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Opinion: Free design options are not cheaper than engaging independent consultants, says Alexander Holler

Opinion: Free design options are not cheaper than engaging independent consultants, says Alexander Holler

The managing director of Studio N lighting practice, emphasises the advantages of appointing a lighting design firm over selections provided by suppliers

Lighting design, Studio N, Nulty Lighting

Lighting is not limited to the interior or exterior of buildings or landscapes, it surrounds us in every space we enter. It helps create an atmosphere, which in turn has a positive or negative impact over all sectors of our lives.

Lighting design is far more than a number of fixtures and a technical calculation, as often provided by manufacturers or suppliers as a free design option. It is about using artistic skills and greater in-depth knowledge where required. Good lighting design has the power to create an experience because it facilitates an emotional connection, helps guide the eye through a space, and creates ambience, mood and drama.

The client’s aim should always be to choose a professional consultant, who strives to produce a creative, functional and appealing solution over someone who will just follow the instructions and engineer the interior designers’ work.

Using a “free” design service often has hidden costs, which add up at the end of the project. Manufacturers and suppliers tend to look at lighting design from a product hardware perspective rather than a lighting quality perspective. Yes, they understand their products. Yes, they understand the way a spotlight or downlight works and how it emits light. But understanding how a luminaire works is very different from understanding how light is applied in a space.

There is a level of finesse in lighting design that most manufacturers and suppliers don’t convey because they are focused on hardware and, ultimately, selling products. This isn’t to say they can’t do good design, but when you work for free, you don’t have the time or the scope to challenge the concepts of an interior designer or an architect.

Often the perception of an independent lighting design service is that it is expensive, and smaller architectural practices or interior design firms with limited budgets can’t afford such lighting expertise. It couldn't be further from the truth. A proper design and supply consultancy can assist and still enhance the design of a project, and ultimately deliver a creative, quality-driven solution for the client on a limited budget.

It is also increasingly important to define precisely who is competent for which part of the design, and that responsibilities are properly understood and put into contract. Any respectable consultant will almost certainly take design responsibility for their work. Furthermore, lighting design consultants normally provide cover for the client, through a professional indemnity insurance to rectify any mistakes that could happen. They appoint their own inhouse design managers to co-ordinate their designs.

Often the active involvement of a lighting consultant in the construction administration phase, through to the bidding process and the final equipment adjustment, can help to ensure full realisation of the lighting potential within a space.

Suppliers still play a major role in the execution of a project, as they are providing the resources and materials needed to realise the design intent. However, a lighting designer will create the ambience, mood and ultimately bring the space to life. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alexander Holler is the managing director of Studio N, a boutique practice launched by the well-known lighting design firm, Nulty, in 2018. The spin-off company offers creative lighting design solutions on projects with limited budgets in the region.

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