Case Studies
Dover Castle
Leighton House
Llandaff Cathedral
Royal Society of Chemistry
Mercers' Hall, London
Leighton House Museum, London

Recreating the electric lighting exactly as it was in 1896 when its original owner the artist Frederic, Lord Leighton died, was a key element in the restoration of Leighton House Museum in Holland Park, London. George Aitchison designed the palazzo-style house. He later extended it to include its most famous feature, an enfilade of three halls lined with a vast collection of 16th and 17th-century Turkish and Middle Eastern tiles and culminating in the splendid, domed Arab Hall, built in 1877. 

Sutton Vane Associates’ research, including photography and descriptions from the period, revealed some surprising details of the design of original fittings and showed the lighting levels and colour temperatures that Leighton would have experienced. The lighting scheme had to not only accurately replicate Victorian lighting conditions but also to work to 21st-century standards; to allow features of the stunning architecture to be revealed (often for the first time), and to enable the museum to stage effectively-lit, revenue-earning events. 

Perhaps the best example of how this was achieved is the restoration of the huge pendant fitting known as the gasolier (a gas chandelier) that hangs in the Arab Hall. While the gasolier was taken down to be cleaned and rewired for safety, research showed that the bird statues originally clasped bare bulbs in their beaks. In this position the whole fantastic structure was lit.

‘Suddenly the whole design of the fitting made sense,’ says consultancy principal Mark Sutton Vane, ‘Far from hiding the lamps, Leighton wanted to show off this wonderful new technology whose use was still pretty adventurous when he electrified the house in 1895.’ 

New lamp holders were designed from the original photographs, prototyped and installed with tungsten halogen lamps that look like old bulbs and can be dimmed down to produce the same warm yellowish light that Leighton would have enjoyed when he used incandescent lamps with carbon filaments. The new lamps not only use less energy but also last a great deal longer.

In addition, warm colour temperature LEDs have been secreted in part of the fitting to help illuminate the Arab Hall’s spectacular dome and these are complemented by other, completely hidden spots. Thus, Leighton and Aitchison’s design intent has been restored and the gasolier can also be used to highlight architectural elements that were previously invisible.

Lighting controls allow scene setting for evening events or to pick out features of the building such as the gold quarter domes at the corners of the studio; while elsewhere, the historic accuracy of the lighting even extends to leaving a simple bare lamp hanging in utilitarian splendour in Lord Leighton’s dressing room.

Winner – 2011 Lighting Design Award