January 2017

Stephen D. Bernstein, IALD
Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design (CBBLD)

Q: How did you first get started in the lighting industry?
Lighting was a second career path for me. I had been working as an executive for Bloomingdale’s and wanted to make a change. After a lot of soul searching and doing the exercises in the career-changing guide What Color is Your Parachute?,” I realized that the things I was passionate about somehow always involved light.
At that time, I was only aware of theatrical lighting design as a profession, and knew that that wasn’t the life for me. A friend’s boss knew Lesley Wheel and suggested that I speak to her about architectural lighting—something I had never heard of before. After explaining my background and situation, Lesley, in her typical direct fashion, said “Oh, you don’t know anything—you need to call Jim Nuckolls.” Jim graciously met with me and explained the profession and the work he was doing at Parsons with the lighting certificate program (the precursor to the MFA program). Because at one time I was toying with becoming an architect, lighting design seemed the perfect fit for me—a mix of art and science.
I took classes at Parsons, including Jim’s intro to lighting class, and loved it. Halfway through the term Jim offered me a job. That’s how I met Carroll Cline and Francesca Bettridge, who were partners with Jim at Incorporated Consultants Ltd. at the time.

Q: How did you first get involved in the IESNYC?
Since I was a total newbie to the profession and the discipline, I did anything I could to learn about lighting. It seemed a logical extension and a great opportunity to join all the professional groups that existed—so that meant the IALD, the IES and the DLF. I availed myself of many of the IESNYC programs, and volunteered to help wherever I could.

Q: How do you see your role as member of the IESNYC?
We’re all in this together—everyone trying to keep up with the latest technical info, codes and designs. To that end, it’s all about communication and sharing. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in a number of programs, presentations and talks.

Over the years, we’ve been a big supporter of Open House New York, which is held each year in October. A couple of years ago, I spoke at one of their programs that was organized through the IESNYC. The talk focused on our relighting of the historic Grace Church. The impressive turnout was another example of IESNYC’s outreach to raise the public’s awareness of architectural lighting.

When I was on the steering committee for the formation of the Center for Architecture, I realized that this was a great opportunity for IESNYC—and for us—to engage more fully with the architectural community. To their credit, ELS founder Frank Conti, who was then president of the IESNYC Board of Managers, and his fellow managers understood the importance of this alliance. Helping to make that sort of connection helps us all. A few weeks ago, Caleb McKenzie, vice president of the IESNYC and chair of the scholarships committee, asked me to be a guest judge for the second annual IESNYC Scholarship. It’s another way of giving back, and I look forward to participating in the effort.

Q: In your opinion, what are the best assets of the IESNYC?
I think the sense of community and collaboration are the IESNYC’s strongest assets. Whether it’s the programs and classes, the Lumens and what is unarguably the best lighting party (!), the Student Lighting Competition, the Kelly Grant, or most recently the new scholarship, it’s all about sharing ideas, supporting one another, and developing new talent. The breadth of programs means there’s something to help each person grow at every stage of their career.

Editor’s Note: Want to know more? Watch AL’s One-on-One: Stephen Bernstein