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The Elevating of Lighting in the Built Environment

We all remember our grandparents home with ample light. It wasn’t pretty, but it was useful. Floor lamps standing in several corners and fluorescents strips in the bathroom, kitchen and often the dining room.

There was no doubt that we had enough light to see. Wind time forward 50 years to present day and lighting is definitely not utilitarian but an artform. Home renovation is one of the great Australian pastimes. In 2016 alone, over 60% of the 13.6 million homeowners undertook renovations. Lights Lights Lights Co-Founder, Danielle has provided lighting solutions on six series of The Block starting back in 2014. Add House Rules, Open Homes Australia, Fixer Upper and the list goes on. Then add social channels like Pinterest and Instagram to the reality TV renovation shows, and people are better able to conceptualise the lighting potential — just Google the possibilities. 

The Elevation of the Profession 

More importantly, lighting and lighting designers status is on the rise within the construction industry. There are much closer relationships and greater appreciation between the architects and lighting designers. The architects understand by working together in the first instance, the lighting designer will help to tell the story of the architect’s build. In turn, lighting designers themselves have a great appreciation of the architects because if there is not a built space there is nothing to light. This symbiotic relationship works best when the architect and lighting designer collaborate and push each other to the elevate the design for the client’s benefits. 

Clients get the best results when the architect and lighting designer collaborate at the onset of the project. Working together before building permit stage ensures that internal spaces, as well as the external lighting, is thoroughly integrated. Submitting plans in their entirety to local councils reduces last-minute façade changes that eat up time and budgets (at least most of the time). 

Fashion and Lighting 

Although most clientele nowadays are focused on sustainability and seeking classic elegance, fashion still influences the design of luminaires. Danielle remarked, “The haute couture we see on the catwalks of Europe is influenced by the life we live and the emotions of the moment. The colour, the prints, the personality of the fashion transcends into the aisles of Salone Del Mobile, and I see it in the lighting and the furniture releases. That moment in Italy, when the world of fashion and lighting connects is at the heart of why I adore this industry.”

With a background in not only psychology but fashion, Danielle looks at residential properties like a form that needs to be dressed. When choosing pendants or lamps, it’s about the shape, the texture and the design. Is it going to draw your attention? Does it command people’s attention, much like decorative earrings?

Architectural lighting, on the other hand, is so much more. It’s about complementing the architecture and enhancing the beauty of the space. “I often explain the lighting in terms of an outfit. Imagine you finally find that perfect pair of jeans. The cut. The fit. Every way you turn, it flatters every part of you. But how do you accessorise it to take you out for Sunday afternoon drinks? The perfect jewels, sunglasses, shoes and blazer. How do you bring the denim to life and tell your story in one look?” It’s the same with light. It’s about using restraint. 

Lighting: Mazzei – Scott Street
Mazzei – Scott Street, Builder: Mazzei, Styling by Simone Haag, Architecture by Catt Architects, Interiors by Catherine Francis Interiors. Photography by Elisa Watson

Life is not about perfection! A common saying: perfection is annihilation. It paralyses us from working from the heart. Humans, by nature, are not perfect, and imperfections are what makes the world beautiful. The same holds true within our built environment and especially true when working with old-build residential homes. There’s always an imperfection! The use of uplights in the long narrow hallway in a fisherman’s cottage in South Melbourne adds dimension. Increase the intensity on the mid-arch to create shadows on the structure with paint drips from days gone past. Push the boundaries of design and add a spotlight to an ‘iggly piggly’ brick and stone wall that was hiding behind the plaster. Embrace the imperfections! The lighting should be more than just function but be filled with feeling. Lighting is that magic that makes you feel safe, secure and appreciative of those who have lived within the walls before you. 

Sustainability and Technology 

Australians are blessed with an abundance of daylight, and modern architecture embraces the use of daylight to reduce the reliance on artificial light during daylight hours. However, in our living spaces, we need to live and function after the sun goes down. 

Having realised the energy-saving benefit of LEDs, Australians are also further streamlining their use of resources. Clients are holding back from over lighting spaces with a ceiling littered with downlights. They are taking a measured approach and seeking the perfect downlight that will provide the desired lighting signature. The classic look works over time. The inhabitants may change, but the classic lighting signature will remain. 

Light is no longer just on or off. Technology has significantly impacted and improved lighting functionality. However, until recently, there was often a flicker associated with LEDs at low-level current. With technology advancements, flicker-free technology has proven to reduce headaches and not impact those with visual hypersensitivity. Add to the flicker-free technology the use of tunable white with the ability to control a light source’s colour supporting circadian rhythms.

Taking a holistic approach to lighting with the integration of daylight, fit-for-purpose lighting plans and technology advancements means an increase in sustainability and along with supporting comfort and well-being. 

Lighting: Mazzei – Scott Street
Mazzei – Scott Street, Builder: Mazzei, Styling by Simone Haag, Architecture by Catt Architects, Interiors by Catherine Francis Interiors. Photography by Elisa Watson

Crafting the Lighting Signature 

Anyone can light a room, but it takes design nouse and passion to illuminate a room, to create an environment fit for purpose, and fill it with emotion. The ‘basic’ skill required of a successful lighting designer is the ability to turn 2D into 3D in your head. You need to be able to understand the volume of the spaces that you are lighting. The design process then moves to the reason for the lighting. Are you looking for drama, ambience, opulence, function? 

Of prime importance is understanding what else is going on in the room? Lighting should not compete with styling but enhance it. What makes the perfect light signature? The humanness. It’s about connecting with the individual and investing time to understand better what makes them tick. What’s their lifestyle? Are they a small screen, big screen or theatre person? Or are they all three rolled into one? What do they spend time doing when they are not at home? 

Every client and every house has its own personality. Knowing the human behind the house provides excellent insight into how to light the house. For the minimalist, lighting can be the most important element in the room. Not only is it the light that the luminaire emits important, but it is the presence of the object itself. The human, the occupant, the client, is the critical piece in the puzzle. What brings joy to your clients? If you have the opportunity to walk through the space with them, watch where their eyes light up. Is it the textured tiles they have imported from Morocco? Or maybe the Charles Blackman painting that is hanging in the entryway? Or the Tasmanian oak herringbone floors in the living room? With new builds, a walkthrough is not possible, but you will find that if you ask enough questions, you will learn who they are and what they value. 

At Lights Lights Lights, Danielle remarked, “Over 80% of our clients arrive at their initial consultation stating ‘We need seven decorative lights! Here, here, here, here, here, here and here.’ But after we unpackage the what, where and why, we often realise that there are only three wow luminaires. We’re here to enhance not to take over the room.” 

Working from the Heart 

Danielle has got herself where she is today through lots of blood, sweat and tears – ok, not too much blood. As she boldly states, “To be in a position of influence, you need to throw every part of yourself into every project. There’s no second best, or ‘good enough’. We have grown LLL by not letting people down. It is true that every client is treated like a VIP. We do try to push clients out of their comfort zone to elevate the result.” 

There is understanding, contemplation, creation, reflection, and occasionally after presenting to the architect and client, the circle may have another iteration to ensure that the project is exactly how it should be. 

Danielle reflects, “SME life is challenging. We are in it, we are in every part of the business, but that’s how we like it. Being amidst of all the interactions enables us to connect, and connecting to the humanness of our brand is everything. We offer an experiential form of retail, and we have a beautiful showroom. Yes, we sell lights, but we are not ‘a lighting shop’. We are a place where consultation, time and energy are invested into the humans behind a build (often over the course of years) to tell the story of the build with light.

Personally, I have the insatiable desire to have a conversation about them, the client, about light, about everything. Once I know the human, I make better recommendations that perfectly reflect them. I love my job! It may sound crazy but lighting a space fulfils my emotional needs.”