Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Family Tree: Seeing the light
Lighting Concepts and Design offers everything from European handblown, handcrafted lights to customized fixtures in its 3,000-square-foot showroom
By Erika Engle

TOM AND PENNY Ogawa opened Lighting Concepts and Design almost right next to his brother Yasuo's Cowabunga! Computers business, but not intentionally -- it's just the way it worked out.

The signage in front of the store's parking lot at 1931 S. Beretania Street just says Lighting Concepts, to keep it simpler to read, Tom said.

The store opened Jan. 16 but the Ogawas didn't throw a grand-opening party for several weeks, to make sure everything was just right.

The couple, parents of a toddler, leased two floors for a showroom, inventory and a second-floor consultation lounge where interior designers can meet with clients over lighting choices, for instance.

Tom and Penny set up the store so it would be enticing.

"The eye candy is to the right," he said, motioning to a large variety of pendant lights of all shapes, sizes, colors and brightness.

They also wanted it to be easy to navigate, with lighting grouped according to usage, such as exterior lights in one area, bathroom lighting in another. Among the traditional and sleek outdoor sconces is a kitschy, clear glass and brass pineapple that one can just imagine festooning the Kahala home of a malihini.

"We cover the whole spectrum," he said, but you won't see his store's fixtures at Home Depot. The intent was to bring in light fixtures "that Hawaii has never seen before ... we're striving to be different and fun. You can't appeal to everybody, but we're trying our hardest," he said.

To the left of the entrance hangs an ornate black and clear Murano glass floral and leaf chandelier that sells for $6,500. A television shows video of a similar piece being handblown -- in Italy.

A more contemporary chandelier featuring 50 Murano glass pieces, which can be customized for size, shape and color, sells for $3,225.

There also are chandeliers for as little as $175.

Some have rotating arms, so the light can be directed down over a table, or bounced off the ceiling for a softer effect.

A visit to the shop is a field trip for the eyes, which dance from a wavy, white PVC spherical hanging lamp from Denmark for $325; to a small, blue dragonfly light suspended from gently arching wires; to a wall sconce in the shape of a martini glass with green and blue "ice cubes" and a swizzle stick inside.

A red, handblown glass hanging lamp is reminiscent of an upside-down lava lamp while another, in ocean-hued blues and greens, evokes memories of the sand candles popular in the 1970s.

It's not all glass, though. There are lamps made of wood, brass and other materials from the United States and other countries. Ogawa uses a remote to turn them on and off.

The store also has varied accessories, from decorative mirrors and glass sculptures to tropical-looking trunks.

Local designers have complemented the store's selection, such as Dian Cleve, architectural and design diva of Honolulu-based Cleve & Levin who happened by the store last week. There are pieces she's not seen in Hawaii before, she said.

Lighting stores are an economic indicator, according to Cleve. The financial commitment and need for high sales volume make lighting stores "a true bellwether" of the economy. During lean times, most of the ordering of light fixtures is done through catalogs, as the stores are less able to have inventory on hand, she said.

Business partner Jack Levin, visiting from the company's Texas operation, popped into the shop with her.

Cleve & Levin has worked on hotel and cruise-ship projects and is currently focused on high-end residential work. "We're having the best time of our lives," said Levin, making an economic reference.

Not including department stores, hardware stores and big-box retailers, Lighting Concepts and Design is one of six specialty retailers of lighting fixtures on Oahu.

The Ogawas hope to appeal to the industry, as well as to individuals, so interior designers, architects, contractors and other friends were invited to the store's grand opening on March 3.

It was a dark and stormy Girls' Day night and traffic was terrible, nevertheless, "we got good, dedicated folks coming in," said Ogawa's brother, Yasuo.

Some of that attendance translated into subsequent sales, Tom said.

Tom and Penny Ogawa first considered opening a furniture store.

"We had just bought a home and had a hard time finding lighting and furniture" to suit their tastes, Penny said. They thought, because of their travels, they could find different types of furniture pieces to bring in. However, the size of store and investment required for that venture caused them to look in the light direction, she said.

Tom runs the shop and Penny does ordering and purchasing from home while caring for son Luke, who will be 3 in May. Once he's in preschool, Penny will take a more active role in the business.

Business-neighbor and brother Yasuo is a regular store visitor.

"I am so proud of him," he said. "This is completely his venture and I like to imagine that he learned some skills from the art gallery days, but this is all him."

Another Ogawa family venture for a few years was the management of three art galleries, which Tom spearheaded.

He also worked at what is now one of his competitors, Lighting Elegance Inc., in Kaimuki. At the time, he didn't know he would set up his own shop, but it was an introduction to the industry that dovetailed well with the art business.

"Lighting is more like, functional art, so it was an easy transition," Tom said.