In this third installation of our People’s Partner series, we chat with Bertie Ray III—the quirky, design and modern architecture loving, co-founder of Switch. Switch is the curated lighting gallery, in Over-the-Rhine, who we’ve put in charge of lighting up the Globe. Bertie talks about his move to Cincinnati, laying roots and surviving the 2008 economic downturn in a luxury goods market.
Bertie Ray III, Switch Lighting & Design
PL: Describe your path to Cincinnati and the beginning of Switch.
BR: I’m a transplant from New York City; I wanted nothing to do with Cincinnati when I moved here
in 2005. There was no reason in the world for me to come except that my wife got a great career opportunity here. Those first five months I drove back to New York every weekend. Eventually my wife told me I had a decision to make: fall in love with Cincinnati, or continue my life in New York City.
So, I opened my heart up to Cincinnati and it did the same for me.
Once I began to meet people and learn about their passion for this city, I realized that Cincinnati is quite literally a city of dreams—anything is possible. I have an entrepreneurial spirit and, in looking for entrepreneurial opportunities for myself, began to encourage others to start their own initiatives. This is how [Switch co-founder] Drew Dearwester and I met. I was out looking for furniture for our home and was so impressed with his sense of knowledge and design taste, that I told him to find me when he wanted to start something of his own. Soon we were working on a side project together, designing and manufacturing outdoor furnishings.
PL: How did Switch come about?
BR: Drew and I were actually out looking for a space for an outdoor furniture project when the Switch epiphany struck. The first few locations we scouted were boarded up, so when we saw the space on 1207 Vine, we fell in love...but both immediately saw the space as one fit for a beautiful lighting display, not outdoor furnishings. Drew’s specialty is lighting, and mine is business development—plus, I’m the son of an electrician—so in that moment we decided to combine our interests and passions. It just made sense.
From there, Switch was born. Our goal is to bring the finest in modern architectural lighting to Cincinnati and to the region. Unfortunately, on the day of our grand opening, the market plunged 770 points. We went into a luxury goods market, just as the recession landed on our country’s doorstep.
PL: How did you survive those first few months?
BR: We were immediately supported by this community. Drew’s strong network embraced us; in fact, one of them (Brasher Bolton), brought us our very first project: The Mercantile Library. The business community supported us for taking a risk and local Cincinnatians supported us to encourage the revitalization of OTR—after all, this was the the beginning of that neighborhood’s renaissance. In fact, when Switch opened its doors, the only vendors on Vine were MiCA, A Lucky Step, Lavomatic, Park & Vine and MetroNation.
Slowly architects and interior designers started hearing about us, and opportunities began to present themselves. We treated each job like it was the most important thing we’d done. No person came through the door who wasn’t important. No matter their budget, we tried to find something that could work for them. If we couldn’t, we referred them to a shop that could, and those shops returned the favor. Eventually the word was out, and now we have clients across state and country.
PL: What are you doing for the Globe Building?
Switch is providing 99% of the lighting for the Globe; Brush Factory identified one statement piece going in that we love, but we’re providing all the other eye-catching pieces, as well as all of the commercial grade recess and track lighting—which is all LEED certified, too. It’s been exciting to work on, because these are things that Switch isn’t necessarily known for. We’re getting the chance to demonstrate to the community that we can handle this type of project. We want to be a resource for the professional community and hope that after seeing our work in the Globe, local architects and contractors will bring more projects like this to us in the future.
PL: Do you have a favorite piece going into the Globe?
BR: We discovered a line called Graypants at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in NYC that repurposes cardboard; we’re going to be using their Moon pendant in the Globe and use it as our first opportunity to reveal the pendant in a commercial design setting in Cincinnati. Another I love is termed Scotch; it’s ceramic, has a gold interior and is handcrafted in Barcelona, Spain. Pretty cool.