The Chris Lewis Interview
Principal Designer
Lighting Design International

LDI 051115_21 CROP

Chris Lewis is Principal Designer with Lighting Design International and has been involved in lighting design for more than 30 years. He has headed up many prestigious and award-winning projects both in the UK and abroad, including One Aldwych Hotel in London, ‘Fera’ restaurant at Claridge’s Hotel in London, the exclusive private members club ‘Fifty’, St James’s Street in London and one of Paris’s largest office developments ‘Lumière’. Chris has also designed schemes for famous landmarks including the Savoy Hotel in London and the spiritual home of cricket, Lord’s and is currently involved in numerous high profile hotel and super yacht projects.

Like most Lighting Designers you found your way into the profession through something else – in your case Furniture and Product Design. So – what brought you to lighting in the first place?

Whilst I was studying at Ravensbourne College of Art & Design I attended a seminar on lighting design by Jane Turner of Concord Lighting. I was impressed by the way lighting was used to change the perception, mood and volume of a space. At that time I didn’t consider lighting design as a career. However, after I left Ravensbourne an opportunity arose with John Cullen Lighting Design which had recently been set up as a lighting consultancy by John Cullen and Sally Storey. I accepted the opportunity and have not looked back since.

Imperial Hotel Vienna
Imperial Hotel Vienna.

How do you think your background has influenced your work as a Lighting Designer?

Studying furniture and product design helped me to develop a range of skills, the most important being to visualise form and space and an eye for detail. All of these skills are essential as a lighting designer.

Coming from a product background, I have always had an interest in product design which has been beneficial in designing and developing new light fittings when there is nothing available on the market to provide the function and effect required, or the project needs something unique. The attention to detail required for developing products also flows into my project work, understanding and exploring different ways of integrating lighting into architectural features and furniture.

You have been with LDI from the very beginning – in a career that has spanned more than 30 years. What would you say are the most significant developments you have seen in the lighting design profession over that time?

There have been so many developments in lighting during my career, but the most significant must be the coming of age of LED lighting technology. This has fundamentally changed the industry, to the point that LEDs have almost completely taken over as a light source due to their combined benefits of quality of light, energy saving, long life, optical control and the ability to programme lights individually through digital technology. The latter is taken to its creative height in film, stage and music performances, but at the other extreme this has also allowed street lighting to be dimmed which has so many benefits, especially environmentally.

Lumiere Paris
Lumiere Paris. 

And what would you still like to see happen in the field of lighting in the future?

There is always room for improvement and there are many things that I would like to see, for instance;

  • Retrofit LED lamps that dim smoothly at the lower end to off.
  • Standardisation of the quality of LED’s.
  • Further efficiencies in light sources.
  • Further miniaturisation of light sources.
  • More development in LED dim to warm light sources.
  • Light sources being integrated into finishes that can be moulded.
  • Good quality linear LED light sources that can be flexed in all directions.
  • A complete range of Linear LED strip lights that match in terms of CCT and CRI, whether they have a clear or opal covering, no covering, are IP20 or IP68 and regardless of which way they flex.
  • More traditional decorative light fixtures that employ good quality and fully dimmable LED light sources.

So just a few…but being a product designer, I am always looking at ways of improving the status quo. It’s an integral part of being a designer and is the way I always approach designs, how can we push the boundaries and make things better.

Fifty St James's Casino
Fifty St James’ Casino.

Your project list contains many well-known high end names – do you have any stand out moments from any of these projects you could share with us?

All projects have their challenges and we are often asked to think outside the box, but the main one would have to be 50 St James’s in London when it was converted into a contemporary casino in 2004.

The main area of the casino was a long double height space with a listed ceiling which we were not allowed to touch, except for the three existing chandelier positions. We were then presented with a visual from the interior architects that showed one large central chandelier and pendants over each of the gaming tables which were dotted throughout the space. We were told that this concept had been approved by the client. So in short, the challenge was to work out a way of having pendants within the space without touching the ceiling.

The concept that we came up with was to span two 200 X 100mm hollow beams along the length of the space at a spacing of a quarter, half, quarter across the width of the space. These were fixed to the end walls and supported along their lengths by wires fixed to the side walls and the central chandelier fixing positions. This gave us a structure and trunking which, with the aid of a few outrigging elements and minor table layout adjustments, allowed us to drop a pendant over each table. As part of the design the trunking was painted a light colour to match the ceiling. The decorative listed ceiling was lit with small innocuous spotlights mounted on the beam and when these lit the ceiling, the beam visually disappeared.

Interestingly, the beams became pivotal to the function of the space and therefore they became a key structural component that needed engineering. The beams not only held the pendants, but also carried the concealed security cameras along with the cables for the cameras, pendants, numerous lighting channels and the emergency lighting. The end result won a lighting design award that year.

One Aldwych Facade
One Aldwych Facade.

I understand that you have worked extensively on lighting for luxury yachts. Can you tell us a bit about the challenges and rewards of working in such a confined, yet refined environment?

I have indeed worked on a number of yachts over the past 10 years and continue to do so. The challenges vary from project to project, usually the challenge is coming up with unique ideas for concealing and integrating lighting into the interior and architecture of the yacht. Similar to land based projects, the sooner a lighting designer is involved, the more opportunity there is to begin a dialogue with the design team.

The rewards on these projects, as well as land based projects, is seeing them all come together; seeing the end result and having a satisfied client. However, the additional reward from my point of view is the level of detailing that goes into yachts. I have yet to be disappointed by the quality of workmanship and engineering that goes into these projects.

Having had such a long and illustrious career to date, how do you manage to keep the passion for what you do alive?

My passion is for the play of light in nature and on our surroundings, whether it be natural or artificial light. I am a firm believer that the quality of light affects ones quality of life and wellbeing and as such I don’t think I will ever get tired of how it displays itself and how it can be used.

St Regis - Lounge
St Regis – Lounge.

Where do you find yourself drawing inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from anything that is visually or emotionally stimulating. This invariably involves the play of light and shadow, and how we perceive our surroundings and the people and things within them.

What is on the horizon for you and LDI this year?

This year we have many long running projects that are due to be completed which is very exciting.

With regards to moving forward, the company has grown in size and stature in recent years employing a lot of new and talented designers from a variety of backgrounds. We are working on a wide range of projects all over the world which continues to bring new ideas and inspiration to our work. With these new influences and our continued collaboration with other parts of the industry to develop new lighting systems, we look forward to continuing to deliver high quality lighting schemes across a broad spectrum of projects and hence a better quality of life for all.

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