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Principles of good light

Creating modern-day fires

Why do certain kinds of light make us feel better than others? In our 2008 manifesto Lamps for Neanderthal Man, we pointed out man’s primitive relationship to light in the form of fire. For more than a million years, fire was our only artificial light source. It frightened off wild animals, brought us together, kept us warm and made us feel safe. Above all, it was a light source that we could keep close, that we could control.

Electric light has been around for little more than a century – a blink of an eye in comparison with human evolution. Today, we find ourselves trying to tame our primitive needs to meet the demands of a modern, high-tech world, where light has more or less become a world of electronics. In our overly-lit spaces – created under the mistaken notion that more light equals greater productivity – we feel exposed, small, with nowhere to go.

We believe in creating modern-day fires.

Light should shine for us, not on us.

"One eye sees. The other feels."

Paul Klee’s elegant description of the way we perceive the world around us is an excellent summary of Wästberg’s lighting philosophy. We believe that light answers to two kinds of needs – physical and emotional – and therefore, we need to consider both its measurable and its immeasurable qualities.

Light quality is, to a great extent, measurable – making it straightforward to evaluate in relation to physical needs such as ergonomy and differences in eyesight, as well to sustainability and cost.

Not as easily measured – but equally important – are light’s emotional qualities. Answering to our deeply-rooted human needs, these immeasurable aspects provide a sense of intimacy, safety, and control. In other words, they help us feel good.

Three tenets of light

To create modern-day fires, we rely on lighting designer Richard Kelly’s three tenets of lights, presented in 1952. While his fundamental principles remain just as relevant today, we use slightly different terms and definitions, adapted to a contemporary context.

Simply put, to us good lighting is the interplay of three kinds of light, where focal glow is usually the most dominant.

Focal glow

A focused light with clear direction and definition – often in the form of a task light, a suspended pendant lamp or a spotlight. Focal glow draws attention, separates the important from the unimportant, helps people to see. Ideally, focal glow t is adjustable and dimmable, allowing for a wide range of uses and atmospheres.

“Focal glow is the campfire of all time. Focal glow is the follow spot on the modern stage. It is the pool of light at your favorite reading chair. It is the shaft of sunshine that warms the end of the valley. It is candlelight on the face, and a flashlight on a stair.” – Richard Kelly

Ambient luminescence

Ambient luminescence produces shadowless illumination and is undoubtedly a necessity in many environments, but benefits greatly from being kept to a minimum, as a complement to focal glow. At Wästberg, we recommend plug-and-play fixtures; these not only provide good quality light, but also offer the flexibility and agility lacking in conventional overhead light fixtures.

"Ambient luminescence is the uninterrupted light of a snowy morning in the open country. It is foglight at sea in a small boat, it is twilight haze on a wide river where shore and water and sky are indistinguishable. It is the before-the-show lighted dome and amphitheatre of the Hayden Planetarium, the full cyclorama of the open theatre. It is any art gallery with strip-lighted walls, translucent ceiling, and white floor. " – Richard Kelly

Atmospheric accents

Here, we offer our own revised version of Kelly’s original play of brilliants, translating his focus on dazzling sparkles and gleaming highlights into gentle atmospheric touches of comfort and intimacy. While perhaps not viewed as functional in a traditional sense, atmosphere nonetheless plays an important role. Like a candle, lantern or fireplace, an atmospheric accent provides a dimension of inviting warmth, a comforting glow that appeals to the senses. Whether used for decorative emphasis or as a soothing mood enhancer, an atmospheric accent can be placed anywhere you want – in a bookshelf, on a nightstand or in a window.