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In the spotlight

Words by Dan Warden

Exploring the importance of lighting within the wider world of home design.

With a passion for the fine details, Woodford Architecture and Interiors has built a reputation for quality; for enabling the realisation of its clients’ dream homes via an approach that holistically brings all aspects of a project together to work in harmony. Regular readers of DRIFT may well remember that in our 14th volume, we approached company owners Gavin and Sarah, who gave us an insight into their backgrounds and what led them to open an architecture and interior design practice here in the south west. What became clear then, was their passion for the work. As a pair, they relish the challenges that each new project presents, and a huge part of this lies in the relationships that can be formed with a client. Which is a good thing, really, especially since the process of bringing a new home to life, more often than not, can take years.

But what really sets this practice apart is its approach to integrated architecture. As mentioned already, the methodology at Woodford is holistic; it’s all encompassing, considered, meticulous. This, in part, is thanks to Gavin and Sarah’s unique backgrounds. Gavin brings years of architectural experience that go back to his teenage years, and include working with world-renowned architects and interior designers such as Norman Foster and Partners, with whom he was able to work on some iconic architectural projects, including Wembley Stadium, The Reichstag in Berlin, the Millennium Bridge, and more. Sarah, meanwhile, studied Fine Antique Restoration and Conservation at the Sir John Cass Furniture School, before taking a job at Arnold Wiggins and Sons – historic framers to the Royal household and prestigious, international art galleries. Honing her attention to detail, working on the framing of world-famous old masters’ paintings, as well as those of modern British masters, Sarah then completed her interior design training at the Inchbald School of Design before being invited to work with world-leading interior designers on large-scale renovations of central London properties. Using her traditional decorative skills in more contemporary ways, it was during this period that she and Gavin decided to pool their talents and launch Woodford. It was a ‘lightbulb’ moment, as they say, and the rest is history.

For this edition of DRIFT Abode, as a ‘case in point’ of the close attention they pay to detail, I’m interested to hear Gavin and Sarah’s take on the importance of lighting, of the role it plays within the wider architectural and design process. As it turns out, lighting is absolutely key, which in many ways I think I already knew. What I didn’t fully understand, was why. As an example, did you know that lighting has been shown to have biological and physical effects that can impact our health and wellbeing? Or that we can experience a whole spectrum of emotions depending on the brightness, saturation and hue of our chosen illuminations? Before coming to write this piece, I had a vague idea that blue and white light makes us energetic, and that it can interrupt our sleep patterns. What I didn’t realise, is that brighter light can actually intensify our emotions and can even make us less agreeable in negotiations. Low light, meanwhile, has been shown to have the opposite effect. Saturation also plays its part; just as in art, where more saturated hues can amplify the way in which we engage with the work before us, and where muted colours can be used to dampen our emotions, when it comes to lighting, a similar scale can be applied. In short, despite being just one piece in a very complicated puzzle, lighting is fundamental to achieving the sanctuary at home that we all aspire to.

“It can’t really be overstated just how important it is,” says Sarah. “For us, it’s another layer of our design process that’s absolutely essential to how an interior works. But it’s also essential in terms of how it looks; light fittings can almost be like works of art.” In fact, in choosing something sculptural, for example cage feature lighting over a dining table, Sarah firmly believes that this can elevate the space in just the same way as a carefully curated piece of art. It provides you with that same, visually appealing joy every time you step into the room.

I’m interested to know at which stage lighting ‘options’ are presented to their clients. The answer, is at the very beginning. Not forgetting that the bedrock of Woodford’s approach to architecture and design is to ensure every element works in synergy with the others, it would seem strange to leave such an important design decision to the last minute. “We want the whole room or house to look amazing, and that means everything working together in order to enhance the scheme,” says Sarah. This means that from the very beginning, the design choices have to work strongly together, “and we would only ever present clients with designs that we know are going to look great.”

So, what about functionality? “There are always different fittings for different purposes,” says Sarah. “On some projects, you might use Lutron systems, which allow for very quick and easy changes of mood. For example, if you’re prepping dinner, the lighting is really bright and your task lighting is doing what it’s supposed to. Then, as soon as your guests arrive, you just flick a switch and the levels become much lower, allowing them to enjoy the ambience. With kitchen lighting in particular, we try to hide the light fittings, so you might have LED strips under wall units and things like that, or recessed spotlights angled exactly to where you need them on your worktop or island. But then we’d also layer that with visible lighting, which just looks great. So, the visible lighting is there to look fantastic, and the task lighting is there to make sure you can do what you need to do.”

Of course, as many of us have realised in the last two years, it is no longer enough for our homes to have lovely interiors. With numerous lockdowns, the value of our gardens and their ability to re-connect us with nature, particularly in the summer months, has never been higher or more widely felt. So, I ask the question: how important is outdoor lighting? “It’s absolutely crucial!” says Sarah. “Even in those spaces that you aren’t using outside, if you’re not out in your garden, you still want to have a little bit of lighting under a tree so that, as you’re looking out from your living room, you’re not just looking into darkness. The thing we always say to clients is that the exterior is as important as the interior. If you can get all of those elements right, then what you’re going to end up with is a home that is absolutely outstanding.”

This is what it all boils down to. “These are people’s homes that we’re designing,” says Gavin. “Their heart is absolutely in it, and truly passionate about seeing it come to fruition. Sometimes, getting clients to see things differently is challenging,” he continues, however a strength of he and Sarah’s is their ability to build a relationship of trust; to always deliver not just a lovely new house, but a dream now home. In short, as Gavin puts it, “it always works out fantastically.”


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