Age of enlightenment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 April, 2007, 12:00am

For as long as the electric light has existed, people have looked for imaginative ways to beautify it, using a variety of materials, from glass to fabric, paper, plastic and aluminium. But the newest and biggest trend in lighting is being driven by technology that will change the way we look at lighting homes. 'LED is the future,' says Planet Lighting chief executive Brett Iggulden. 'Within 12 months the efficiency, performance and colour of LEDs will be miles ahead of anything else.'

Iggulden says LEDs (light-emitting diodes) will eventually find their way into every light fitting in the home. Even traditional- style lamps will be retrofitted with LEDs.

Why? LEDs use less than half the energy of conventional light bulbs and last for up to 100,000 hours (ordinary bulbs last 1,000-10,000 hours). They're also able to produce up to 130 lumens per watt. Compare this with conventional halogen downlights, which produce 30-40 lumens per watt, and you can see what all the fuss is about.

And because LEDs are so compact, new light fittings will be less than a quarter the size of existing ones. LEDs will drive new designs in lighting, with more options in terms of shape and colour.

'Every light fitting in the world is about to be rethought,' says Iggulden. 'The LED is one of the greatest green devices ever invented, so it's come along just at the right time.'

American furniture maker Herman Miller is already about to release its first LED product: a desk lamp designed by Yves Behar. The Leaf has a touch control that allows users to change from warm to cool light. It has a lifespan of 60,000 hours at full power and its slim profile houses innovations that keep the LEDs cool without requiring a fan to dissipate heat. The Leaf is expected to sell for about HK$3,200 - not bad for a lamp that will last as long as you do.

Cordless lamps are another innovation we're likely to see a lot of. They're more portable and attractive than something with a length of flex hanging from its base.

Sydney-based company Neoz has been working with cordless technology since 1995 and its founders, Peter Ellis and Anne Gothe, have created what's the world's first lithium-ion powered rechargeable cordless lamp system: the Neoz V4.

Several of the Neoz 4 range of lamps, which won the Australian Design Award last year, are in the permanent collection of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. The range has proved so successful that nowadays 90 per cent are exported to more than 50 countries and are used in top hotels from the Ritz in London to Raffles in Singapore.

'These lamps are definitely not a gimmick,' says Ellis. 'They're a high-end, functional product that's very durable because of their commercial heritage. They're also a very energy efficient use of light, because you're not trying to light a massive area.'

There are several lamps in the V4 range, all suited to home use. They're made from a variety of materials, including stainless steel, copper, resin, high-impact acrylic and glass. 'It's all about how to diffuse light in a beautiful way,' Ellis says.

The Ice Square 100 and the Owl series are popular domestic lights. The latest versions of the lamps are designed to sit on a base station that recharges them. While being charged, the lamp acts as a normal cord light that can be dimmed by rotating the base.

Ellis says Neoz plans to move into LED technology. Until then, he recommends using a halogen light on a dining room table because it's the most flattering artificial light source for food.

'Never use a really cool colour, such as you can get from fluorescent lights,' he says. 'It will make seafood look green and can make people's faces look unhealthy.'

Using light as art is also becoming more common. Light art is usually portable, affordable and provides a level of illumination.

The most basic form is shadow puppetry. Another basic form is a simple candle, especially in a holder such as the classic Kivi designed for Marimekko in 1988 by iittala.

New York artist Adam Frank has taken the candle one step further by creating the Lumen, an acid-etched, oil-lamp shadow projector made from stainless steel. Place the Lumen on a shelf or mantle and a detailed silhouette mounted near the flame casts an image on the wall. As the flame flickers, the shadow shimmers.

'With the Lumen, I really wanted to create something that could be manufactured right here in Brooklyn,' says Frank. 'I started off with just 200 samples. Now the Lumen is in New York's Museum of Modern Art and sells globally.