Lighting Focus: Three of the most creative lighting studios

Jill Entwistle chats to key figures at a trio of highly creative studios that straddle art and design to create extraordinary bespoke products and lighting installations


Ben Rigby, creative director and co-founder at the company, talks about challenging clients to expect more and raise their own expectations

Haberdashery is an award-winning London-based design studio that specialises in ‘a poetic approach to lighting’. With a 25-plus team qualified in industrial or product design, engineering, research, and product development, it has delivered more than 450 projects in over 30 countries in the past decade or so. ‘We all share a love of light and push ourselves to find new ways to harness it to transform how we perceive space, colour and form,’ says creative director and co-founder Ben Rigby.

The studio’s work splits into three areas: products, sculptures and collectables. Its client list is as diverse as its output, ranging from Heston Blumenthal to Newnham College, Selfridges to Stella McCartney. ‘We push hard to find the true potential of each new project,’ says Rigby. ‘Through this ambition, we create unique design challenges every time. By championing a “what if” attitude we challenge clients to expect more and raise their expectations for a project.’

The Amaranthyne, the light sculpture created for British Land’s Mayfair Clarges development (lighting design by StudioFractal), won an IALD award last year, the judges describing it as an ‘ingenious work of light and art’. The designers wanted to echo the rich colours of the sunlight outside the building. The oval dome structure features 40,000 hand-adjusted miniature reflective surfaces. By varying the angle of each tab, the sculpture reveals different light and shadow images through LED lighting. Additional lighting that spreads out from the central structure adds dynamism. Light, colour and tone adjust every hour, evoking the exterior weather and lighting.

Canopy, in floorstanding and pendant versions, evokes the dappling of sunlight
Canopy, in floorstanding and pendant versions, evokes the dappling of sunlight

Internal research projects also provide creative impetus and take the studio into new territory. The Helio Ray project, for instance, explored using heliostats and evolving reflective surfaces to redirect sunlight down from the top of tall buildings to daylight-deprived areas in the community. ‘We prioritise creative thinking based on research and experimentation so that our designs feel original and challenge conventions,’ says Rigby. ‘Every design to come out of our studio is based on sound engineering mixed with the inspired handling of light as a medium.’

Even the studio’s standard products are anything but standard. Canopy, in floorstanding and pendant versions, evokes the dappling of sunlight, while the geometric planes of the After Dark pendant with its bokeh coloured light effect suggest city lights.

The Frequency Vortex light sculpture was created in collaboration with photographer Julian Abrams
The Frequency Vortex light sculpture was created in collaboration with photographer Julian Abrams

‘We are stimulated by moments that make the hair on your neck stand up; when time slows down and you can lose yourself in a moment,’ says Rigby. ‘As a universally understood medium, light has the ability to communicate with all sorts of audiences. Through colour and tone we can reach into the subconscious and draw on memories, challenge learnt responses, and question preconceived ideas regarding what we need light for, and what its potential uses are.’

‘We believe light is a transformative power in the world, helping to transform our experiences of the spaces we occupy. We challenge what is possible with light. We avoid a house style as we are happy to work in any material; it depends on the nature of a project. What binds our work together is the playful experimentation that we weave into the design process, resulting in high ambition applied to each new design opportunity. We apply this methodology to large-scale sculptural projects and also to product development – both share the same level of expectations. Although technology has advanced in tremendous leaps regarding lighting and lighting control, we find it essential always to bring design back to a human- centred experience. Through exploring how light can communicate on a more fundamental level we can make connections, prompt questions or instil a sense of wonder in the viewer.’

Jonathan Coles Studio

Design director/ owner Jonathan Coles explains how his studio creates its products, which are designed and engineered at its Henley-on-Thames location

‘Our designs are playful, combining artistic inspiration and technology, unconstrained by materials, scale or form,’ says Jonathan Coles, who was first an art student then a graduate in three-dimensional design and is now design director/owner of Jonathan Coles Studio.

He has spent more than 25 years in the lighting industry, designing bespoke and production lights for many well-known companies: retailers Jimmy Choo, Victoria Beckham and Paul Smith; venerable institutions such as Battersea Power Station and the V&A; hotel groups Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental; and private clients including Ted Baker and actor Jude Law.

Before Coles set up his eponymous studio in 2006, he had had an eclectic experience in lighting: designing robotic lights for the Design Museum, colour projections, chandeliers and illuminated furniture for Philippe Starck, creating automotive lighting with Marc Newson for Ford, and products for Mathmos, The Original Lava Lamp Company. In the past two decades, his team of designers, engineers and craftspeople has gained a strong reputation for designs that marry imagination with meticulous detail and functionality.

The suspended glasses at Hedonism Wines in London. Image Credit: JAMES NEWTON PHOTOGRAPHSThe suspended glasses at Hedonism Wines in London. Image Credit: JAMES NEWTON PHOTOGRAPHS

‘I see it as crucial when designing a bespoke light that it should dovetail perfectly with the space,’ says Coles. ‘It should look as though it is a continuation of the interior, not an addition flown in. In this way the light feature will add value to the space, enhance it and become a great investment – which I believe designers and clients are now very aware of.’

All of the studio's pieces are designed and engineered at its studios and workshops in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. ‘Each product follows our principles of design – to not only create something beautiful but to produce an exceptional light effect,’ says Coles. ‘We want to create engaging products which showcase our craftsmanship, understanding of light and use of honest materials.’

The suspended glasses at Hedonism Wines (a Speirs + Major lighting scheme) and the witty, colour-changing installation inspired by chemical flasks for the Wellcome Trust restaurant are both highly recognisable works to emerge from the studio.

Having established a reputation with bespoke installations, in 2017 the studio launched a range of products available to order, including what became the award-winning Fresnel pendant developed for the V&A Members’ Room. The collection has customisable elements to suit specific interior design requirements.

This year, the studio has taken on what Coles says is one of its most exciting challenges to date, creating bespoke light features for Battersea Power Station. Until now, Jude Law arguably presented him with his most challenging project to date with a commission for bespoke chandeliers at his home.

Paper-shaded lights are a feature of Medius House, a co-working space that’s also in the capital. Image Credit: JAMES NEWTON PHOTOGRAPHSPaper-shaded lights are a feature of Medius House, a co-working space that’s also in the capital. Image Credit: JAMES NEWTON PHOTOGRAPHS

‘Each of the seven lights needed its own character, but all tied back with the common thread,’ says Coles. ‘Jude was keen to be involved in the process, which we always accommodate, and that led to experimenting with new materials and light sources, which led to the final designs.’

‘Our approach is to be open-minded, not constrained by materials, scale or form. The starting points will be the light source and the architecture. What job does the light need to do, what effect or emotion does the client want to evoke? How will the lighting piece work with the space, the scale and the pallet of materials within the room? We ensure that every single one of these questions is answered during the ideation process. We believe this commitment to thoughtful, purposeful design sets us apart from others, and is clear to see when you review our work.’


James Burke – founder, visual artist and creative director of the UK and US-based business – is a firm believer in the power of lighting to transform spaces

Based in London and Seattle, Acrylicize is a multidisciplinary creative studio of artists, designers and consultants who create and curate bespoke installations, ‘using art as a vehicle for storytelling and brand expression, exploring the boundaries between art and design’.

The studio was founded by James Burke, visual artist and creative director. ‘The three pillars of our business, “Create, Curate and Debate”, define the foundation by which we approach a new scope of work, whether we feel it should be a collection of bespoke artworks created in-house as a studio (Create), a set of commissioned works in collaboration with other artists (Curate), or an event/ experience which stimulates thought or human connection (Debate),’ says Burke. ‘The most beautiful thing about Acrylicize is that none of these categories are rigid – they regularly intertwine and overlap and our best work is often when we embrace that fluidity as part of the creative process.’

Burke is a firm believer in the power of lighting to transform spaces. ‘The role of lighting in public spaces is absolutely crucial to the concept of placemaking, now more so than ever.’ An example was the Manchester Lamps project, where playful giant lamps transformed a previously unloved urban area in the city centre into a vibrant social space.

Timeless, an installation at London's Senator House on the Thames, is one of the studio’s most ambitious lighting works to date, says Burke, and inspired by the ruins of Roman baths beneath the building. Functioning as a giant timepiece, the work comprises 60 individual illuminated letters in a specially designed Roman-inspired typeface suspended 40m above the ground in the vast atrium space. The varied palette of colours connects the letters and spells out the time every hour throughout the day. ‘We used this collection of scattered letters to represent the echoes of past conversations, rising like steam from the surface of hot pools,’ says Burke.

The Manchester Lamps project, where giant lamps transformed a previously unloved urban area in the city centre into a vibrant social spaceThe Manchester Lamps project, where giant lamps transformed a previously unloved urban area in the city centre into a vibrant social space

A recent installation, for the main reception area of the Proton Beam Therapy Centre at Manchester’s The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, focused on the importance of light, especially natural light, to healing and a sense of wellbeing. Commissioned by the NHS, Winter Garden is a cluster of green pyramidal forms that use a combination of light and perforated materials to evoke a sense of being in nature. Luminaires positioned within the structure are programmed to conjure illusions of sunlight softly filtering through a woodland canopy.

‘Winter Garden offers the viewer a moment of escapism and provides the space with a unique identity that continues to flow through the building,’ says Paul Arad, managing director of Acrylicize. ‘The installation, like other of the studio’s artworks tailor-made for healthcare spaces, was created as a direct response to the physical environment of the centre.’ 

‘We tackle each project from a different perspective because the process is driven by the ambition of the client, the opportunities within the space, and how the piece embodies the values of their brand or the narrative the client wants to portray. Evolution is critical to our forward momentum. The concept of not knowing what is next is incredibly energising and makes each day we exist as a studio the most important day so far. The exploration of what art can be and the notion of its limitless possibilities is what drives us as a studio, and challenges us to make work that rarely fits into any category or genre. Instead, we simply trust our instinct and intuition to guide us to a final outcome.’

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