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“I’m not interested in the neutral object,” says American designer Johanna Grawunder. What she does find intriguing is the experience.

“Experiential design is the perfect way to meld architecture, industrial design, lighting, and furniture into what’s really important, which is an experience, a memory.”

As a trained architect Johanna spent 20 years in the field, designing furniture and lighting on the side before starting her own design studio in 2001.

“The digital revolution of the ’80s and ’90s was very influential for my work,” she says. Inspired by the illumination of artificial colors from a computer screen, she started putting light into her furniture, a practice that eventually segued into lighting installations and exhibitions.

johanna grawunder sixtysix magazine

While working as an architect, Johanna Grawunder used her design practice as a way to find her voice. “It’s a lot easier to do that on a smaller scale of design than architecture,” Johanna says. Photo courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

Take “Time, Nature, Love,” a pre-COVID exhibition for luxury jewelry company Van Cleef & Arpels. Set at Milan’s Palazzo Reale, the installation was a colorful culmination of Johanna’s work—architecture, lighting, and design wrapped into one immersive moment.

“When I watched people go through the Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition, you could just see joy on people’s faces,” Johanna says. “It sounds like a stupid thing to say, but it’s an amazing thing to give that to people.”

A version of this article originally appeared in Sixtysix Issue 05 with the headline “Johanna Grawunder: Designer, San Fransisco and Milan.” Subscribe today.