Memories, milestones, projects and people

This month is Nulty’s tenth birthday. In the grand scheme of things a decade isn’t a monumental anniversary, but for us it’s a celebratory and significant milestone in what I hope continues to be an incredible journey.

Back in 2011 my dream was to shake things up in the lighting industry. I felt there wasn’t really anyone getting the message across about how light emotionally connects people and places. I wanted to build a brand that championed the importance of light; I wanted to present lighting design to the wider world in a different way. I knew it was no longer enough to do just really good work; it was about positioning yourself as a brand, understanding business and financials. And there it began, Paul Nulty Lighting Design – me myself and I at my dining room table.

Things started off with a few small-scale projects, one of which was the Manchester United Nike Superstore. It was a fast-moving programme that meant I could market it relatively quickly, opening the door to more projects. By 2012, the Man Utd store had been on the front cover of Lighting magazine, PNLD had been nominated for Lighting Design Practice of the Year, followed by a first award win in 2013 for the Superdry flagship store on Regent Street (all are still pinch me moments). As terrified as I was at the start, by then I knew I’d done the right thing starting out on my own.

Looking back on the last decade, we’ve proudly delivered innovative lighting design solutions on projects like the United Nations, Chelsea Barracks, The Ned, DIFC Gate Village Dubai, Selfridges, and London Underground, to name a few. And looking to the future, we have an impressive number of projects in the pipeline, including the Al Ain Museum and Fort in Abu Dhabi, The Westin London City hotel and many more that we can’t yet talk about.

None of this would have been possible without the team we’ve built. At the start, I was doing everything and that’s when I knew the closing line of my business plan was always going to be that I wanted to be the worst person at everything. So, whilst I could run the ship and understood the four pillars of business – operations, HR, finance, and marketing – I knew I had to take on the right individuals to move things forward, and before I knew it, I had a few team members on board. Phil Copland (now Associate Designer) joined me very early on, then came Ellie Coombs (now Managing Director), followed by Daniel Blaker (now Creative Director). Today we’re almost 50 people strong across the globe.

We’re only as good as the people we employ, and together we’ve worked collaboratively and passionately to achieve an enormous amount. After building things up in London, the next opportunity was Dubai. There might not have been the opening there was 20 years ago, but we felt there was still a really good opportunity to build something. With the help of Mark Vowles and the rest of the Dubai team, we’ve managed to make our mark on the Middle East. And we’ve continued to grow our reach, with outposts in Miami and now Bangkok.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though – we’ve encountered plenty of challenges along the way. For starters, the last 15 months have been tough, but not just on us, on everyone. I’m incredibly proud of the team for adapting to the circumstances that have been thrown at us – I know it’s not been easy. Another tough time was in 2017 when we had to make a few team members redundant. As a business owner it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, and I hope we never go through it again. And then there was Beirut, where we opened a studio based on the success of Dubai. Not everything goes to plan, and we ended up pulling out in 2020, but we still think it’s a wonderful area and would love to return one day. (You can read more about the challenges I’ve encountered in business, along with some of my tips, in an interview I did with Jerome Knyszewski here.)

But for all the challenges and lessons, there have been plenty of great moments: winning fabulous projects, switching the lights on for projects we’ve worked so hard on, winning coveted awards, seeing the team develop and have fun at events, working with passionate clients and manufacturers, and sharing our love for light with the wider community. It’s not possible to mention everything as I’d be here all day, but another high was when we rebranded in 2015 from “Paul Nulty Lighting Design” to “Nulty”. The idea behind the change of direction was about celebrating the team and what we’ve built together, rather than it being about me. Then there’s the most recent highlight: our new forever home in London on Westminster Bridge Road. Each time we’ve moved offices it’s been an exciting step, but none more so than when we found our first standalone workspace. We look forward to the somewhat quirky space – it used to be an old bank – developing into a creative hub (once Covid restrictions have eased).

As for the next 10 years, I’d love to grow our offices and our reach across the globe. Every continent has amazing projects and I’d like us to be part of them. I take great pride in seeing the team evolve and grow, and more than anything I want to see them continue to do that and be the ones who move the business forward. I’d like to see clients demand high quality lighting design that doesn’t have the cost ripped out of it, and I’d like to see the value of our industry increase.

Finally, and most importantly, I’d like to say thank you to the team (past and present), our amazing clients, the sales representatives who work tirelessly to support us, and everyone else who has been involved in our incredible journey. Ten years ago, at my dining room table, I may have had big ambitions, but where we are today has surpassed even my (high!) expectations. Happy Birthday, Nulty.