Shedding Light on Visual Hierarchy

In a historic home, the right lighting not only highlights artworks and objects, but can also be used to subtly influence the flow of visitors and the relative importance of a series of exhibits, all of which are both a necessity when signage is not an option. That’s the view of Andrew Molyneux, director of art lighting specialist TM Lighting.

Speaking to Advisor about some of the projects the company has completed, Molyneux explained that the right combination of light can “create a visual hierarchy and help draw people around a space with light.”

Deciding on the design of this trip is a collaborative process, he said, and one with added complexities. With fragile exhibits and artwork, a venue’s lighting design must also consider conservation and the danger of heat and light damage.

He said projects start when first entering a space and usually notice issues such as glare in paintwork. The second thought when seeing a room for the first time highlights additional complexity; “How am I going to feed these places?”.

While Molyneux said it was ultimately a task for an electrician, it was important to be space-friendly and “with the best will in the world, you may not be able to power a certain place”.

When illuminating rooms in historic homes, there are two types of lighting. The most obvious requirement for picture lights is followed by a secondary ‘layer’ of lights, including, for example, table lamps and wall sconces to change the way a room ‘feels’.

Molyneux points to TM Lighting’s work at Kenwood House, in which one room houses many world-renowned works, including a late self-portrait, Rembrandt’s ‘Portrait of the Artist’ and Vermeer’s ‘The Guitar Player’.

Speaking about the project, Molyneux said, “If we lit every room at exactly the same level, nothing would have presence.”

“The room is rich with thousands of beautiful paintings and great artists, but these are the two that are truly special.”

When visitors enter the room, the Rembrandt is placed in a prime location and is lit slightly brighter than the other paintings, so visitors “automatically walk towards it first”, he explained. “When panning around the room, the Vermeer is also lit slightly brighter.” Once these rooms are established, the visitor can then walk through the rest of the room.

This subtle, subconscious guidance is important, Molyneux said, because “it’s very easy to walk around a room and wonder ‘what’s the most special painting, where’s that Vermeer?!’ “”

In historic homes, another consideration is the level of adaptability of the room to house different collections.

Each project undertaken by TM Lighting posed a new challenge, and at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, the dining room chandeliers were just that.

The company illuminated the room with accent lights built into the crystal chandeliers, the high color rendering lighting ensuring that the true color of its subjects was revealed. The lighting has been set to maximum for conservation on the natural fibers of the wall tapestries.

The work done created “a pretty dramatic before and after,” he said, and lighting the center of a room often doesn’t work, but in this case the paintings above floor level eyes were lit up.

“The reflective points were on the ceiling and the tapestries aren’t reflective, so you can – and should – light them fairly flat or you pick up all the waves and shapes of the fabric.”

Another learning from this particular project was uplighting. Using one of Guardi’s paintings from Waddesdon Manor as an example, Molyneux explained “usually we would light the artwork”, he said, “but in this case we had to do the opposite and put more light in the room indirectly”.

Consideration has been made for the light and dark areas of the painting, as well as the wider effect in the room. “Much of the detail in Guardi’s paintings at Waddesdon is found in the lower half of the work, so the uplighting helped emphasize those intricacies, while evenly illuminating the entire canvas. upwards also cast light onto the ceiling, increasing the ambient lighting in the room.

And the installation of these lights also required consideration of the wider visitor journey, with lighting through a nearby doorway to ‘pull’ the visitor into the room.

“Every home is different and we find a unique way to get the light where we need it,” he said.

While Molyneux is committed to every project in finding the perfect lighting for each room and room, he is conscious of ensuring that the lighting itself does not distract from his subjects.

“Our intention is to have our lights blend into the background, illuminating a work of art with the highest quality light that does not distract from the interiors in which they are placed. This allows a room to come to life.

Briana R. Cross