These Lamps Speak Surfer Slang

Founded by three friends who grew up riding waves in Southern California, lighting company Cerno creates subtly playful, distinctly sophisticated fixtures.

Cerno’s cofounders (1998).

UPDATED from March 5, 2018: Cerno has reached tsunami proportions, as this year marks the 10th anniversary of the lighting company. To celebrate this milestone, the brand’s founders have introduced two new products to its relaxed, yet sophisticated collection: Outdoor and Penna. The first utilizes powder-coated finishes on sleek shapes that are built to withstand hot and cold temperatures. While the latter embodies the decade-long journey that Cerno took, becoming a lasting force in the industry. Penna draws upon the lessons learned, culminating in designs made of leatherwork, brass, and walnut. 

For this occasion, we look back at Cerno’s origins, and how it has built a business that—like its product—is made to stand the test of time.

Cerno's Outdoor and Pena collection. Photo courtesy of Pena.

Growing up in Laguna Beach, California, friends Bret Englander, Daniel Wacholder, and Nick Sheridan surfed, sailed, and soaked up the area’s creative culture—inadvertently sowing the seeds for Cerno, the lighting design studio they launched in 2009. Based in Irvine, the firm creates elegant fixtures using noble materials and sculpted shapes infused with a cool, laidback vibe.

The trio credits their shared enthusiasm for their work to Wacholder’s late grandfather, who was raised on a rural homestead and showed them the value of making things by hand. A similar balance of industriousness and curiosity is embraced by Cerno’s team of engineers, designers, and craftspeople, who translate custom designs into subtly playful, distinctly sophisticated forms. To learn more about the company’s origins and where it’s headed, Surface talked to Englander about Cerno’s roots, approach, and forthcoming projects.

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The Mica pendant is made from American black walnut and a light-diffusing polymer.

Tell us a little bit about Cerno’s history. How did it begin?
Cerno’s roots go deep. Daniel, Nick, and I have been close friends since we were in elementary school. This friendship is core to who we are and the company we’re building together. When we were kids, we were always going on adventures and building things. We stayed close after high school, but went to college to pursue different subjects: Nick studied architecture, Daniel studied mechanical engineering, and I studied journalism and worked in finance and marketing after graduating. We had a feeling that these different but complementary skills could work together. Cerno—which means “to resolve” in Latin—was born of this natural synergy.

What is the driving force behind Cernos work?
Respect the process, respect the materials, and most importantly, respect the people who make this all possible. Our passion for design is fueled by a shared belief in the infinite power of human creativity. That visceral high you get from completing a well-designed project or product is the reason we’re still so stoked to come to work every day. We’re a vertically integrated company that designs and manufactures everything under one roof, which allows us each to become quite intimate with the entire process.

Nick Sheridan in the studio.

What does good design mean to you?
Good design is a fully resolved design. Often in our industry, designers create beautiful objects—but the execution gets compromised. Or vice versa: you’ll have an amazingly well-engineered object, but it’s aesthetically lacking. Good design starts with providing a solution to a problem and truly understanding how people will interact with what you are designing.

What projects do you currently have in the works?
We’re working on a linear pendant that we’ll launch during New York Design Week in May. We’re exploring new forms and materials with this project—it’s definitely a deviation [from our existing work] and something fresh for the Cerno line. This fixture is loosely inspired by our love for the ocean and boats, as we grew up surfing and sailing. We’re excited to share these new designs and continue feeling really fortunate to be doing what we love with a good team.

Cerno’s Silva floor lamp and Camur linear pendant.
Dan Wacholder, Nick Sheridan, and Bret Englander.
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