Layering light in a residential setting often relies on the light fixture as a decorative object. But in the case of this converted two-story commercial building, a contemporary treatment was requested. In a somewhat unusual project structure, lighting designer Derek Porter and his team at Derek Porter Studio were hired directly by the clients—an older couple in their 60s and 70s. Faced with an interesting set of project conditions: no exterior views to speak of, and a vaulted SIP (structurally insulated panel) roof structure that had recently been installed, rather than be hindered by these circumstances, Porter manipulated these potential obstructions into project opportunities (see image gallery). He explains, “The way in which the light integrated with the architecture evolved significantly from the fact that we couldn't use the ceiling.”

Several site visits into the preliminary design, it was apparent that the roof clerestory and thick parapet wall (18 to 24 inches) allowed a fair amount of natural light into the space. Studying exactly how daylight moved through the residence enabled Porter to turn the apartment's focus inward. “The presence of daylight phenomenologically became more important in the design,” he states. Also early on in the design discussions, Porter and his team introduced the idea of energy efficient fluorescent sources. “The client had no preconceived notion of this, but to their credit, despite the typical aversion to the first mention of fluorescent, they were very open in considering it,” he says. Once the client was in agreement about the light sources, Porter and his team began to explore the relationship between daylight and electric light, specifically how to balance static and dynamic light sources, along with directionality, and color temperature. “I'm interested in the kind of complement of these independent dualities, and not trying to blur the relationship between the two,” he explains.

The lighting scheme's design parti is best expressed in the cove detail below the parapet. Because the clerestory has repeated punched openings, geometric in aperture scale and proportion with no trim detail, the lighting designers wanted to create a complementing gesture with electric light. “We didn't want something just attached to the architecture,” Porter describes. The solution was a constant linear shelf, which houses the electric 3500K fluorescent sources, whose form peels away form the wall—a poetic gesture in keeping with the vaulted roof line and contemporary aesthetic of the interiors.

Another project element, which receives a similar poetic touch, is the entryway closet. A unique architectural feature, but one that roots itself in the new cabinetry pieces found elsewhere in the apartment, sliding glass doors with a satin finish hung from a steel I-beam, allow the contents of the closet to be seen, but abstractly. Each shelf is essentially a maple box with a slim linear fluorescent lamp hidden behind the front fascia that allows the light to wash back onto the contents of each shelf. When the glass doors are closed and the lights turned on the effect is a diffuse glow and the closet as an entire entity functions as the entryway luminaire.

With no preconceived ideas as to what their residence should be, the client allowed the lighting design team to explore light in a way that focuses on quality and color temperature. Light exists as both a measure and an experience. The result is a contemplative space where residence becomes refuge from the busy daily happenings of life.


PROJECT West Plaza Residence, Kansas City, Missouri

LIGHTING DESIGNER Derek Porter Studio, Kansas City, Missouri

PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Spillers, Kansas City, Missouri


Ardee Kitchen under cabinet fixtures

Elliptipar Linear fluorescents throughout project

GE Lamps throughout project

Ginger Lighting Bathroom wall sconces

Lutron Graphic Eye control system

Osram Sylvania Lamps throughout project