Whether you’re designing a home or a hotel, there are several elements that you need to consider when thinking about the ambience: music, lighting, and temperature. As the former director d’ambience at the Chateau Marmont in L.A., I am extremely particular about all three.
The worst thing you can have in a space is lighting that’s too bright. For example, I was in Paris recently during Fashion Week with my friend, the Russian DJ Nina Kraviz (who is on season three of my new podcast). We had dinner at Brasserie Lipp, the iconic restaurant in Saint-Germain. And I couldn’t believe it. I mean, it was 11 p.m., and the lights were chandeliers, filled with bright white halogen lights — the kind you turn on to throw people out or when you invite the cleaners in. I asked someone, would you mind dimming the lights a little? They didn’t understand what I was trying to tell them. They were a flabbergasted, like, Who are you to tell us?, but I had to, it was a vibe kill. It’s a very fancy, iconic place, and cool people go there. And it was a chandelier full of halogen lights.
On the other hand, I was dining recently in an Asian restaurant in South Pasadena, where I’m staying right now. The lighting wasn’t perfect, but if you looked around the neighbourhood, every other place on the street was empty. I said to my friends: “I’ll tell you why. People are naturally drawn to the warmth here.” At the end of day, especially when it comes to where you’re seated, it needs to be comfortable.
When it comes to lighting in the home, I swear by these Edison light bulbs by Woowtt. I have them at home, and if I go anywhere where I’m staying for a short while, I’ll buy an extra set of these light bulbs to take with me and temporarily install. Even when I go to my parents’, the first thing I do is switch the light bulbs out. It’s so warm, it’s like the light from a fireplace, and they’re easy to order online, to get delivered to where I’m staying, or to order them when I’ve arrived. Lighting must adapt to the time of day, but some times of day are particularly flattering — it’s why so many Instagram filters mimic sunset hours. It’s the warmest, most comfortable light.
Another thing I like to do to transform the lighting in a given space is use these inexpensive gels. I learned this trick from a set-designer friend — rather than change the bulbs, which might not always be possible, they wrap gels around the bulb to change the ambience. Because halogen lights do not let off heat, they won’t burn the gel.
When choosing what tone, I always go for an amber gel, but it depends what you want to create in your room: red, yellow, pink. You could use dramatic colours for a house party. I suggest buying two or three different gels and seeing what works in your space, mix and match. Last year, as part of an Are We on Air? pop-up I did in Berlin, I borrowed this kiosk to do DJ sets and throw a party outside. It used to sell sausages and fries to tourists, and the lighting was — you guessed it — bright halogen. I cut a hole in a red gel and put it on the lighting, and it began attracting passersby. It was incredible. Wolfgang Tillmans came, and Luka Sabbat, and the red light drew people in from all around.
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