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SOURCE Awards Winner: Austin Gauley

December 20, 2018

SOURCE Awards Winner: Austin Gauley


Graduate student Austin Gauley won SOURCE Awards recognition in 2010 while he was an undergraduate student at Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi. Gauley’s lighting design for Nashville’s Common Grounds Coffee House focused on bringing nature into the space. For example, cove lighting at the base of a chimney shoots light across the textured surface of the rock fireplace, creating a central glow in the coffee shop. Skylights provide the main source of light during the day, creating fun shadows across the walls and floor; at night, track lighting running the length of the skylights provides illumination and imitates the stars in the night sky. Warm fabric pendants also hang above each table, adding soft warmth to conversations.

Cooper Lighting's team caught up with Gauley to learn more about the inspiration for his award-winning design and how the project has contributed to his development as an interior designer.

What was it like to win a SOURCE Award? Did it support your career aspirations?

I was floored. Until I submitted my project as a SOURCE Award student entry, I had never entered a national-level competition. I included it on my resume along with regional awards I’d received, and it’s served me well. I also made my SOURCE Award entry part of my portfolio when I applied to graduate school at Florida State University. Without a doubt, winning helped me get to where I am today.

Tell us about your award-winning lighting design.

I’ve always liked coffee, and my design hinged on enhancing the community aspect of the Common Grounds Coffee House by bringing nature back into the space. With numerous skylights, the shop provided lots of opportunities for daylighting. Common Grounds gives its customers an open place to congregate, and its layout is light and airy. My design highlighted beautiful natural elements like the trees and fire-lit central area as well as the architectural details.

You were a student winner. Where did you go to school, and what was your degree?

I earned a bachelor of science in interior design from Mississippi College, outside Jackson. It’s a small school, and a lot of people haven’t heard of it, but the faculty and curriculum laid a good foundation for my career in design. I graduated in 2012.

Do you specialize in a particular aspect of interior design?

I’m pursuing my Master of Fine Arts in interior design at Florida State University, where I’m focusing on retail environments. My thesis is titled “Enhancing the Grocery Store Experience by Understanding the Local Community.” It’s centered largely on people and how interiors can reflect the local culture, demographics and ideals of the neighborhood where the store is located. I’ve always thought of interior design as a human-centered approach to design.

What inspired you to pursue an interior design career?

I was always fascinated with buildings and architecture, but I was particularly interested in the human scale of things. Interiors are where humans interact, and interior design is very people-centered. I love how the field is a blend of science and art. A lot of people think it’s only about aesthetics, but it’s also about psychology and science – what creates our memories, perceptions and experiences that stay with us for a lifetime.

How can lighting transform a space?

I’m seeing strong trends in retail design, which is my area of focus. There’s a clear need for unique experiences and engagement in physical places even as e-commerce grows. Lighting is part of the experience we can’t get online. Lighting helps us create drama, highlight products and drive purchasing decisions. Programmatic research also shows that there’s a huge need for things like daylighting and, in grocery stores, lighting that makes produce areas look fresh. Great lighting is always going to be an important part of creating the customer experience.

What makes a lighting design special?

I’m most intrigued by hidden light sources. In fact, when I won my SOURCE Award, the keynote speaker at the conference in Philadelphia covered this topic. This is an especially important consideration when lighting historical buildings. It’s always great when designers can find a way to provide light that transforms the space without adding exposed fixtures. Visible fixtures can be a great way to drive a concept, but it’s so much more intriguing when the light source is hidden within the environment.

What’s next for you?

I’m finishing graduate school in August, so I’m starting to put out feelers. I want to find a job opportunity in the retail or hospitality industry. I love working in branded spaces and with experiential design, and I’m open to going anywhere. I’m excited to get started, and nothing’s holding me back.

The SOURCE Awards competition, established in 1977, focuses on furthering the understanding, knowledge and function of lighting as a primary element in design. Designed to recognize and honor the bright future of the lighting design industry, the awards are part of Cooper Lighting’s commitment to building the pipeline of lighting design talent.

The SOURCE Awards are open to students who use Cooper Lighting's lighting fixtures and controls products in a conceptual interior or exterior lighting design. University students studying architecture, design, engineering or related disciplines are invited to enter.

For more information about how to enter, please visit our SOURCE Lighting Education Center.