Challenges & Triumphs; Custom Lighting Design

Challenges & Triumphs; Custom Lighting Design


“I have a crazy idea...”


Five words that in the design world lead to the most useful products, the most beautiful art, and famously, the biggest headaches. The process of designing and building a custom lighting fixture is a wonderful combination of each of these. After 30+ years in the lighting industry, we’ve seen everything. Well, almost everything. Each new project brings its own unique set of challenges. For this reason, custom projects can be some of our favorite work here at UltraLights. This case study will look at the design criteria and challenges faced when designing a beautiful, custom, twelve foot long custom pendant.


The client came to us with a vision...


The client came to us with a vision for the kitchen of his high-end residence. Imagine twelve foot high ceilings with three large skylights overhead. Dark hardwood cabinets, dual stainless steel refrigerator, and freezers on either side of a beautiful gas range. The center of the kitchen is home to a commanding fifteen foot long island with black granite countertops. A space worthy of an equally beautiful and unique luminaire.


We were excited for the opportunity to create such a fixture.


The client wanted something that filled the large space while complimenting the many works of art seen throughout the home. The kitchen is much longer than it is wide. Therefore, a large linear fixture was necessary. The simple and overdone solution to this; a single ten-foot continuous rectangle down the center of the kitchen island. Lamp it with ample lumens, paint it black and connect it to a dimmer switch and you are on your way. Did someone say boring? Boring.


Making a statement (piece).


Don’t get me wrong, we make some very nice rectangular shaped, simple pendants. However, this project required something different: A statement piece to wow anyone who enters the room. A piece that is equally sculptural and functional allowing a curious eye to move about the room. Our lead designer and founder, Jim Restin, devised a plan to turn boring into brilliance. He was able to take the same simple linear fixtures and create a floating three-dimensional puzzle. Each individual box is very simple in its own right. Together, a masterpiece of hand-crafted steel, hand finished with Ancient Iron patina, illuminated by modern high performance phase dimmable LEDs. We did lamp it with almost 18,000 lumens because who wants to dice vegetables in the dark? When surgical level lighting is not needed, dimmable integrated LEDs with a simple dimming switch is all that is necessary to change the atmosphere.


We have a saying in the office, “Simple sells.”


Easier said than done. Great design is often simple, intuitive, and beautiful. Sometimes even underappreciated. As with most projects if you had to recreate it all over again you could build it in a single day. However, arriving at a final, simple, elegant solution comes with its share of difficulties. On this project we had a beautiful concept designed quickly. A homerun for the client. On paper. However, the computer screen and on-site are two different things.


Moving from on-screen to on-site.


We worked closely with a contractor that the client had hired to do the installation of this piece. The most obvious challenge we faced was mounting. Such a large fixture would require several cables. Typically, with a regular ceiling this is not a problem. The three large skylights directly above thekitchen island presented an obstacle. Through careful measurements from the onsite contractor, we were able to layout a mounting solution that fit between and around the skylights. The other half of this challenge was making sure that the cable locations would allow the fixture to be well balanced and evenly supported. We were able to take the cable layout from the ceiling and overlay it onto our design drawings in CAD. We adjusted the placement of a few sections accordingly and we had our mounting solution.


Lighting it up


As far as lamping components go this was not too different than what we do every day. 3000k, TRIAC Phase Dimmable, Integrated LED. Phase dimmable LED was important for the customer so the fixture could be dimmed with a simple standard phase dimmer. The site was not wired for 0-10v dimming which requires extra low voltage wires from the dimmer to the LED driver. Phase dimming vs 0-10v dimming is another important distinction when developing custom lights for a customer.


The challenge in lamping...


The challenge in lamping came with the six modular sections. Modular construction was imperative for fabrication, powder coating, assembly, and shipping. In addition, we needed to make sure that the pendant was easily assembled on-site by the contractors. We designed wireways between each section and installed quick connect wire leads. This allowed the installation crew to bolt the fixture together from the inside so that no fasteners are seen, and then connect the wiring from one section to another. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s an important detail to avoid headaches for the end user.


The final installation


When the time came to finally install the fixture, we knew there would be challenges. We designed the pendant to be as rigid as possible while not going overboard on the overall weight. At twelve feet long, there was bound to be some flex. It was imperative that the fixture be lifted into place evenly and all at once. Adding to the challenge, the profile is not flat across the bottom. The six sections sit at various heights, creating the movement we were looking for.


Collaborative Solutions


Our lead design engineer worked with the contractor to develop a simple, effective solution. We provided drawings of the fixture’s elevation profile, and the contractor constructed a wooden structure that matched the profile, allowing us to lift the entire fixture up evenly. Power leads were connected at the ceiling. Cables were set to their final overall height which was made easier with the user friendly GripLock hanging cable system that we utilize often for pendants. This left us with one final test.


Flip the switch. Success.


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