“An interior designer colleague recently joked that there has to be a special place in hell for lighting designers,” said Doug Russell, founder and principal of the DUMBO-based lighting design firm Lighting Workshop. “He’s kidding, I hope, but there’s something there, in that lighting designers can over-complicate projects that are ultimately about creating clean, well-lit spaces.”
COURTESY TPG Architects
Founded in 2006, Lighting Workshop’s portfolio masterfully encompasses retail, residential, and live/work spaces, demonstrating Russell’s pursuit of a “qualitative economy of light” through an intuitive, empathetic approach that tailors environmental design to the client’s needs.
With over 15 years of experience in both environmental and product design, Russell’s expertise carries his growing practice from fixture to effect without needlessly stacking watts or costs. “We’re more interested in the emotional properties of light than its quantitative aspects,” said Russell. “Rather than focusing exclusively on the measurements of light and space, we’re trying to bring out all of the magic that the architects envision and the client is looking for.”
With lighting projects that have included both hedge funds and sales floors at Bloomingdale’s, Russell especially treasures designing residential spaces. “There’s something really personal about working with a homeowner,” said Russell. “You have to think about where you’re going to sleep, where you’re going to eat, and how you’re going to raise your kids.”
Lighting Workshop’s recent work on a 2,500-square-foot Upper East Side condominium challenged Russell to effectively illuminate the client’s impressive art collection while maintaining the intimacy of the family’s living space. To create a diffused sense of daylight throughout the largely windowless space, soft washes of light fall from a dropped ceiling and across floating wall planes.
Other clients, such as Flavor Paper, an artisanal wallpaper company that specializes in handmade silkscreen designs, required both atmospheric and technical solutions. Flavor Paper’s four-story wallpaper compound in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, includes a ground-floor production studio, a second-floor showroom, and a third- and fourth-floor series of residential units.
The production facility features a mirrored ceiling slotted by a series of high-color-rendering fluorescent lights that span a mirrored wall at the rear of the studio, creating the appearance of an infinite stretch of printing tables. “The mirrored ceiling allows you to step into the wallpaper that you’re printing,” said Russell. “We spent a lot of time figuring out how to integrate the lighting without a glare while still providing very even high-color-rendering light across a work plane.”
A relative newcomer, Russell continues to discover new challenges for the firm’s core competencies. A recent assignment to illuminate a presentation center touting Madison Square Garden’s (MSG) upcoming renovation and new luxury boxes required the designers to recreate the experience of being at a great concert or basketball game—complete with kinetic sights and sounds. “The whole experience is very choreographed,” said Russell. “As MSG’s people explain the facility, the lights and the roar of the crowd are triggered and follow you through as the tour unfolds.”
Their largest LED project to date, the MSG presentation center employs an array of LEDs that color shift according to a series of theatrical cues, which are in turn coordinated with an audio and video system. To help them achieve this high-wire integration, Russell and his team turned to Barbizon, an international theatrical lighting firm with control systems expertise. “It’s very humbling for a designer to say, ‘I don’t know how to do this’,” said Russell. “It’s not like dimming an incandescent lamp where you just lower the voltage. It’s digital—ones and zeros and bits of computer code.”
Whether tackling the conventional or the cutting-edge, Lighting Workshop remains committed to the user experience. “Every client’s different,” Russell said, “but we’re trying to keep it simple while celebrating the aspects of light that can be fun and satisfying.”