Research that revealed the way Victorians first used electric lighting in their homes has helped Sutton Vane Associates win the Heritage Category of this year’s prestigious Lighting Design Awards in the UK.
Sutton Vane Associates faithfully relit the recently renovated Leighton House in Holland Park, London creating a scheme that both replicates the electric lighting installed there in 1896 and allows the building, now a museum, to work to 21st-century environmental standards. Some features of the stunning architecture can be seen for the first time, and the scheme allows the museum to stage effectively-lit, revenue-earning events such as small concerts.

Research reveals Victorian lighting secrets
The artist Frederic Lord Leighton owned the palazzo-style house. It’s most famous feature is the splendid Arab Hall, built in 1877 where a huge pendant fitting known as the gasolier (originally a gas chandelier, adapted for electric light) illuminates the gold dome. Sutton Vane Associates’ research, including contemporary photographs, showed that the bird statues adorning the gasolier had been altered to clasp bulbs in their beaks so that the whole structure was lit. ‘Suddenly the whole design of the fitting made sense,’ says consultancy principal Mark Sutton Vane, ‘Far from hiding the lamps, as we would today, Leighton wanted to show off this wonderful new technology whose use was still pretty adventurous when he electrified the house in 1895.’

New technology recreates the original scheme’s warmth
New lamp holders were prototyped and installed with lamps that look like old bulbs and can be dimmed down to produce the same warm yellowish light that Leighton would have enjoyed using incandescent lamps with carbon filaments.  In addition, warm colour temperature LEDs have been secreted in part of the fitting to even out the illumination of the dome and these are complemented by other, completely hidden spots which even out the vertical shadow from the gasolier’s main column. Thus the original Victorian design intent has been restored but the gasolier can also be used to highlight architectural elements that were previously invisible, as and when required.

Lighting controls add new versatility
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 Leighton’s studio; while elsewhere the historic accuracy of the lighting even extends to leaving a simple bare lamp hanging in utilitarian splendour in his dressing room.

Three projects shortlisted for Lighting Design Awards
Three Sutton Vane Associates projects were shortlisted for the Lighting Design Awards. They included the second phase of the lighting at Mercers’ Hall in London, in the Heritage Category, and the Adelphi Building Foyer, also in London, which was shortlisted in the Workplace Category.  Unusually for a heritage project, the Ambulatory at Mercer’s Hall in the City can be lit entirely by LEDs in day-to-day use. The lighting challenge at the Adelphi Building included reflective surfaces such as marble and glass throughout its art deco-style foyer. The awards were held on 10 March, 2011 at the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, London.

Picture credit:  James Newton.