Moving to the Hamptons in 2005 only heightened Helen Gifford’s passion for luminosity. “There’s something about the light play and the movement of water and sun, or moonlight on the water, that really comes through in my work,” says Gifford, an industrial designer, who lives and works in Sag Harbor, which she describes as “the central heartbeat of the Hamptons.”
Best known for her company, HelenBilt custom lighting, Gifford has recently developed a line of hand-painted wallpapers and limited-edition candles, inspired by her lighting fixtures. “It’s a nice trifecta of your lighting and your wall surfaces and your scent,” says Gifford, who launched her career straight out of Parsons The New School for Design 12 years ago with her striking Urchin Collection. “Then the rest is the fun part of all the delightful things you can add.”
The candles will come both in refillable spa jars and limited-edition, handblown votives while the wallpapers are all created to order using a metallic Mylar to refract and reflect the light. Collaborating with local artisans—including glassblowers, artists, and welders—aligns with Gifford’s commitment to sustainability. “I always ask myself, Is this as recycled as it could possibly be? Is this the lowest carbon footprint for this job? Am I sourcing as locally as I can?”
Gifford’s designs currently grace interiors as far afield as the W hotels in San Diego and Fort Lauderdale, as well as the Aria Resort & Casino Las Vegas, Hilton New York, and a considerable number of private residences, including 26 custom pieces created for a single Aspen home—a commission she designates a “game changer.”
Hamptons regulars will recognize Gifford’s lighting designs from the Michelle Farmer Collaborate store in Bridgehampton as well as the KamaDeva Yoga studio in East Hampton, which is run by Jessica Bellofatto (the former wife of Gifford’s fiancé, Fresno co-owner Michael Nolan). We put five pieces in [KamaDeva], and it’s just gorgeous,” she says.
Gifford warmly encourages creative input from Nolan’s two children Uma, 7, and Jack, 11; Uma, she says, is an intuitive color theorist and Jack is a gifted engineer. “I love listening to them because their eye is so fresh and so wonderful and they’re not burdened by any sense of ‘That won’t work,’” she says.
Receiving inspiration from Uma and Jack also resonates with Gifford’s strong belief that everyone is creative. “Here’s the interesting thing about custom; it really makes the client have some skin in the game as far as accessing their own creativity,” she says. “And I’m really just a sort of midwife in that process.”
ABOVE: Helen Gifford examines the Urchin Collection, which helped launch her HelenBilt lighting design company