Kruggel Has Light Touch

September 16, 2002
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HOLLAND — Whether a fine restaurant that offers an inviting atmosphere or a corporate office with an aura of prominence, much of the mood and ambiance comes from the design and architecture, all of which is accentuated by the lighting.

That’s where George Kruggel comes in. The owner of a small design firm in Holland, Kruggel specializes in lighting, a field that he says represents a blend of engineering, design and art.

“There’s many instances where lighting can make or break a space,” said Kruggel, the president and owner of Radiant Design LLC in Holland.

“It’s what keeps my job exciting,” he said. “I love getting up in the morning and thinking ‘What design challenges do I have today? I have to get to the office.’”

Kruggel, an electrical engineer by training “with a creative side,” formed the company three years ago to provide himself more flexibility, both professionally and personally.

In working for himself, he has greater flexibility to experiment and try something different when designing the lighting for commercial and public buildings for a client. As a husband and father of two young children, he has the ability to tailor his schedule and clients’ needs around his home life.

“You’re being your own boss, setting your own timetable,” said Kruggel, who typically works as a subcontractor for architects and recently began working on one of the largest projects he’s ever had in terms of revenue.

Working with a Chicago architectural firm that is a regular client, Kruggel is designing the lighting, audiovisual and security system for the 140,000-square-foot Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, Ill.

The Elgin job represents just the latest in a long line of library projects that Kruggel has worked on. Designing lighting systems specifically for libraries, in fact, accounts for about 40 percent of Radiant Design’s business volume and is a niche specialty for Kruggel, a Grand Haven native who learned to appreciate fine design at an early age and decided to follow his father into the engineering field.

After graduating from Michigan State University in 1982, he joined a Chicago company and worked for a robotics and materials-handling company. After five years, he had grown tired of the position. Feeling unchallenged professionally, Kruggel found the robotics field had gotten “a little boring.”

His next opportunity came when he and his father, also named George, were sitting on the beach one day talking. The elder Kruggel was considering going back into business with his own engineering firm but didn’t liking doing the lighting design, a task that his son decided to take up.

The father-and-son team worked together for seven years at The Engineering Group. Among their projects were the Ottawa County Road Commission headquarters in Grand Haven and Star Theatres. Along the way, the younger Kruggel learned more about “the creative side” of designing lighting systems for commercial and institutional buildings that goes far beyond merely providing illumination.

“What’s the eye-catching area and what’s going to set the tone?” Kruggel said.

At the Borden Library in Elgin, for instance, the lighting in the children’s area features bright colored lighting in red, black and blue shaped like amoebas that children view as they lie on their backs while reading.

The young adult area uses lighting in the shapes of stars and guitars to demonstrate “the energy and harmony” derived from the library’s video and musical CD collection.

In an era of renewed appreciation for fine design and architecture, Kruggel finds his craft in high demand. Lighting today represents about 85 percent of Kruggel’s design work.

The design goal of a lighting system is to bring together different styles of lighting to “work with or accentuate architectural styles and designs” and create the ambiance a client wants, he said.

“There’s a much more holistic view now of lighting within the space,” Kruggel said. “They’re looking for an edge and they’re looking for something unique.”

After working together for seven years, and as his father looked at slowing down, Kruggel left The Engineering Group and joined GMB Architects-Engineers in Holland, a position that would lead him to further hone his design talents and develop his niche for libraries.

In the 1990s, GMB was hired by Frye Gillan Milanaro, a Chicago architectural firm, as a subcontractor to help design a massive renovation of the Herrick District Library. Kruggel was assigned to the project.

The project marked the beginning of a business connection with Frye Gillan Milanaro that continues today, as the firm continued to direct work to Kruggel even after he left GMB, where he spent seven years before striking out on his own and forming Radiant Design.

“I was fortunate to be put on that project, and we’ve just taken off,” he said. “We worked so well together. Everyone saw eye to eye on a lot of issues.”

Kruggel now works for several architects around the country, including his father’s firm, now located in Naples, Fla.           

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