In the North fixture, seven industrial cathode tubes are combined with a chandelier shape to create a unique light object. Photo by Tõnis Rannap .

Mari Saarepera and Tauri Mae. Photo by Terje Ugandi.  


ased in the design hub of Tallinn, Estonia, lighting brand Saarepera & Mae  was originally launched as a labor of love for local creatives Mari Saarepera and Tauri Mae. Since its inception in 2012, the company has garnered international acclaim for its modernist fixtures, and as Saarepera and Mae evolve creatively and professionally, they have turned their focus toward high-end, limited-edition “light sculptures” and commissions.   

To the partnership, Saarepera brings a background in multidisciplinary art, and Mae is trained as an engineer. Together, they have worked to innovate new, conceptual lighting, including the Ambiguo series, which explores the tension between symmetry and asymmetry, and North, a fixture that combines neon lighting with a modern chandelier silhouette. “We improve each other,” says Saarepera. Below, the pair discusses their process of crafting collectible designs.

You describe your work as "light sculptures." What does that mean to you?

TauriWe approach each piece as an artwork. The process resembles sculpting more than anything else. Our pieces usually find their way to art and design lovers' homes as an addition to their carefully curated art collections.  

Mari: Since all our pieces are handmade, each object has its own character, mood, and essence. The whole crafting process takes a lot of time and energy. And as Tauri said, it's like a sculptor's work – you need to carve and model the material very carefully to create something exceptional, at the level of art.

Crafted from hand-blown Murano glass and aluminum / steel, the Ambiguo light sculpture type-05 has mobile arms that can be manipulated to maximize the lighting in a space. Image courtesy of  Saarepera & Mae. 

Which designers and artists inspire you?

Tauri: Modernism, modern art, and mid-century architecture and design are the movements that I love most and get inspiration from. My latest favorite is Dominick Leuci with his incredible paintings and, of course, his Eques sculptures 

MariSince my early childhood, one of my most beloved artists has been Tove Jansson, a Finnish painter, illustrator, and novelist best known for creating a series of children’s books about a fictional family called the Moomins. Her work is powerful. It inspires me to dare to experiment. One significant quote from Tove that I carry with me is, "It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent — lose your invaluable curiosity, and you let yourself die. It's as simple as that." 

Is there a thread that runs through all of your designs?   

Tauri: All our pieces are meticulously precise and clean by design. We are proud to bring together modern technologies with traditional, hand-made trades like glass- and metalwork.  

Mari: I think artistic and technical challenges are the driving forces behind our work. Also, a weakening need for perfectionism!

Two North chandeliers add drama and a sense of movement in a clean-lined dining room. Photo by Terje Ugandi .

How did the two of you meet, and what influenced your decision to work together?   

TauriWe are a couple. We met in 2007, and as typical millennials, we met online. We started working together through a product design studio. The decision to work together… I think there wasn't any, it just happened naturally. We are both creative, and at one point, we decided that we need to produce the designs ourselves. That was the turning point for the brand.  

MariWe have been together for almost 14 years, and we are “partners in crime” in everything we do. Working together has developed smoothly and naturally. I think the main reason why everything has gone so well with us is, we are very similar and at the same time very different. We improve each other.

Left, the Ambiguo light sculpture type-01, and right, the Ambiguo light sculpture type-02. Image courtesy of  Saarepera & Mae.    

You're branching out now into limited-edition lighting. What has that process been like? 

Tauri: Yes, we started working towards limited editions and small one-off families of light sculptures. There are many unexplored avenues in limited-edition lighting. We have begun to look into different mediums and how to incorporate those into new pieces.  

Mari: The process is intoxicating, as if we are unleashed all of a sudden. It will probably take some time before we introduce actual new work to the public, but when we do, it will be something created without barriers.

Details of the made-to-order North light. Photo by Tõnis Rannap .

How do you generally conceive of a new product idea?

Mari: We have lots of different ideas floating around all the time. We have sketchbooks in which we record those ideas in writing and sketches. Often the new design idea matches some old technical concept, meaning it might find its way to the development phase, when we create some fast graphics and try to expand the idea and paper prototypes on different scales. If the idea makes sense, then we move to materialized prototypes and use materials similar to the final materials. It takes some iterating to get things right. 

Tauri: This is the process we use for private commissions as well. The one-offs we make are well developed, and artistically and technically mature. We love the commissions through which we can create a full range of custom light fixtures for private clients. We choose clients for this kind of work, and we don’t take on more than two custom projects per year. These projects are very demanding, and it would be hard to divide ourselves between many commissions.

The Ambiguo light sculpture type-04 in white hangs in a brightly lit playroom / office. Image courtesy of  Saarepera & Mae.  


What are the most important details of how each luxury piece is crafted?

Tauri: This is a great question. When looking at the big picture, it is tough to single out the most important details. I think it is the prep work at any stage of the process, from good and clear drawings to actual workplace preparation. That can be challenging as we work with different generations of local and overseas artisans. 

We have also partnered with the best-in-their-field craftsmen for each critical process. The glass comes from Murano, Italy. The metalwork is made by hand locally by experienced artisans. All of it comes together at our studio, where we produce, finish, and assemble the pieces. Many of the processes need dedicated tooling made in-house. 

What does artistic lighting bring to your clients' lives?   

Mari: The pieces will create a sense of recognition by bringing elegant cues from different eras, yet being very modern.