It is a wonderful thing to be inspired by your work.
My colleague David Calligeros created a mobile app for a series of annual design conferences that maps out significant or noteworthy light installations in the cities or countries that host the conference. Each pin on the map pops up a photograph and image of the installation, historical or technical notes, and the location of a nearby café or watering hole so you can rest your travel weary feet. He documented Lights of Copenhagen, Lights of Morocco. I’ve never been to Copenhagen, so the app was a fun way to imagine the city, and the entries are a fantastic mobile museum for the design inclined. Taking up David’s game, I like to document remarkable lights I see when I’m traveling. This summer I spent a month in the UK. I’m not quite as tech savvy, but here are my Lights of Scotland and England.
World Heritage status should have prepared me, but still I was blown away by Bath. The Roman ruins, the Circus, the River Avon, the fashion museum. The fashion museum? Yes. Housed in the Assembly Rooms, which are a traditionalist’s dream, the Museum of Costume surveys dress over hundreds of years. In addition to the corsets and crinolines you can try on in the basement, there is elaborate plasterwork, layers of painted decoration, and banks of lofty windows to enjoy upstairs. A trio of crystal chandeliers hung in a pretty pale ballroom on the south side of the building. We had acres of dance floor available from which to gaze at the intricate ceiling. After I got up off my back from taking this photo, my mother taught an impromptu class in English country dance, the proper stuff you’d find in an Austen novel. If only we’d had some of those gowns from the basement.
I made a point to return to Glasgow on this trip to steep in nouveau architecture. It was a great counterpoint to Gaudi’s work which I saw in Barcelona a few years ago, fleshing out how the style expressed itself in different parts of Europe. Rennie Mackintosh was the rose of the Glasgow school. I craned my neck walking through the core of the city to admire the metal flowers ranked below the Art School windows, and the blossoms carved in sandstone at the Lighthouse. His work is striking because it encompasses every detail of interior and exterior, from facades to furniture, stonework to table service. This simple fixture of woven metal strips was designed for the Willow Tea Rooms. It seems inspired by rustic countryside baskets. The open lattice work creates beautiful organic patterns with the light, a hallmark of a great decorative fixture.
Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, was bursting at the seams with art. Festival season was about to start, and it felt totally normal to have performers on every street playing everything from bagpipes to panpipes to steel saws. The National Museum in Edinburgh just underwent an incredible makeover, and I spent the better part of a day bouncing around their diverse collections. This monumental bronze lantern in the museum’s collection originally hung in a central public space at the Scotsman newspaper building in Edinburgh. It was the heyday of newspapers, a prestigious institution that brought a world of information, education and sophistication, and the massive light in the advertising hall communicated that stature to the crowds thronging the place.
Thistles never fail to make me smile. I grew up in a Scottish household, which instilled in me a lasting appreciation for all things Scot: tartan and bagpipes, thistles and bland food. Edinburgh Castle was definitely a highlight of the trip: just the views over the walls to the city and the water made it worth the climb up that huge rock. The Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle is known for its fine hammer beam ceiling, from which two rows of massive chandeliers hang. The gothic foliage on the arms and the fretwork of the painted lantern body are exceptional. The pale greenish tone contrasts with the serious red of the hall and the somber ceiling, and is a lovely foil to the thistle shields placed between the arms.
Driving through England, I stopped outside of Manchester at a place called Tatton Park. A sprawling acreage, the Egerton family’s neoclassical manse is managed by the National Trust, as are Lord Egerton’s apartments, the stables, and sundry other outbuildings on the property. Like similar stateside preserves I imagine they constantly totter between dilapidation and resplendent restoration. Here were perhaps my favorite lighting moments on the trip. I found this in the stairwell in a back hall at Tatton Park. Imagine one of those spaces in Downton Abbey that links upstairs and downstairs, the servants to those they serve. The brass fitter of the pendant creates a shadowy halo on the ceiling: the best lights harness shadow. And the glass throws chattering golden swirls around that dark.
The morning I visited Tatton Park, I was delighted to see staff at work cleaning the crystal chandeliers in the library. Housing 8,000 books, the library is a perfectly symmetrical room. It could have been a classically trained architect’s Rorschach: one side mirrors the other, like the inky plan was drafted then folded in on itself.
One by one, each crystal is removed from the chandelier, tagged to ensure it’s properly ordered, cleaned and polished by hand, then replaced on the frame in its original spot. First one chandelier, then its mate on the other side of the room. This industrious team reminded me of one of my favorite colleagues, antiques specialist Jenna Major. With a meticulousness that verges on insanity, she restores the antique lights for the Remains Lighting collection. Her work astounds me: not only is her metal artistry amazing, her service for lights is a bit like what animal rescuers do for all those cute little puppies and kitties wandering the streets. She loves these neglected pieces back to good health and ultimately helps them find good homes. Watching them work delighted me. Those chandeliers glistened. It must have been a coup for the Trust. It was a warm, fuzzy moment that made me glad to travel, and glad to know I had good work to come home to.
-Valerie Thomas, Remains Lighting Los Angeles
In vogue in Bath: http://www.museumofcostume.co.uk/
The cult of Mackintosh: http://www.crmsociety.com/default.aspx
Manchester, England, England: http://www.tattonpark.org.uk/
More from Valerie Thomas: www.curveimprovement.blogspot.com