Creating Extraordinary Affordable Lighting Design With Ordinary Fixtures
There are 100 different decorative fixtures for every 2x4 Parabolic or Recessed Can Light, which is ironic considering that on the typical project there are 100 of the later for every one of the former. Like many, as a young lighting designer I ignored standard lighting to focus my attention on finding the extraordinary fixtures that would provide the punch I so desperately wanted. As I grew as a designer I came to realize a few things about the so called “ordinary” fixtures that populated our projects:
- Extraordinary affordable lighting design can be achieved with ordinary fixtures.
- By embracing the vernacular I could do more with less.
- Ignoring the vernacular is the same as ignoring an opportunity.
Examining the ideas behind these points,
I like to think of the first point as “less is more.” Eliminate special fixtures from every part of the project that doesn’t benefit from it being there. Overdoing it is a common mistake. A designer finds a fixture they love and proceeds to populate a project with the fixture as much as possible. The result however, is the fixture stops being special and becomes ordinary. If you accept the vernacular you can cull the herd, and the extraordinary fixtures that remain can benefit from the emphasis. Some of my favorite projects with which we “pruned” include the Shops at Worthington Place in Worthington, Ohio and the Bob Evans Farms Corporate Headquarters in New Albany, Ohio.
At Shops at Worthington Place, it would have been easy to overpopulate the project with the large custom chandeliers we selected. Instead, we cut the number of decorative chandeliers and added cove lighting. The fewer fixtures combined with the cove lighting emphasized the importance of the decorative fixtures without diminishing their uniqueness.
In the Café at the Bob Evans Corporate Headquarters, we embraced simple vernacular lighting and then created special places using decorative light fixtures to define seating groups. Unlike the first project where the vernacular fixtures disappeared, the fixtures were used to reinforce the concept of the space and the chandeliers at the seating groups were allowed to shine.
Point two is about achieving “more with less,” which may seem contrary to my first point, but is one of my favorite things about a project that successfully embraces the vernacular. It costs less, but appears to be worth more. The lighting design for the Shops at Worthington Place was less than 6% of the project budget.
With regards to my third point, simply put, the vernacular is vernacular because it is common and when something is common the assumption is that no effort is required. Unfortunately it often shows, as alignments are ignored or the wrong fixture type is selected. All parts of a design, even the ordinary require attention. Using standard fixtures to create alignments or architectural emphasis is an inexpensive way of improving upon what is already extraordinary about a project.
The main lobby space of the Bob Evan’s Corporate Headquarters with its wood ceiling, large back lit letters and double height space already had a lot going on architecturally. We could have easily added another layer of extraordinary with decorative chandeliers or used can lights in the wood ceiling. Instead a track was located on one side of the space and a variety of track heads used to provide either general illumination or emphasize certain aspects of the space. Another fixture was used above the track to graze the ceiling. The end result is a lighting design that is both present, but also not.
by KURT BERES
Kurt is a talented lighting designer with a flare for details. His favorite restaurant is Mad Mex, and he is a dedicated Cleveland Browns fan.