By Bill Primavera
When I was in college, I appeared in a play called “The Madwoman of Chaillot” by Jean Giraudoux with the actress Linda Lavin who would later go on to achieve fame as “Alice” on television.
The most stunning thing about that production, as I recall, was the amazing effects achieved by its lighting director, on staff in the theater department, who was an incredible talent.
I remember that when the curtain rose for the second act of the play, the stage was completely dark and slowly a small pin spotlight illuminated only the face of the madwoman in the center of the stage. Just that lighting effect alone brought applause from the audience.
Every scene of the play was an arresting study in shadow and light where brightness drew the viewer’s attention, where it needed to be, while other areas of the stage receded. I was mesmerized as I observed how light created movement and mood by playing off stationary surfaces.
Many years later I was reminded of my interest in stage lighting when the director of Yorktown Stage in Yorktown Heights shared with me his feeling that a production really doesn’t come to life until the lighting director does his job with a show, going so far to say that seeing a set dramatically lit for the first time has brought him to tears.
His comment convinced me that someday I should have a home where its lighting would be as dramatic as a stage set, and that would require a custom designed lighting system. But having always lived in antique homes, my lighting was primarily from traditional lamps.
When I moved to a new condo, however, my dream for dramatic lighting presented itself. I arranged with management to have electrical contractors work with me to install a system to light my great room, which I had designed basically as an art gallery for my collection of oil paintings of portraits and landscapes. The lighting system I planned was to highlight the paintings on three walls: portraits on the living room side, pastorals on the dining room side and a large abstract on the third wall in between.
At first, I was planning to hire a lighting designer, but I was lucky to find an electrician with sensitivity to my ideas and needs, and working in tandem with an electric supply company, we all worked wonders together.
There were many technical challenges to overcome working on the fifth-floor condo with 10-foot-high ceilings, installing high hats in a soffit with insulation material. The casing for the high-hat units I originally wanted turned out to be too large to be accommodated in the soffit.
I had the good fortune to be assigned a job manager who was as much an artist as he was an electrician. He guided me every step of the way in terms of which product to use. We sourced a small LED light whose imprint on the ceiling is only two inches square – as well as the appropriate spacing and angles of light to employ. He cut such clean holes that nary a speck of spackle was needed for patching the plasterboard.
Now completed, the overhead pin spots illuminate my great room/gallery in a warm and inviting way. Rather than being surrounded by flat walls with two-dimensional shapes on them, the lighted paintings create great depth and richness to our space. While we have other traditional lighting sources in the room, it really requires no light other than that resting on the faces of the portraits and on the landscapes of the pastorals. The effect takes us to other acquaintances and distant places beyond the space we occupy. It’s transporting.
As a footnote: Whenever I think of creative lighting, I think of my “Aunt Pearl,” an older friend of my wife and me who used to visit our antiques shop that we owned in Brooklyn Heights. Aunt Pearl had spent her youth in an old Victorian home, which she described as dark and dreary.
To compensate, when she married, she set up her own home with as much bright light as she could muster. Her apartment when we knew her was ablaze with bright lights from many sources, practically to the point where visitors might have wanted to shield their eyes. We were amused when she described a next-door neighbor’s apartment as a dark cave with everyone gathered at night around one naked light bulb.
I am also amused to remember that as a major project for a college art class, I created a photographic study of the “plasticity of light,” demonstrating how different lighting sources could create different effects. I solicited the help of a friend who was a photographer and, as a model, I employed the generous support of my girlfriend at the time. She was quite liberal and agreed to appear with only a sheer scarf protecting her modesty. It earned the only A-plus I received in college.
Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest-running public relations agency in Westchester. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.
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