Finding Luxury and Lighting Design in the Australian Desert

A luxurious contemporary dining room illuminated by a linear cluster of Manila T PE pendants, designed by Sebastian Herkner for Parachilna.

A trio of Manila T PE pendants, designed for Parachilna by
Sebastian Herkner, illuminate this reserved yet stylish sitting room

Parachilna is a designer lighting brand that is rich with poetry. Since it was founded in 2013, its offering has expanded through collaborations with new and exciting lighting designers from around the world. With each collaboration, the goal is the same: the creation of expressive, meaningful, and beautiful luminaires to be loved and cherished. 

Metaphors abound in Parachilna’s world. Indeed, the company’s very name is a multi-layered statement of their values and outlook. From the brand’s place in the world to the form and character of every lighting design they produce, emotion and meaning and a distinctive evocative quality mark the world of Parachilna. 

A portrait of Parachilna co-founder and creative director, Roman Riera.
A portrait of Sebastian Herkner, acclaimed furniture and lighting designer.

Left: Roman Riera, co-founder and creative director of Parachilna. Right: Sebastian Herkner, lighting designer.

As part of LightForm’s exploration of the thematic soul of Parachilna, we interviewed Sebastian Herkner, the acclaimed lighting designer behind Parachilna’s recent Manila collection. We contacted Herr Herkner through the courtesy of Parachilna creative director and co-founder Roman Riera, who was gracious enough to also answer some of our questions. We thank these remarkable men for sharing their insight and the stories of Parachilna, Manila, and the creative collaboration that brought them together.

Parachilna:  Passionately Timeless

Roman Riera and Alfredo Valero discuss a display of Gemo collection lights, designed by Luca Nichetto, during a photo shoot for the Parachilna catalogue.

Gemo pendant, floor, and table pose for the Parachilna catalogue while Roman Riera and Alfredo Valero discuss

When Roman Riera and Alfredo Valero decided to launch their own brand, they knew they wanted to create decorative designer lights. To Roman Riera, “light is comfort–like the temperature. If a room is too cold or too hot, you are not comfortable. The same is true if there is too much or too little light.” It was equally important to the two that their lights be different. In their opinions, the designer lighting of the early twenty-first century had fallen into a rut. The pursuit of timelessness in design had resulted in a sameness–of spirit, if not form. 

Parachilna was born from our love of luxury. For us, luxury is about the integrity of design, the quality of materials, and the artisanal craftsmanship that creates it.

Parachilna website

Knowing that their ultimate commitment was to the value of luxury in style and design, Riera and Valero began to travel and research. They sought a deeper–yet more conscious–awareness and appreciation of the distinctly individual voices that made up the larger design world. Seeking out new, exciting lighting designers as well as established designers similarly hungry for change, Parachilna’s founders launched the brand with three collections: Aballs by Jaime Hayón, Alistair by Jordi Veciana, and Anwar by African-American designer Stephen Burks.

Aballs T pendant light, designed by Jaime Hayon for Parachilna.
Anwar T 90 suspension light, designed by Stephen Burks for Parachilna
Alistair P floor lamp, designed by Jordi Veciana for Parachilna.

From Left to Right: Aballs T GR pendant, Anwar T 90 pendant, and Alistair P floor lamp

By focusing upon passion and emotion in the designs that resulted from their collaborations, Parachilna pursued a sense of timelessness that was more classic–though, perhaps ironically–less safe. The truly timeless is the result of daring. It is created by making a statement that is, in some way, inherently and eternally true. Moreover, it is a statement that needs to be said. Thus, Parachilna has based its growth and success over the last eight years on its discerning tastes, devotion to luxury, and perseverance in individuality.

Alone Under the Starry Sky in Parachilna

A billboard advertising the Prairie Hotel, just about the only remaining business in Parachilna, Australia

A sign advertising Parachilna and the Prairie Hotel to tourists with the signature class and subtlety for which Australia is famous

Deep in the Outback of southern Australia, tourists willing to drive a while off the main highways can find a small community that sprouted up around an offshoot of the Ghan railway line. Parachilna was the area’s connection to civilization; the resources and transportation the railroad provided were so important that the town uprooted from its original location around a government water well several miles away. On the edge of a desert, connection to the Ghan was more important than easy access to water.

A vintage photograph of passengers in and around a railway passenger car in Parachilna..
The Parachilna Railway Station in the present day.

Left: Steam Motor Coach No.1 (later known as “the Coffee Pot”) in Parachilna, 1907.
(Photo courtesy the State Library of South Australia, B 50482)
Right: The Parachilna Railway Station as it is today
.

Today, Parachilna is a ghost town. The mine shut down in 1907, and trains no longer stop at the railroad station before crossing the vast desert to the south on the way to Adelaide. Its population on any given day almost entirely consists of tourists. 

Somehow–and they are remaining coy on the matter–Roman Riera and Alfredo Valero found themselves in Parachilna and lacking effective means of transportation. As they sat outside the dilapidated railway station, Riera and Valero connected the disconnect they felt from the vitality of good design to the disconnect they felt from the world in this forgotten town. 

Because stars always shine
brighter in the desert.

Parachilna website
Roman Riera and Alfredo Valero sit on the platform of the Parachilna Railway Station.

In the clear, dry desert air, the stars shone down on them brilliantly. They were isolated by beauty, and by a world that had forgotten that beauty in pursuit of convenience. They envisioned their new brand as the great Ghan at its peak, connecting north and south Australia. Their brand would bring good design to lost souls like themselves, sitting on forgotten station platforms, eager to reconnect with the larger world. 

A sea of stars fills the sky over Parachilna.

And that’s how Parachilna became Parachilna.

Sebastian Herkner: Award-Winning Lighting Designer 

Designer Sebastian Herkner reclines in a chair with his Bell tables in the background.

Sebastian Herkner and two of his Bell tables

Around the same time Parachilna launched, Sebastian Herkner’s Bell table was released by Munich-based designer furniture brand Classicon. Roman Riera recalls, “it was love at first sight, [but] it was too early for Parachilna.” Nevertheless, Riera kept an eye on the young yet talented designer’s career as time moved on. 

Born in Bad Mergentheim, Germany, Herkner studied Product Design at HfG Offenbach University of Art and Design. There, his creativity was particularly drawn to the design of objects and furniture through an approach focused upon sensuality and materials. “For me, designing is very closely connected with my senses,” Herkner explains, “a product is not just about its appearance and feel, also about its sound and smell.” In particular, Herkner likes to challenge “craftsmen to think of material in another perspective,” and embraces “the smell of brass, the sound of glass, the taste of wood. I love working with real material.”

Without light, a material has no character.

Sebastian Herkner

This appreciation of materials helped Herkner, after starting his own design studio in 2006, to expand from furniture design into also designing beautiful and expressive luminaires. It was a natural move, for in Herkner’s mind, “without light, a material has no character. Brass shines because of its reflections; wood gets its material depth because of light.” 

Lighting Designer Sebastian Herkner smiles on a sofa.

Rapid-Fire Questions

What is your favourite meal?

Ceviche

What was the last book you read?

Daily Newspaper

Do you think in German or English?

German with an accent

What is the one German word that you think I should know?

Neugierde

What is your favourite place on Earth?

Always the current one

Herkner refers to the relationship between light and shadow as a “dialogue [that] supports the attitude of a product,” a dialogue which depends upon careful consideration when choosing materials. For the Parachilna’s Manila collection, that material was plissee–pleated fabric.

Terpsichorean Light: The Manila Collection

Flamenco is an art form, comprised of music, singing, and dance, that evolved in Southern Spain from a hodgepodge of cultural influences. Spanish, Romani, Indian, and Moorish traditions and culture collided in the region of Andalusia, producing an art form that sought to embody and express the purity and intensity of passion itself. What makes flamenco so distinctive, though, is the intensity born of the control and deliberate character that mark the improvisation it relies upon.

A vintage photo of a traditional flamenco troupe.

A traditional Andalusian flamenco troupe

It was this image that gave birth to the Manila suspension light. Seeking to use a textile plissee (or plissé, in the original French) in a different way, Sebastian Herkner connected to the energy, passion, and sensuality of flamenco–“the dance, the movements, the dresses… the whole spirit”–through the image of the mantón de manila. An intricately-embroidered silk shawl that is commonly worn by female flamenco dancers, the mantón de manila–much like flamenco–is the product of a melange of cultural influences that found a permanent home in Spain. 

A flamenco dancer, mid-dance, wears the traditional manton de manila.
A close-up detail of the textile plisse used in Manila family lights.

The textile plissé of the Manila collection of lights (right) was inspired by the mantón de manila of flamenco tradition (left)

Much like the shawl from which it takes its name, the Manila collection is the unique result of multicultural interaction. A German designer, working for a Spanish brand with an Australian Aboriginal name, inspired by an Andalusian dance, working with a French textile technique for an inner diffuser, and an outer diffuser of exquisite blown glass produced in the Czech Republic. The result of these multi-leveled influences is a masterpiece no less passionate or expressive in restraint than the flamenco itself. 

Choreographing Design: Creating Manila

A studio shot of Sebastian Herkner's Manila T pendants from Parachilna.

Although 2013 was not the right time for a collaboration, Sebastian Herkner and Parachilna maintained a mutual admiration as they both collected experience and accolades. At last, Roman Riera contacted Herkner and the two met in Milan to discuss working together. “Roman asked me to design a collection for him,” Herkner says, “we had some conversations about our philosophy and vision, and I started thinking of using a textile plissee in a different way.” 

I need to fall in love with the designer’s proposal, hoping that the market will love it as much as I do.

Roman Riera

“The most important thing” in Riera’s opinion, “is appreciating the work of the designer. I explain Parachilna’s philosophy–our love of luxury and quality materials, and desire for products with a decorative charge–and then the designer has full freedom.” Herkner expresses a deep gratitude for this, adding “Roman gave me carte blanche, so I could dream and find my own concept for them.” Riera notes that the value of this policy of non-interference helps ensure he has the distance to ensure every Parachilna design has an entrancing quality, adding that “I need to fall in love with the designer’s proposal, hoping that the market will love it as much as I do.”

A trio of Manila T pendants illuminate a stylish modern living room.

A cluster of Manila T suspension lights complement the reserved yet stylish decor and design of this modern sitting room

Once the concept for Manila pendant light began to develop in Herkner’s mind, the production of prototypes “was a very intense process with many calls, sharing images, and some visits to Parachilna’s studio in Barcelona,” he recalls. “It was very easy and playful,” Riera adds, “I liked what Sebastian designed and our job was to make it happen the way he envisioned it.” The main challenge, according to Herkner, was finding a source for the needed plissee, but Roman’s endless resourcefulness and experience finally found a local Spanish company willing to produce it for Parachilna. 

A studio shot of Parachilna's Manila T family of lights in black.
A studio shot of the Manila T family of lights by Sebastian Herkner in transparent.

Available in black and transparent blown Czech glass, you choose the character of your Manila collection light

The Invitation to Dance: Designing for Designers 

There are several traits that make an excellent dancer. Commitment to the dance and clarity of intent are both vital, and Parachilna is exemplary in both, but the most important trait is where Parachilna excels. The greatest dancers, even when they lead, feel their partner’s every move and are responsive in their own movements. In designer lighting, this means choreographing products not only between brand and designer, but also customer and community. 

A trio of Manila pendant lights hang in a modern living room.

The restrained passion of the Manila collection is perfect for modern spaces devoted to relaxation

As Riera and Valero envisioned, Parachilna has sought to bring good design everywhere it can–even tiny towns on the edge of nowhere. Part of fulfilling this goal has been their willingness to listen to requests and feedback from designers and distributors. Indeed, the latest contribution to the cultural influences found in the Manila collection comes, we are proud to say, from Canada. Jaime Bishop, LightForm’s own Western Regional Sales Manager, was the first person to suggest to Roman Riera and Alfredo Valero that a ceiling version of Manila’s gorgeous character would be an excellent next step for the collection. 

The GR and PE sizes of Manila C ceiling light by Sebastian Herkner.

The new Manila C ceiling light joins the Manila collection in 2021

As Manila had been envisioned as a collection from the start, this suggestion was greeted with enthusiasm, and plans were put in motion. Thanks to Parachilna’s responsiveness, Herkner’s sublime design, and Jaime’s suggestion, Manila C GR and Manila C PE ceiling lights stand proudly shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of Parachilna’s vivacious new releases in 2021. 

Leaving the Station, Dancing in the Desert

As co-founder and creative director of Parachilna, Roman Riera has a very particular definition of “success” to which he aspires with every design he cultivates. “When a light’s owner enjoys it every single day,” Riera says, “if it survives him and his heirs still appreciate it, then it is a classic, and a success.” 

A studio photo of Ma-Rock T ME suspension light and Ma-Rock M table lamp, designed for Parachilna by Jaime Hayon.

Designed by Jaime Hayón, Ma-Rock T ME suspension light and Ma-Rock M
table lamp
evoke the craftsmanship and intricate metalwork of North Africa

It would be hubristic to presume that every contemporary designer light in Parachilna’s collection of 2021 releases will become a classic–but neither would it be a surprise if they did. From the restrained intensity of Manila C ceiling light to the cool sleekness of Ghan P floor lamp; from Gweilo Zhou–the ephemeral suspension light expansion of the Gweilo family from Canadian design studio PARTISANS–to Petra M table lamp–an extraordinary contemplation of the substantial and the ethereal in alabaster–each of Parachilna’s latest releases is as meaningful, beautiful, and expressive as we have come to expect from this remarkable brand.

The two available lengths of Gweilo Zhou suspension lights, designed by PARTISANS for Parachilna.
Ghan P floor lamp, designed by Jordi Veciana for Parachilna.

Above Left: both sizes of Gweilo Zhou suspension lights by PARTISANS. Above Right: Ghan P floor lamp by Jordi Veciana.
Below: Petra M GR and Petra M PE table lamps by Jordi Veciana

Petra M GR and Petra M PE table lamps, designed by Jordi Veciana

Parachilna and Sebastian Herkner are already at work on their next collaboration, though neither is saying more than that for now. Experience has shown us, however, that we–even those of us who once again find ourselves temporarily stranded on a station platform on the edge of the design desert–can trust: in Parachilna, that the train is coming, and that we will once again be able to join the dance.

Sebastian Herkner’s Manila collection and the entire collection of intimately meaningful luminaires offered by Parachilna are available exclusively from LightFormShop.com, or from one of our showrooms and offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna, and Winnipeg.