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Lighting for your couture & tailoring studio

06 Jun

_DSC4789You’ve got your studio planned out, your theme, your furniture and equipment all ready to move in. Paint colors and wall coverings chosen, except you still need to decide how to light the entire space.
Light is light, all you do is flip the switch, right?

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You may not completely understand what you need for your space, but like any keen observer you can learn a lot by visiting trendy and upscale retail shops and restaurants and also professional office spaces to find out what appeals to you. And like any research you do, you should evaluate why something appeals or works for you and why it doesn’t.

What there is to know about lighting is almost overwhelming. About its various functions, about the myriad of products available, how lighting effects influence customer behavior, its reflective properties on various surfaces and so on. The great thing is that there is also ton of information freely available on the internet.

Assuming the primary existence of your studio is for work and to meet with your clients, lighting it is pretty straight forward. Natural lighting is a must, and not just because it makes you feel and look better. It has been proven that working under artificial light for prolonged periods of time cause us to be less alert and feel more stressed.

Windows near your work surface is very important, but do consider the direction of incoming light over your work so you don’t work in your own shadow. You may need to re-orient your work surfaces to achieve the most effective illumination. Light coming in from north facing windows is normally more consistent throughout the day and generally better than south facing – which can be extremely hot, glaring and tends to fade textiles rapidly.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Working evenings or during dark days, you will also need good ‘general lighting’ which means artificial overhead light. It should be evenly spaced and with sufficient coverage so that there are no dark spots in the studio.

You’ll also need ‘task lighting’ – direct light to illuminate particular working areas shadowed by equipment for instance. Next to your sewing machine, on your drawing board, beside the laptop or comfortable chair that you use to do hand sewing all benefit from additional lighting. Set up several independently switched task lights and use them as you need them. Research types of fixtures with flexible arms and with light bulbs that cast diffused light and that do not create a lot of extra heat.

Your fitting room will benefit by a source of natural light, plus artificial lighting that will flatter skin tones and won’t alter how the coloring of fabric appears. Again consider the direction of the light to prevent casting irritating shadows.

The more decorative spaces in your studio will likely be the entrance and reception area. Although you may not have a say in how this is lit, the entrance just outside your studio should be well lit inviting your clients in. Your reception area should be treated similar to a retail space. The fundamental principle being: first impressions are what count. If the entrance and reception areas are well illuminated, it underlines the assumption of convincing design and work on the inside.

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Lighting must have good color, contrast and balance between different surfaces to accomplish interesting effects which suit the mood and theme of your studio. By using several layers of lighting you can create an appealing hierarchy of light that will pull the space together bringing it to life. These layers are defined as Ambient, Accent and Perimeter, Display and Decorative lighting, and you could easily employ all of these techniques in one space.

All bulbs are rated based on the color of light they emit. This is a general guide to Color Temperature measured in degrees Kelvin (K), if you happen to come across the information.

Spec 35,40, or 50: 3,500-5,000 K – Good for task lighting
Cool White: 4,100 K – Reasonable for general lighting
Natural Sunshine: 5,000 K – Great for general lighting
Daylight Deluxe: 6,500 K – Very Bright (may be too bright for small spaces)

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Ambient is an overall restful and pleasant level of down-lighting. It can be adjustable with dimmer controls. Accent lighting adds depth, contrast and creates focal points upon your sample garments and design accents, but be careful not to add confusion with too many focal points.

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Perimeter – floor (up-light) and valance (up or down) light – aids in lighting vertical surfaces. This technique can direct light up on tall shelving and contributes to your space appearing to be larger, more open and welcoming.

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Display case lighting sources are usually hidden and only used to highlight small pieces. And finally, Decorative lighting such as a hanging chandelier can make a statement in itself, but be careful not to overdo this kind of lighting as it can easily divert attention away from its primary objective.

At Ecole Holt Couture School we use overhead fluorescent fixtures with additional cool-temperature track lighting and Venetian blinds controlling light coming in from west facing windows the entire length of the studio. While the fitting room has a north facing window, a crystal overhead chandelier and another fixture directly over top the large wall mounted mirror. This works extremely well all year round during the daytime as well as at night.

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Transportable task lighting is always nearby, and some students have discovered that wearing headlamps with LED lights (used for camping) and finger lights very useful for doing handwork at home where the lighting may not be as extensive or flexible.

These are just a few examples of lighting applications, but another useful technique (other than for fitting rooms) is in using mirrors, not only for reflecting light, but also for making your space appear to be larger than it is. We will explore this technique more in the future. J

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