The replacement of incandescent bulbs with low-energy lights, which do not get hot during use, is leading to innovations in lighting design. Manufacturers of lampshades and pendants are now able to utilise previously combustible materials such as cardboard, paper and wool.
British designers are taking full advantage of the new technology and the UK in particular is enjoying a boom in imaginative and unusual lighting designs.
Building on the country’s strong heritage in industrial engineering, designers are experimenting with new materials and modern techniques. In addition, higher costs and demand for locally sourced products has increasingly seen the production process shift back to the UK from Asia.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), regarded as the future of lighting, will soon be embedded into walls and floors instead of simply recessed. Designers say LEDs will be buried in the brickwork and plastered over so that the wall appears to glow from within. They will also be incorporated into furniture and fabric.
“There is a real revolution in lighting at the moment and it’s enormously exciting,” says Oliver Heath, the interior designer and long-time champion of eco-friendly living.
Tom Housden, of the Hand Eye Studio, is an architect who has created a range of lighting made from terracotta and earthenware. “There is a richness to terracotta which just drinks in the light and creates something really special … All my lights are hand-dipped so there are subtle variations in each.”
Housden works with several potters, mould-makers and glaze manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent in the West Midlands. “A well-lit room will show off good furniture,” he says. “It’s also important that a light looks just as good when it is turned off as on as it’s a key focal point in a room.”
Jo Davis makes ceramic lights at her studio in Stoke Newington, north London. Her Twist range is made from wheel-thrown porcelain, which is naturally translucent. A group of Twist pendants hang at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant in Cornwall.
A few years ago the idea of a wooden lampshade would have seemed ridiculous, but furniture designer Tom Raffield has perfected his own steambending technique that allows him to create sculptural wooden forms.
“Steambending has been around for a long time – Michael Thonet started making chairs [using this method] in the 1840s – but I’ve found a way to bend just small sections of the wood,” says Raffield.
“The idea came when I noticed how the light moved through the wood shavings on the floor of the workshop and how it really picked up the grain. It was just so beautiful that I wanted to create lights that would resemble that.
“Traditionally, a fabric shade was just there to diffuse the light from the bulb, but now the light is a modern sculpture in itself.”
Glass blowing dates to about 300BC when the Syrians invented the blowpipe. Although techniques haven’t changed much since, modern glass is much clearer and there are more colours available. “The translucency of glass lends itself perfectly to lighting and we have a palette of some 200 colours so we can get pretty close to matching any colour scheme,” says Mark Bickers of Hertford-based Rothschild & Bickers.
Esther Patterson makes bespoke glass lights at her studio in Derbyshire. Her designs incorporate British-made silk tassels and are sold in Liberty stores.
Nicolas Roope is the founder of Plumen, creator of the first designer, energy-saving bulb, which uses 80 per cent less energy than a traditional bulb. His Drop Top lampshade is made from mouth-blown glass. “The naked bulb is here to stay. It is part of the light as a whole now and not just the functional bit that needs hiding,” says Roope.
Although lampshades have long been made from silk and cotton, a new movement has sprung up around knitting and crochet.
Naomi Paul makes hand-crocheted lights that sell all over the world. The idea began when she was working for jewellery designer Solange Azagury-Partridge who commissioned Paul to recreate a crocheted hanging sculpture. The result was Paul’s first chandelier. “I went into hibernation, playing with wool and making shapes,” she says. “The result then lent itself to having light in it and so I made a collection.”
Deryn Relph knits lampshades in bright colours, using wool spun in Yorkshire and cotton yarns sourced from factory surplus.
Guy Chenevix Trench, founder of Antiques by Design, uses old cogs from Victorian mangles, cricket balls and even a gas mask to create his lights. He has also made bespoke lights from a medical skeleton and an old parking meter. “I love the idea of bringing new life to something that might otherwise end up in the bin,” he says.
Another UK company, Re, turns old jelly moulds and colanders into lighting. The vintage objects are sourced locally and converted into pendant lights.
Leeds-based Laura Wellington uses cardboard for her light shades. Her first creation was the Original Hula, (made from Perspex) which features concentric loops formed in a circle around a central bulb. It is sold in Habitat stores in Europe.
She has now created a new version made of cardboard, the self-assembly Mini Hula, and she is hoping to offer a white-sprayed version by the end of the year.
“The Mini Hula wasn’t going to be in cardboard originally,” says Wellington. “It was laser-cut in ply and acrylic, but it was very expensive to produce so I switched to card and I love the way it looks and feels.”
Photographs: Nick Rochowski; Ray Main; James Abbott-Donnelly