Lighting expert Alexander Stileman discusses his craft.
Lighting is something that is often taken for granted. It illuminates our homes, offices, streets and transport. Light has the power to influence our mood and change it with the flick of a switch. Someone who knows this all too well is Alexander Stileman, a lighting expert with nearly a decade of experience in this niche but growing industry. Originally trained in fine art, Alexander’s career as an artist took an unexpected turn when he met a lighting and interior designer couple ten years ago. The meeting led to a seven-year partnership where Alexander learned the art of lighting design across a range of commercial, residential and marine projects. Two years ago, Alexander decided to go it alone and set up his own company, and Stileman Lighting Design was born.
Alexander explains that his fine art background means he is more ‘artistic in his approach’, but he also has a pragmatic sensibility that bodes well in such a technical industry. Stileman Lighting’s diverse clientele is not immediately obvious from the company’s petite west London office, but Alexander certainly has an enviable, international project portfolio spanning art, property projects and superyachts.
As well as a range of high-end developments – a villa in St Barts, a new luxury gym in Chelsea, three properties in Hereford Square – Alexander also works on luxury superyachts, a technically challenging industry but one of limitless ambition. ‘There are pressures involved with marine lighting but the flipside is that it’s an almost budgetless project, so that’s quite fun.’ he says. ‘With lighting for yachts, you’re dealing with saline environments, and water and electricity don’t tend to go hand in hand! You have to be extremely technical in that department when you’re dealing with megayachts.’
Whilst his craft was learnt on the job, Alexander has had to develop an extremely detailed technical understanding of lighting. In September 2009, new EU regulations were introduced meaning that standard, high wattage household light bulbs (which convert only around 5-10% of the energy they use into light), were to be completely phased out over a three year period. The long-term plan is that by 2020, carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced by 15 million tons annually, with enough energy saved to power 11 million households every year. The initiative has been music to the ears of energy-conscious types across Europe, but the regulations have created a bit of a headache for those in architectural industries.
‘Before [the regulations], an interior designer might wear a lighting designer’s hat and be quite comfortable with it.’ Alexander explain, ‘now, unless they’ve got a technical team or someone designated within their company to do the research, they will more often than not come to a lighting designer.’
Whilst it was once a case of working in units of 100 and 60 watts, the new regulations have introduced dimensions of 1,2 and 3 watt bulbs and the use of light emitting diodes (LEDs). ‘It’s new technology, and a new technology means it’s more technical than it used to be,’ Alexander explains. ‘There are a lot of limitations to it, so to create an environment which is different to the old halogen days, you need to be clever.’
The regulations have meant that some businesses are having to completely renovate their lighting schemes and for this reason, when it comes to commercial and residential projects, working on new builds rather than existing ones is a far easier process. Not only because it means that a lighting scheme can be developed from scratch, but also because the opportunity to collaborate with other design teams presents itself from the start. ‘If you get in early enough, you work very closely with the architect and interior designer,’ Alexander explains, ‘you can influence the way they even approach the design of the building, so architectural details can be changed to suit the lighting scheme.’
This was certainly the case with Alexander’s involvement in Banda’s recent Heritage Collection at Parkgate House development. Having been on Banda’s radar for some time, the Parkgate House penthouses were the first time all parties got to work together. Alexander also collaborated closely with project architects fourfoursixsix, whose clean and modern interior design scheme gave Alexander plenty of scope to play with.
‘Parkgate House is a beautiful building,’ Alexander says, ‘once you’ve stepped inside the front door it’s a very different world to what you get on the outside.’
Characterised by high-ceilings and huge windows that flood the space with natural light, Alexander was keen to keep the character of the building intact whilst showcasing his artistic flair: ‘We’ve got these incredible bronze and hand-blown glass pendants in the kitchen that really offset the clean lines of the interior design.’ He enthuses. ‘The architects have done a fantastic job. Daniel (co-director at Fourfoursixsix) had quite a strong vision and I was keen on what they proposed. It worked really well.’
A unique quality of the Heritage Collection is that it brought together so many artisans with different specialities. When asked about the most enjoyable aspect of his involvement with the development, Alexander answers – without skipping a beat – that it was his experience with those other teams:
‘I’ve enjoyed working with the team that’s been put together by Banda, there are some good specialists on the M&E side (mechanical and engineering) but actually it’s been Banda and the Fourfoursixsix team that I’ve enjoyed the most – building up a relationship with them.’
‘You work with so different types of people [in this industry],’ Alexander reflects, ‘and it’s brilliant to work with really grounded, passionate people who just want to create wonderful things.’