INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

Lighting and product designer Dan Heap is known for his integrative approach, concealing the source of light within the fabric of buildings so that it seems to magically shine from nowhere. With stints at Isometrics and Minds Eye behind him, he is now based in France and runs Dan Heap Lighting Design. His product designs for Grey Room are innovative fittings using the latest LED technology. WIN caught up with him to find out about his big ideas and latest inventions.

What are the key philosophies behind your design?

Much of what we do is to take the concept and design for the space and support it through the lighting design. Our best schemes are where you see very few fittings and the light is delivered in as natural a way as possible. When we begin a new project, we spend a lot of time understanding the designers' concept and material palette, how the space will function and how the user will interact with the space at different times of the day. Once we have an overall concept for the building we start to choose the tools or fittings to deliver these concepts. Much of our design time is taken up with detailing the lighting into the architecture in such a way as to allow it to be built and maintained without compromising the aesthetic.

Placing fittings on a plan isn't really lighting design for us, the skill is in taking a light source and slipping it into place to perform a certain job, if a standard fitting exists, great. If not, the fabric of the building will do or we mock up and design a custom solution.

You insist on integrating lighting seamlessly with architecture and reducing visible detail, so the light seems to shine from nowhere. There's a magical aspect to this - it this intentional?

Definitely, many of our clients come to us because of this reputation for attention to detail. Personally I enjoy the challenge of trying to conceal much of the lighting within the fabric of the building. This is what has led to many of the products we have designed. The desire to hide lighting away means often standard fittings won't do the job.

Do you enjoy clients' reactions to your work - is there one that stands out?

I do when they love it! At Minds Eye we once lit a show for the artist Sam Taylor Wood at White Cube in Hoxton Square. It consisted of around 12 photographs and two very slow moving video pieces. We lit the photographs from a high level using framing projectors to exactly light only the canvas itself. When people viewed the pieces they waited at the photographs expecting them to move slowly like the two video pieces. It was a really simple approach but looked amazing and we were very proud of the result.

For the residential project Casa Maria, you used a striking acrylic feature in the central space to feed light between three floors. What challenges did this present?

The acrylic fins were the architect's concept and were some eight metres high - they were craned in through the roof. We looked at a number of concepts for lighting these fins but through a series of mock-ups it became clear to us that the most dramatic lighting approach would be when a tight beam of light hit at a certain angle and they were allowed to act as a giant prism. What better beam of light than the sun on a certain few days of the year. We also actually designed a flush light box concealed within the floor build up that washes coloured light into the fins without being seen, this shares the light to the other floors. The acrylic piece is amazing, without light it is beautiful, with a soft coloured glow it changes form, with a shaft of sunlight it's just magical.

Can you tell us a bit about Grey Room?

I would describe Grey Room as a natural progression from my work as a lighting designer over the last 15 years, a way of having greater freedom to work on a broader range of products and projects. Grey Room started in 2011, as much of my work involves using light fittings in an innovative way I tend to look at the latest emerging technologies to achieve smaller, brighter etc. As LED began to evolve into a serious light source, many of the concepts I had looked at in the past became either more viable or more economic. It quickly became clear that I should look at developing some of our ideas into products that could be mass-produced. We have just launched our "dims like tungsten" downlight. As a lighting designer the changes to Part L of the building regulations have been very restrictive and when LED's do dim well they still remain the same colour as they dim down. The "dims like tungsten" uses the latest LED technology to blend the output of 12 LED's to mimic the colour properties of a tungsten lamp as it dims down. This product will revolutionize our perception of LED lighting. We aim to offer this on all our products

What was the thinking behind your Top Shelf series?

Top Shelf evolved through a residential project we were doing at the time. We needed a shelf lighting solution that was as small as possible and lit right to the top at the back and right to the front, nothing existed to meet this brief. We began with a reliable LED with the right light output and then designed a custom profile on which to mount it to allow a screw fix, act as a heat sink for the LED's and allow the cable to be hidden.

Grey room products are all made in the UK - is this something you are passionate about?

We are passionate about making our products in the UK. We have a great team at the factory with a wealth of experience within LED and electronics technology. We are yet to propose a concept to them and they say it can't be done. Our designers also work on other aspects of electronics technology so there are some great ideas that filter in from unexpected sources.

Do you do one-off designs through Grey Room?

Yes - that's quite and interesting side of the business. Somebody came to us with a residential project - they had these timber niches with art pieces in them and they want to spotlight them, but unseen. So we've taken the LED, made a fitting for it hidden it in the joinery, to spotlight these pieces. It's almost like taking museum lighting and putting it in someone's home. Another one is pop-up security lights in people's homes. No-one wants big floodlights on the side of their lovely house, so you have these hidden in the ground, and if someone breaks over the fence, the lights pop up. They're in a box in the ground, and they use a telescopic pole with LED lights on the top with a cable up the centre.

So it's becomes like inventing?

Oh completely - the product design is inventive. With lighting designs, once you come up with the concept it just gets watered down more and more. I'm quite happy to be in my workshop, trying things, mocking things up, making something new. I get really excited to think 'look at this, no-one's done this'. And with the LED that's every month. Something you couldn't do last year, you can do now, because the technology is moving so fast.