Artful Illumination

Master Interior Designer Perla Lichi shares her art of light

By John D.Adams

What do your favorite movies, photographs, and paintings all have in common? Likely one strong element is that all draw the viewer in through artful use of light and shadow. And just like with any optical art piece, the deft development of a lighting story will bring the viewer subliminally into the environment. It’s the same with interior design.

To cast some light onto this most elemental design feature, we turn, once again, to Master Interior Designer, Perla Lichi. Ebullient as ever, Perla guides us through three projects, sharing her thoughts and intentions regarding her deployment of illumination.

Solid And Subliminal

A relatively low ceiling delivers light and ambiance to this formal dining room under the masterful design direction of Perla Lichi. The silver leafed ceiling reflects light from the grand chandelier.

First, the basics: “When designing with lighting, it’s important to keep in mind that lighting works with all the materials around it,” she begins. “Is that something which absorbs light or reflects light?” Just as important as solid materials, Perla emphasizes deliberate consideration of existing light sources, such as doors or windows, illumination from other rooms, and permanent fixtures.

Light And Emphasis
Perla is known for her boundless imagination. Incredibly, she seems to become even more inspired when working with the “constraints” of an existing space. Consider her transcendent dining space (seen here). Perla delivers a master class on the distribution of multiple light sources.

“The client wanted us to create a formal, classic dining room ambiance, while keeping the wall unit, fireplace and their existing counter-high dining table,” she says. “There were also existing doors and windows, so it was very important for us to study the natural sunlight that comes into the room… Natural and artificial lighting combined affect the way color and texture is seen in a room.”

Perla chose to emphasize features that other designers might consider hindrances. A relatively low ceiling can constrict a room. But here, Perla employs silver leaf and an oversized, grand chandelier, to turn the ceiling into an essential deliverer of light and ambiance. “It’s such a jewel for the room,” she says. “And the silver leaf interacts with the chandelier and the natural light, bringing a gentle glow above the table…

“We changed the lights to mini high hats to go all around the perimeter and changed the placement of the lights based on the new ceiling design and the Venetian trim. We added a dimmer to the electrical fireplace and to the lighting within the built-in cabinet.”

Perla’s color choices also reflect the bluish and greenish natural light. “We also deliberately chose simple yet elegant window treatments so that the outside light could filter in and interact with the room.”

Perla Lichi created coves and niches that add dimension and interest in the transformation of an upstairs hallway into an impressive gallery of fine art. Accent lighting softly bathes the owner’s art collection.

Light And Sight
A common mistake is only to light rooms downward, which leaves the entire ceiling in shadow. “Lose that single overhead fixture and go for a balance of lamps combined with recessed lighting,” says Perla. When light is directed upward, it bounces off the ceiling. This brightens the room and creates the sensation that the ceiling is higher and the room larger than it really is.

Perla delights in showing us her next image. Without the right use of light, this impressive hall/gallery could easily have become dark and confusing. For Perla, lighting allowed her the opportunity to orchestrate and direct the viewer’s sightlines. “We created coves and niches to bring more dimension and interest to the spaces. We can now tell a story.

“The overhead, curved niches mimic the inlaid floor design. They are silver leafed and softly lit behind the mouldings to bring the eyes gently upward and down the hallways. We punched in circular niches and dropped in chandeliers to add an elegant way for the eyes to pause. Then we bring the view back down by using accent lighting to softly bathe the owners’ wonderful art collection.”

Task and under-cabinet lighting are appreciated by the cook and also serve to enhance the gorgeous tilework in this luxurious eat-in kitchen. Illumination inside etched glass cabinets plus a chandelier that bathes the room in a more interesting, softer light combine to create the illusion of dining in a fine restaurant.

A Light For Every Task
Some rooms simply require even more direct attention to the use of light. And the kitchen is king. Understanding first how you use this room can direct your choices. For the kitchen seen here, Perla again emphasized a variety of lights for each job.

“Are you a cook or foodie?” asks Perla. “If so, we want to make sure we offer strong, directed light for prep areas while still preserving a pleasing ambient to the rest of the room…

“So we have the direct task lighting, then we included accent lights under the cabinetry to really show off the custom tilework. Next, we illuminated the inside of the etched glass cabinets to really enhance those beautiful details. And of course, you have to add the jewelry! The clients really love eating at the marble counter. I chose this chandelier because of the way the crystals bathe that part of the room in a more interesting, softer light. You feel transported to an elegant restaurant, watching the master chefs at work. And for me, that is the most important part of creating the right lighting plan. You want to create that fantasy.”

Artful Illumination