December 2019

Emily Monato, Assoc. IALD, MIES
Founding Principal
Cooley Monato Studio


Q: How did you first get started in the lighting industry?
I graduated with an interior design degree from the University of Wisconsin - Madison with many, many science credits due to a false start in medicine before I learned about the IALD internship program to which I applied. Surprisingly, I received offers to come work in New York City and I moved there after the internship, and never left. My employer at the time, who is now called HLB, gave me every opportunity to learn and to play with fixture samples—some of which I accidentally blew up, to team up with seniors who would become my mentors, and to meet directly with clients in what felt like a paid graduate program/ dream job. It was 1989 and my timing to enter the market was either great or terrible because the recession hit full-on a year later and everything got really scary, really fast. As low man on the totem pole, I was cheap labor, so they kept me on part-time. I took a night job bartending to help pay the rent and dug deep into my Mid-Western work ethic because every other person in design was getting laid-off. A long year passed, I was introduced to Renee Cooley who was starting a new business and needed some temporary help. We got some work and decided to partner up. It took five plus years of struggle, followed by success, and more struggle, but we’re still here 28 years later with some great designers, projects, and clients. Renée is now enjoying retirement and Andressa Lopes, our principal, and I are taking CoMoS to the next level.

Q: How did you first get involved in the IESNYC?
After arriving in NYC, I immediately enrolled in the IES ED100/150 classes and realized how much I didn’t know. I stayed late every night learning as much as I could in our office light lab and even more by attending IES sponsored lectures and joining committees like “Lighting for the Aging Eye” to which I felt I could actually contribute. Socially the IESNYC provided connections outside of my office, especially when I joined the Lumen Awards Committee. The event was so small back then that I actually bought all of the flowers and made the table centerpieces the day of the event because there were only twenty tables! Looking around at the attendance of some industry events, you can see how tremendously things have changed. I’m especially encouraged that so many young people continue to be attracted to our craft and from so many parts of the world.

Q: How do you see your role as member of the IESNYC?
Day-to-day business occupies the majority of my attention, but my membership has definitely evolved to more of an educator through the occasional lecture or tour of one of our projects. It is true that we see the mistakes and flaws of our own designs more readily that others do so it is easy to underestimate what can be learned by simply walking through a project and talking about lessons learned both good and bad. We have certain ways of approaching a design that may not be obvious to others and conversely our designers can only improve by hearing how others are solving their design problems and what products they’re using to do it. A few weeks ago, Andressa and I were invited to give tours of our lighting design for the new TWA Hotel and Conference Center at JFK airport. At this event, for members of the IESNYC and DLFNY, we were pleased to share the design and our part of the design process with everyone who was interested in learning.

Q: In your opinion, what are the best assets of the IESNYC?
The IESNYC is comprised of a great diversity of members that appreciates the breadth of both the science and art of light. It’s these two facets of light that makes this industry so stimulating and appealing to diverse age groups and backgrounds. As the lines that define a lighting designer’s scope from the engineer’s, A/V consultant’s, or distributors become blurred, it’s important to have an organization that allows all members of the food chain to develop relationships outside of our daily professional roles. And with so much reliance upon electronic communication, I’m also concerned that younger people have more limited opportunities to develop face-to-face people skills including coping skills and conflict resolution. In this age of nonstop text communication developing industry relationships through organizations like the IESNYC is more critical than ever to preserve the human core supporting all of the email voices and social media faces. I think it’s natural for people to want to know and like who they’re dealing with.