Kevin Reilly Lighting: A Bright Idea
Story by Jeanne Lyons Davis
“I just followed my gut... and listened to my wife,” muses master craftsman Kevin Reilly on how his humble hobby of creating innovative luminaries in Alabama evolved into an internationally acclaimed company that continues to shine in the industry.
The Montgomery-based artist is a reserved man of few words. Very few words. But not from a lack of intellect or confidence—he’s just always been a doer who possesses a proactive rather than reactive nature. Kevin was a furniture maker when he started tinkering and perfecting his pastime idea of handsome sculptural fixtures that were like nothing else on the market back in 2000. But he never intended for his designs to see the light of day in a showroom.
“My wife encouraged me to present the fixtures to Holly Hunt [famed doyenne whose company represented prestigious designer collections],” Kevin says. “I told her that if we pursued this, our lives would change forever.”
He was right.
Craftsman Alex Villena of the Fabrication Department stands by the Gem—an innovative hanging light pendant.
Kevin gained notoriety right out the gate with The Altar—a hanging metal light fixture with bulbs surrounded by wax casings, giving the illusion of illuminated candles floating over a table or island. With imitation being a form of flattery, competitors followed his lead and recreated many of his designs, though none came close to his signature craftsmanship.
Fifteen years later, the spark of Kevin Reilly Lighting has spread like wildfire across the globe. Architects and interior designers salivate over its sophisticated sculptural design. It’s just a regular Tuesday for his Montgomery office to receive custom orders from clients in Dubai and Sri Lanka. Royalty outfit their homes (read: palaces) with his pieces. He’s now a celebrity in his own right, but has managed to personally shy away for the spotlight.
When you meet Kevin Reilly, he’s calm and collected. His demeanor is strong, stoic, and soulful, like a Whitman-reading cowboy. You can tell he’s seen a lot. You can tell he knows a lot. He’s probably climbed Mount Everest twice, drunk beers with Bono, and learned Portuguese because it sounded beautiful. In an age where personal branding is engineered, edited, and broadcasted through every outlet, Kevin doesn’t even have Facebook. Part of his elusiveness is illuminated in his composed yet complex fixtures. And as he dedicates this new chapter of his life to crafting heirloom-quality lights, people are noticing him—whether he likes it or not!
The rarely photographed Kevin Reilly casually strolls through Downtown Montgomery (pleasantly unaware of full-time interior designer and part-time paparazzi Barbara Westbrook!)
So why all the hype? A Kevin Reilly Light is more than a means to an end. It’s a sculptural work of art, which is evident when walking through his 30,000-square foot workshop located on the banks of the Alabama River in downtown Montgomery. An intimate team of 28 local artisans meticulously builds every piece of the intricate fixtures, crafting about 1,500 products every year. A calm, almost soothing rhythm of productivity is constant throughout the warehouse. Everyone you meet is pleasantly content if not downright cheerful. What’s the turnover rate? It is almost zero. Half of the employees have been there for more than a decade, with no plans of leaving anytime soon.
From prepping raw materials to packaging final products for delivery, anything created in the warehouse is touched and inspected by each of the 28 employees. If an imperfection is acquired along the way, the piece is discarded. One would assume product scrutiny would wear on his employees, but his trained team is equally invested in creating a perfect piece of art, every time.
That’s the catalyst for crafting exemplary products. While it’s Kevin’s name on the lights, he makes it clear that the products are the outcome of everyone’s impeccable work ethic and talent. It takes a village, and no one understands that more than Kevin. That’s the secret to his success. (Well—at least one of his secrets.)
~ W ~