x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Chandelier designers light the way

A show-stopping light sculpture can create a dazzling signature piece in the modern luxury home. Selina Denman looks at the work of some of the brightest designers in the business, starting with the team behind the spectacular installations in the UAE's new generation of hotels.

Oki Sato, of the Japanese design house Nendo with Growing Vases, made in collaboration with Lasvit. Courtesy Nendo
Oki Sato, of the Japanese design house Nendo with Growing Vases, made in collaboration with Lasvit. Courtesy Nendo

Good lighting can make or break an interior, but a bespoke light feature can utterly transform it, creating a captivating statement that sets the tone for an entire home. Whether it's a delicate crystal chandelier or a mammoth lighting sculpture that experiments with unusual materials and the latest LED technologies, bespoke lights are now an essential element of the luxury interior.

In terms of design, the possibilities are thrilling - just look to the ceilings of the lobbies, restaurants and bars of some of the UAE's most exciting new hotels, where you'll more than likely be greeted with a stunning installation by the Czech lighting company, Lasvit. "The Emirates love Lasvit" their website proudly announces - and it appears to be true.

In the lobby of Abu Dhabi's new Capital Gate Hyatt, you'll see Wave, a 17m long, 9m-high behemoth made of hand-blown and hand-shaped pieces of glass, which emulates the dramatic motion of water. In At.mosphere Grill and Lounge in the Burj Khalifa, the world's highest restaurant, you can dine under Bubbles Elevated, a tumble of hand-blown amber spheres that cast a golden glow over the restaurant's banqueting table. In the pre-function area at Jumeirah Etihad Towers, there's Oculuc, a stunning choreography of handcrafted crystal and glass components that took the team from Lasvit an incredible 12 weeks to install.

From the Royal Enclosure at the Meydan Grandstand to the The Ritz-Carlton DIFC and even the Dubai Metro, there seem to be very few places where you won't come across a Lasvit creation. In fact, tennis fans may have noticed that the trophy handed to Novak Djokovic when he won the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in December was also created by the Czech glass and light specialist, designed by a Zayed University student as part of a design competition hosted by Lasvit.

Even Dubai's Metro passengers will be familiar with the company's installations. When the designers of the Metro came to do the interiors of the stations, they found themselves in a unique position. With most metro stations around the world, designers have had to focus on making the space entirely vandal-proof - hence the usual cold, hard-edge palette of steel, glass and concrete. Not so in the crime-free city of Dubai. So the designers decided to go all out, and introduced a series of luxury finishes, including chandeliers, in key stations. Lasvit chandeliers, to be precise.

Wherever they are, and whatever shape they take, Lasvit's light sculptures are elegant, bold and dramatic, designed to attract the eye and inspire the mind. This is light at its most evocative and awe-inspiring.

But the company's products are not solely for public spaces - they also make equally extraordinary lights for private residences, as they did in a beachside apartment in Jumeirah 3.

Suspended in the apartment's sun-drenched living room is Lasvit's pink Bubbles in Space chandelier, a collection of delicate glass spheres that float ethereally above the coffee table, adding to the light and airy feel of the space. Each bubble, available in clear, amber or black diamond glass, is individually handblown. The piece is complemented by Lasvit's elegant Inside pendant lights and Mulia engraved glass vases in vibrant pops of purple, green and orange.

The company's philosophy is built around three key pillars - light, design and experience - and its products are a delicate amalgam of the three. The company set out to preserve and enhance the thousand-year-old Bohemian tradition of glass-making, using techniques and skills that have been passed down through the generations. It celebrates the magical qualities of glass - its ability to refract, reflect and deconstruct - but it also partners with cutting-edge designers, architects, artists and glass-makers. It's a potent combination: contemporary designers harnessing age-old techniques.

If you want an entirely unique solution that inhabits that hazy space between art and design, Alex Randall is one of the most exciting new names in lighting design. The 29-year-old British design sensation, who studied sculpture at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, is responsible for designing all of the bespoke lighting for retail brand Ted Baker and is inspired by the most unexpected of materials, from cymbals to saw blades and gramophones. She explains that she left college wanting to create "useful art", and lighting fit the bill. "I look at my pieces as little stories in their own right," she says. "I am blurring the distinction between product and art." Her first piece was a lamp made out of an old Bakelite telephone that had belonged to her grandparents (she sold it to the British TV personality Graham Norton). Her gramophone chandelier, formed from a cluster of 16 brass gramophone horns, can be bought from her online collection for £5,000 (Dh29,000); an Alex Randall Bakelite desk lamp costs £850 (Dh4,972).

Four years ago, Randall started experimenting with taxidermy, while developing an Edwardian street scene theme for one of Ted Baker's London stores. "They wanted a lamp that went through the store and created a sense of movement. Birds came up in my mind and I created a lamp out of pigeons."

Since then, there have been lighting products made out of squirrels, ducks, butterflies and swallows. The lamps come in all shapes and sizes, from The Carriers, a chandelier made out of 23 pigeons carrying a spiky ball through the air, to the squirrel wall lamp which sells online for £820 (Dh4,900).

There's also been a fair amount of controversy. "Taxidermy elicits this very strong reaction," Randall says. "Animal rights people always ask questions, and I get a bit of hate mail occasionally, which is crazy because if they take the time to read and understand why I'm doing it, they'll realise that I'm actually the world's biggest animal lover. I only use culled animals and I find it appalling to think that these animals would otherwise all go to waste."

But taxidermy is not the be all and end all of her work. In fact, just as the trend shows signs of breaking into the design mainstream, Randall is moving on, into new uncharted territory. Her latest fascination is with bone china and rawhide. "Rawhide is untreated leather; it's waste from the venison industry in Scotland," she explains. "It's a very ancient material and it has this weird elasticity. You can wrap it around things, let it dry and then unwrap it and it keeps the memory of that shape and reforms."

For one of her most striking pieces, she cast a replica of Triumph, a winged victory that stands in the Louvre, in rawhide, to create In Memory of Triumph, an angel-shaped floor lamp that emits a gentle, suitably ethereal, iridescent glow. There is a ram's head wall lamp and rawhide ceiling lights in the shape of horses, made by casting old wooden carousel horses in rawhide, lit from within by a single bulb.

Another designer with a firm appreciation of the relationship between art and light is Beau McLellan. It is probably no coincidence that the British-born designer, now based in Portugal, also started out as a sculptor, moving "seriously" into lighting 10 years ago.

McLellan is best known for creating the world's largest chandelier, Reflective Flow, a 38.5m-long installation that hangs in Doha's Al Hitmi office development. In Dubai, visitors to the high-end furniture showroom B5 will be familiar with his Nomad chandelier, a five-metre-long wave of more than 200 individual glass components, each of which can be individually controlled to create countless colour effects and variations.

McLellan has a preoccupation with the artistry of light that drives him to experiment with technologies and materials. His pieces are always imbued with movement - ever-changing and utterly captivating.

"I find light is a great communicator," he says. "If you get it right it is instant gratification. We are all too busy to stop and just sit in front of a picture in a gallery any more. We just don't have the time. I need to try and get you in that moment. And then let the sculpture do its thing."

McLellan's latest creation, Eclipse, occupies the stairwell of a two-storey home in southern Portugal and includes dozens of mirror-coated LED components suspended at varying heights. The installation gently changes colour to create a variety of moods, and acts as an absolutely stunning centerpiece.

In the atrium of another of McLellan's residential projects hangs Icicle, 480 hand-ground crystal rods projecting from a 5m-long central column. Each frosted tip emits a bright, clear light individually powered by LED light injectors. The overall impression is a shower of light falling gently through the air.

Then there's Reveal, a series of colourful tubular elements that dives dramatically from the ceiling of yet another luxury residence. The 800kg piece is constantly changing colour, from vibrant green and icy blue to pretty pinks and purples, transforming the entire space with each transition.

"If I can get people underneath my chandeliers and get them to escape fleetingly to a separate reality, if I can whisk people away with a piece of sculpture, then my work is working," says McLellan.

And this, ultimately, is the beauty of a bespoke lighting piece; its ability to transfix, transform and transport.