Anatomy of a Light

WORDS Gina Dionisio PHOTOS Supplied

Outlining exactly what goes into making a bespoke lighting system, Hoi P’loy founders Ploy Phiromnam and Guy van der Walt tell us about their new Rise & Fall Pendant, which was launched at Cape Town Furniture Week 2024.

The Idea

”When our brand was in its infancy we were very inspired by vintage lighting. We consciously sought to avoid “replicas” or “faux” vintage lights, but we often drew on cues from a traditional aesthetic. An iconic staple of the Victorian era, the classic porcelain “rise-and-fall” pendant was the kind of thing that we would frequently encounter on expeditions to the Milnerton Market and the like. Except for a brief re-emergence in the 70s with Guzzini’s Rise & Fall (you know, that one that was also big in 80s kitchens with its coiled suspension cable), we hadn’t seen any exciting developments that had built on the concept. So it was always something that we had in the back of our minds. We toyed with the idea about 8 years ago, made a quick prototype, and then got side-tracked while the test piece gathered dust on the shelf. Then as part of a recent social media campaign we’re running themed “ideas that never made it”, we posted some pics of the old girl and got a positive response. So we decided to give it a go.” 

The Aesthetics

”As a brand Hoi P’loy is synonymous with an aesthetic that skirts the line between the past and the present. When it came time to pick a direction we were torn between old and new.

”On the one hand, we wanted something closer to the original design, but with the sophisticated brass elements we’ve become known for and on the other hand we’ve become much more adventurous lately in playing with bold shapes and colours, which resonate more with a vibrant contemporary aesthetic. We couldn’t decide… so we ended up making both alongside each other. Each speaks a very different visual language, and the response has been great towards both of them. People say “l just love your new rise-and-fall” and our first response is always – which one?

”Overall, we’ve tried to keep both of them fairly minimal which is always a good formula for timelessness. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see which one, if any goes the distance. Based on initial feedback, we’re feeling optimistic.”

The Creative Methodology

”Interestingly enough, the initial phase – the conceptual sketches and drawings are often the quickest and easiest. We’re talking as little as 15-20 minutes sometimes. This is the part that most people imagine when they think of a designer – someone sitting at a desk dreaming up ideas. The reality is that after those initial ideas, a long and gruelling series of prototypes follows, starting with extremely crude “segments” of the design aimed at quickly testing and solving technical challenges, gradually evolving into ever more refined manifestations of the initial idea. Sometimes some drastic changes render the light almost indistinguishable from the original idea. But either way, it’s very satisfying to overcome the various hurdles and to end up with the end product. This is especially satisfying if the result is seemingly very simple to the untrained eye, but clever solutions have been found too complex and demanding “under-the-hood” configurations. Finally, there’s a great deal of testing that goes into making sure the light is viable for production and daily use.” 

Ergonomics and Engineering

”We save a massive amount of time by working with 3D engineering software before making any parts. This forces us to consider the complex technicalities of the designs before spending time making them. We use Solidworks, and then often before manufacturing working prototypes out of metal, we 3D print mock-ups. This can help to highlight proportional problems, as well as the sequence of steps to assemble parts.

In the case of the rise-and-fall pendants, the balance of weight between components is crucial, and on this occasion, this was done by swapping out the parts for little weight bags and then designing around those target weights. The engineering software does a pretty good job of forecasting volume and weight, but ultimately we have to make real working prototypes from the final metal that will be used to perfectly match the weight characteristics that the designs demand.” 


”We have always been drawn towards brass and for the more traditional style, we used solid brass hex-bar, both for the weight and the light housing. It’s quite something to hold in one’s hand. It’s difficult to explain other than that it gives the light a sense of gravitas.

For the more contemporary light, the one with the bold colours and shapes, we went with a combination of steel and aluminium, powder coated in a collection of custom mixed matte colours. They appeal to a very different design pallet, but in the right setting become a focal talking point. We’re excited about the potential that each design has to become an iconic part of our signature range.” 


”The most valuable lesson we’ve learnt over the years is to not be precious about initial ideas, but rather to “play” through a series of prototypes as the design evolves. It’s really important to begin working quickly and “carelessly” to achieve an end result that retains a “spontaneous” flare. It’s often counterintuitive because one naturally wants even the early iterations to look good. There’s a natural tendency to feel that maybe one can get lucky, and the first one might be the final one. But that’s rarely the case. So it’s important to solve the various initial design challenges that emerge with little regard for finishing or refinement. The renowned vacuum cleaner designer, James Dyson famously worked his way through 5127 prototypes before arriving at the design that revolutionised the industry. We can all learn from this approach – allow yourself to make mistakes in the pursuit of learning and refinement.” 

+ VISI Masterclasses

Ploy and Guy are also one of our VISI X BHC School of Design interior design course industry experts. Each online course has a Masterclass where we chat to a celebrated professional interior designer, getting their insights and expertise gleaned from years of experience with real-world interior design projects.

  • CLINTON SAVAGE – Clinton Savage Interiors and Architecture
  • HENDRE BLOEM – Hendre Bloem Interior Design
  • PLOY PHIROMNAM & GUY VAN DER WALT – Hoi P’loy lighting
  • MIA SENEKAL – owner, murmur furniture design

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