Moody blues

There was a time when lighting was a last-minute addition to an interiors project, but those days are over. It’s no longer considered enough to pick an off-the-peg lighting system. Now, architects and interior designers are commissioning bespoke products from lighting specialists, and they’re involving them from the start.

Lighting is, to excuse the pun, hot. This year’s Light & Building show in Frankfurt had a 16 per cent growth in visitors, and predicts the sector is going through ‘a powerful upsurge in growth’.

Why? For designers, lighting provides an almost intangible, yet vital dimension to an interiors scheme: mood. Offices are dispensing with strip lights and seeking to provide more comfortable lighting for our tired, 12-hour-day eyes; urban spaces are being illuminated with scant regard for the environment; and hotels and restaurants are having to come up with bigger and brighter solutions as each new opening attempts to out-punch the last.

Richard Rogers Partnership/ Maantis

Maantis is an elegant, intellectual take on what is, essentially, a utilitarian product: the office strip light. It is to the latter what a chandelier is to a bare light bulb, and it took architect Richard Rogers Partnership three years – on and off – to complete in collaboration with Italian lighting manufacturer Reggiani.

The design inspiration for the Richard Rogers team, led by director Amo Kalsi, was the ‘iridescent glow of deep-sea creatures’. In other words, the quality of light was key. But the form – an aluminium spine encasing a standard T5 strip light with close-fitting plastic ‘ribs’ slotted over it – also recalls a coiled sea creature or plant.

These prismatic ribs are key to Maantis’ soft, ‘comfortable’ light quality: they diffuse, reflect and refract the light at all angles, so that glare and light spillage are minimised. A strip of LED lights is incorporated under the spine and provides low-level lighting for when the office is closed; and an optional spotlight can be suspended from the end of the spine.

Maantis has a daylight sensor, responding accordingly by adjusting its output, and even when it’s switched off, it absorbs light and colour from the surrounding space to produce a translucent glow. All the components are housed within a blue, semi-transparent box above the spine.

‘We wanted to strip down a standard office light and show off its inner workings,’ says Kalsi. ‘Maantis is a celebration of utilitarian design: it’s beautiful and legible because we got rid of the light’s frame and showed off what was left. And we tried to incorporate wit in the design: from the front it almost looks like a humming bird.’

For Kalsi, who usually works on large-scale projects, such as Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and the Stirling Prize-winning Madrid Barajas Airport, Maantis was an exercise in small-scale design. ‘That was the attraction,’ he says.

The fitting launches formally in London this month.

Sharon Marston/ Hilton Hotel, Warsaw

There can be few hotels with lobby lights so dramatic: four cascading, twinkling contemporary chandeliers, 10m in length.

Sharon Marston specialises in the design and creation of bespoke, hand-crafted, sculptural light installations. Not surprisingly, her large-scale pieces are often commissioned for commercial settings: the latest, and largest to date, is for Hilton Hotel’s newest outpost, Warsaw, which is set to open in time for Christmas.

Marston will suspend four Autumn lights in the hotel’s vast lobby. Each consists of 400 fibre-optic strands, embedded in a 2m2 steel tray, which drip down 10m. They converge inside the tray’s mechanism and a projector shines a powerful beam through them. Each strand is ‘crackled’ – slightly broken, so that light leaks through the side rather than just the bottom. ‘It’s a subtle effect, and means the light quality is more decorative,’ says Marston.

The decorative theme continues with berry-coloured, polycarbonate, floral shapes – 8000 in total – attached to the fibre-optic strands. ‘They lend a femininity to the lights.’ It’s labour-intensive work: each shape consists of three parts that must be hand-folded: it took eight freelances six weeks to complete them.

The lights are being shipped to Poland at the end of November and will take a week to install. Despite being 10m tall, each will still sit 6m above the floor, such is the size of the hotel’s atrium. ‘Part of the attraction was the size of the lights – they’ll look striking,’ says Marston. ‘You’ll be able to see them from a distance as the lobby is glazed on two sides. During the day they are more sculptural, but they come into their own at night.’

Neil Worrell, Hilton’s director of architecture and design, Europe and Africa, spotted Marston’s work at London’s 100% Design exhibition in 2005, and suggested her to Warsaw’s interior designer, London-based ARA Design. Her first Hilton project was a light for the Evian Hotel, France, and she has three more in the pipeline.

Martin Brudnizki/ Scott’s of Mayfair

‘If you don’t get the lighting right in a restaurant, it doesn’t matter what the rest looks like. It has to make people look fantastic,’ says designer Martin Brudnizki. Brudnizki is refurbishing Scott’s of Mayfair, which claims to be London’s second oldest restaurant and hosted, in its day, the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. It is due to reopen on 30 November.

A multi-stranded lighting system, from downlights to uplights to free-standing bar lamps, is designed to create a ‘warm glow’. ‘It’s important to use similarly coloured lights, so the effect is consistent – but to use different types of light and at different heights,’ says Brudnizki, who commissioned lighting specialists Patrice Butler and Paul Verburg to work with him.

Thus the centre of the ceiling incorporates recessed lights that light the tables as well as the many artworks on the walls by artists including Gary Hume and Michael Landy. Just below the ceiling is a recessed ledge concealing strip lights so it appears to glow around the edge. Uplighters hang from the ledge, and just below sit wall lights mounted on a scroll with a hole in the rear so that light flows up and down the restaurant’s timber-panelled walls.

At the front of the restaurant, suspended over Scott’s pièce de résistance – a Future Systems-designed seafood display area (oysters are Scott’s speciality) – is a giant crystal chandelier designed by Butler. Five free-standing lamps designed by Verburg – ‘unintentionally mussel-shaped’ – surround it on the bar. And diffused natural light enters the front windows, with a sheer fabric fixed to a brass frame covering the lower section of the windows to protect the modesty of celebrity diners.

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