lighting, particularly its ability to affect domestic ambience, and to enhance the impression of spatial continuity, plays an important role in the work of London-based architectural firm Milk:studio. The successful transformation of two apartments into one for a property developer in the West London neighborhood of Craven Hill Gardens, and the renovation of a smaller one-bedroom apartment in North London, required creative thinking on the part of Åsa Bäckman, Marcel Rahm, and Paul Hehir-the principal architects. In practice since 2002, Milk:studio has entered competitions abroad and has worked on a number of UK projects. The apartments in West and North London-areas, which are becoming increasingly attractive to young professionals-are the firm's first forays into residential design.
The London property developer who commissioned Milk:studio to work on the West London apartment had 'no specific ideas in terms of the lighting,' says principal Marcel Rahm. From the start, however, the firm made 'indirect lighting the driving concept,' he says. Over the course of the project, the final lighting scheme slowly evolved, as the firm worked on specific spatial issues.
The primary concern the architects had to take into consideration, and work around, were pipes and ductwork in an existing wall. The result, a bend in the hallway, blocks any long views through the apartment. To mitigate this problem and connect the main street-facing living room and two bedrooms at the rear, the design uses light and reflection-a consequence of the shiny resin floor-to create the impression of height and continuity. Adding to this visual interest, the hallway is illuminated with blue stick lights, which paint the walls a soft blue tint, and, in their placement, create a sense of motion. As Åsa Bäckman explains, 'The fluorescent tubes have different angles to emphasize movement as you walk through.'
Lighting informs other details within the apartment as well. Closet door handles take the shape of slots or holes to resemble the form of the nearest lighting fixture. The bedroom closet doors mimic the rectangular shape of the linear sconces. Vertical slots in storage compartment doors in the hallway emulate the upright stick lights, and round handles in a pair of sliding yellow translucent doors in the second bedroom reflect the shape of two donut-shaped lights in the adjacent wall.
The architects wanted 'each and every room to have a different feel,' explains Backman. In the master bedroom's bathroom the designers achieve this by installing rows of 20W downlights above the washbasins, and lower down on the opposite wall. The bathroom lighting is set with dimming capabilities, further adding to the ability to control light levels and atmosphere. Similarly, downlights along the base of the kitchen cupboards and above the kitchen counters create a variety of lighting possibilities.
Before starting work on the North London apartment interior, Milk:studio spent, says Rahm, 'much time' with the client, discussing the brief. The firm wanted to use indirect lighting here, too, but this time to create a glowing and sculptural object. And in the small apartment, lighting would work in conjunction with furniture design to create a space that appears larger than it is. The firm's design solution centers around a single piece of glowing furniture: a kitchen cabinet unit and counter that runs almost the entire length of the apartment.
Softer, sinuous lines replace the harder, angular edges found in the West London apartment. Both projects shared the problem of how to design a space that works as a whole rather than as a series of partitioned spaces. Likewise, budget restrictions on both meant that the firm could not work with a lighting designer.
The kitchen unit's design excluded straight modernist lines from the beginning, because 'you move more naturally through space if you have soft angles,' says Rahm. Movement diagrams, drawn by the architects during the design development phase of the project, showed that rounded forms would encourage natural movement in the apartment. Objects with right-angle corners, on the other hand, would be obstacles to it. 'The curve, the incline, and the discontinuous line,' says Bäckman, 'create spaces of tranquility and privacy as well as dynamic moments of interactive possibility.' In order to realize this curved form, the cabinets are made from a type of plastic called PETG, chosen for its thermoplastic properties and ability to bend in two directions without breaking. The kitchen work surface is fabricated from laminated acrylic.
To achieve a visually striking object for the client, Milk:studio employed custom-made, color-changing cold cathode lighting under the kitchen counter. The RGB technology produces a broad spectrum of colors.
For Milk:studio, lighting is an integral part of interior design. It resolves spatial issues, creates illuminated objects of interest, and plays with the perception of space. Rahm sums up the firm's approach to lighting: 'We use lighting to play with perspective and to challenge the traditional way of organizing things.' robert such