In a Brilliant New Light

San Francisco Lighting Designer Jonathan Browning creates elegant classical lighting of style, character, and individuality.

  • Category
    Homes, People
  • Written by
    Diane Dorrans Saeks

San Francisco lighting designer Jonathan Browning is world-renowned for his elegant, inventive, and dramatic lighting designs. His signatures: Fine craftsmanship, authentic materials, and timeless silhouettes.

With more than 150 lighting designs in his collection, Browning shows his exclusive collections at the de Sousa Hughes showroom in San Francisco, and in 14 international showrooms, including Paris, London, Riyadh, and Toronto.

“My great aesthetic loves are French Beaux Arts, classicism, and industrial design, with a dash of minimalism. As my collections expand I’m researching European mid-century architecture and design in archives, books, auctions, and libraries. I continue to explore design history to enrich the collection.”

The Jonathan Browning Studio collections include virtuoso chandeliers and sconces, along with table lamps and standard lamps. He crafts highly original Beaux-Arts-style chandeliers for mansions, penthouses, and residences around the world, as well as dazzling clusters of crystal lanterns, daring aerodynamic pendants, and exquisite faceted crystal chandeliers that seem destined for ballrooms and the most glamorous houses in California.


“Lighting is my passion and my obsession, and I’m so happy this is a golden age for lighting design,” relates Browning, originally from Manhattan Beach. He has a master’s degree in architecture and design from Southern California Institute of Architecture.

The designer worked around the world as a specialist on hotel design, apparel company store design, product design, and visual merchandising. In 2003 he opened Jonathan Browning Studios in a historic South of Market building. His 150-piece collections are now growing to include a complete range of lighting. He has designed over 500 lighting designs for RH, and recently designed new lighting for McGuire.

One reason for his success is that his versatile collections offer designs that are classical and modern, restrained and exuberant, and while some pieces are crisp and modern, many have an antique feeling of old-world craftsmanship. Browning uses a very limited palette of materials for his line, including glass, bronze, brass, and very inventive use and deployment of light sources and effects.

“In the last five years I have added lead crystal and bisque porcelain to my line,” he notes. “I use paper-thin porcelain as a shade material. Porcelain is magic. When the light is off the matte, unglazed surface looks like honed stone, but when illuminated it glows golden and warm — almost amber — and the harsh white transforms itself.”

Bronze is still his favorite material. When polished it has a deep color that is almost a rose gold.

“Lighting is the ultimate make or break element in every interior,” says Browning. “Moderation is the key regarding lighting in general, and especially recessed lighting. Putting all lighting on dimmers is paramount, and using discretion regarding placement of spots. And of course sconces and torchieres are essential around the periphery of a room, but in moderation. The goal is a balanced, peaceful illumination that never glares, always focuses on correct elements, and mostly creates a harmonious, pleasing mood.

Browning considers both the design and placement of his lighting.

“The living room is the most public room in the house so it should be illuminated in a manner that pleases and makes guests feel comfortable. The only recessed spots should be over the coffee table, and on artwork on walls,” he said.

“A chandelier can be wonderful here, an intentional piece of sculpture and a gorgeous ornament, like jewelry hovering above the room,” Browning noted. “Chandeliers should never be too bright or hard to look at. Soft and subtle will always work best in this room. Rely on shaded table lamps and torchieres for everything else. Task lamps for reading should be at sofa side or chair side. No lights should be bright.”

For dining room is also crucial to illuminate correctly and with muted balance. Dimmers must be used.

“Just one big bright chandelier will kill the room,” says the designer, so it is important to add four recessed spots — two at one end of table, and two at the other end, with the chandelier in the center. The four spots will do the heavy lifting, creating clear warm pools of light across most of the table, and allowing you to turn down the dimmer on the chandelier until it glows perfectly. Sconces are also terrific in the dining room and give walls depth and complexity. Without sconces walls can feel dark and flat. Art should be illuminated by spots or picture lights.”

He adds, “In bedrooms a small chandelier or pendant works well, balanced with sconces on the walls. It is crucial to have task or table Lamps on a desk or dressing table. Wall-mounted swing-arm lamps that are easily adjustable should be discreetly placed beside the bed for reading.”

Browning explains that wall sconces are his personal favorite to design, “For me an elegant sconce makes the room. They should be placed 66 inches off the floor, so you read them very clearly as soon as you enter a room. A good sconce is intimate, elegant sculpture, pleasing the eye with its material and form. Its only requirement is to cast light, but otherwise its possibilities are endless. Big or small, subtle or show stealing, sconces are artistic expressions of their owner’s taste and mood.”

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