isometrix as a junior designer, where he “connected more with lighting” through photoshop renderings that he was given to work on for various projects.

“At first, it was very difficult to understand the philosophy and technical part of the lighting design, and the impact that it had on large-scale projects, but this was something that I developed over time,” he said.

“I learned a lot of lighting design on the job. I was exposed to various aspects of the process of architectural lighting design, and later, when I started visiting projects for commissioning, I had the chance to see how a design concept on paper went on to shape into the reality of a constructed project. I also had the chance to travel and work with people around the world, which was another part of the job that really drew me in.”

After more than five years at Isometrix, where he progressed to the level of Assistant Lighting Designer, Ferentinos moved on to a new position at Illuminationworks – a studio where he spent the next 12 years honing his craft and learning more about the lighting design profession.

It was also at Illuminationworks where he met a significant figure in his career – a mentor who would take him under their wing and offer support and guidance. Ferentinos recalled: “I was starting to lose interest in graphic design when I met a key influencer in my career in lighting – Chad Rains, Founding Director at Illuminationworks; my mentor, who brought me into the job.

“Creativity opens the mind, and he was always encouraging me to think outside the box. It was appealing, and the complexity of the projects was very stimulating, so I found the learning process incredibly rewarding, and no day was the same.”

During his time at Illuminationworks, Ferentinos quickly learned the ropes of lighting design, working across a range of projects spanning hospitality, heritage, retail, residential and master planning.

Because of this, he believes that there isn’t one particular are that he specialises in, although his background in graphic design does give him an inside track in the early visualisation stages. “20 years in lighting has brought many types of projects across my desk. While I do not specialise, I find a lot of engagement in the design process, particularly during the early stages of conceptualising and ideation. This is where the graphic designer in me, mixed with my lighting expertise, can really shine.”

When it comes to his own personal style, Ferentinos explained that he often looks to the art world for inspiration, particularly taking to heart the words of the legendary James Turrell.

He explained: “Turrell said ‘we create the reality in which we live’. This resonates with me when I think about my approach to lighting.
“I love creating atmosphere and mood, I often turn to art for inspiration. I enjoy walking around London and observing the latest architecture. Each project is exciting and varied. In my work, I tend to treat each one as a new creative challenge, then I let my instinct guide me on what the possibilities are for a successful project.”

With this in mind, while he has worked on a range of projects across all aspects of lighting design, it is those that have an artistic or cultural component to them that stand out. A particular favourite, he revealed, was from his time with Illuminationworks; ROOM – an experiential work of art commissioned from renowned British sculptor Sir Antony Gormley. Situated at the Beaumont Hotel in London, guests can stay inside the semi-abstract sculpture; a dark, mysterious, cave-like space, ROOM encourages its occupants to enter a different state of consciousness and enjoy a quiet, meditative pause, withdrawing from the busy world outside.

“I love ROOM, it was a unique project, and we were able to work closely with Sir Antony Gormley,” Ferentinos recalled. “Another favourite project was the 21c Oklahoma City Museum Hotel, where a former Ford Model T assembly plant was transformed into a hospitality space that combined a hotel with contemporary art galleries, that is accessible 24/7.

“I have also enjoyed all of the Marc Jacobs retail projects that I have worked on in the past, while a very challenging project was the K11 Art Shopping Centre in Wuhan, China, which was completed as the pandemic was affecting the city.”

While Ferentinos has built a strong body of work in lighting design, he said that the initial transition from graphic design was a difficult adjustment. However, he believes that it is through self-belief that he was able to carve out a successful career.

“The most important part of any professional transition is that you must believe in yourself,” he said. “It was certainly tough and unknown, but I was curious, enthusiastic, and eager to learn.”

He added that while there are obvious differences between the fields, his past life in graphic design has brought with it some unique benefits. He added: “Being creative and having a good eye for detail really helped. Graphic design is an important part of visual communication; it is the process of using text, images, and colour to create a visual representation of ideas and messages. It is quite a similar process to the concept phase in lighting design, which is one of my strengths.”

Reflecting on his route into the industry, Ferentinos acknowledged that while people enter into the world of lighting through a broad spectrum of backgrounds, coming from graphic design was relatively unusual. “Lighting is a field that attracts people from several backgrounds, but from graphic design is rare.

“I was willing to learn on the job, and graphic design was a good foundation, but it also gave me an edge. Additionally, my passion for design and ability to communicate and present ideas through the graphic design skills was an asset.

“I was also fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with talented and kind colleagues that have inspired me.”

After 12 years at Illuminationworks, Ferentinos moved to a new position as Associate at QODA Light at the turn of the year, a move that he describes as a “natural part of my progress in the industry”.

“As the adage goes, timing is everything. The opportunities with QODA Light and Illuminationworks both came at the right moments in my life. I like to challenge myself to see how much better I can be, and how much more I can accomplish, so I’m excited to have this opportunity to take what I have learned into my career path and make many more successful years ahead.”

2023 also marks 20 years since Ferentinos first made the jump from graphic design into lighting. Looking back on his career so far, he hopes that his journey can act as an inspiration to young, emerging talent.

“I never imagined that I would be in the industry for 20 years and it is an achievement. I hope I brought passion for lighting, creative ideas, enthusiasm, and good mentoring to the teams I work with, especially to the young designers.

“It is not in my nature to seek the spotlight; however, I am ambitious, and always try to go the extra mile. This is essential for me, otherwise I lose interest. I have achieved a lot of my goals, but learning is never ending in lighting.

“I think that with a willingness to learn, anything is possible. My biggest advice would be stay curious, stay passionate. The creative industry is more collaborative these days and has opened up more opportunities for creatives with diverse skillsets and interests. People are making the leap into lighting design regardless of their backgrounds.”

Looking ahead, Ferentinos is fully focused on his new position at QODA Light. “They are working on some exciting projects, which I cannot wait to get involved in,” he said. “I hope the future holds another 20 years of creativity and collaborations with innovative designers.”

Image: Frederic Aranda