As one of the most dexterous and in-demand lighting design consultancies of the moment, the London firm Nulty has worked on lighting solutions across retail (from high street to high-end), hospitality, residential, and even the public sector, counting both the United Nations and the London Underground as clients. Be it innovative (and often neon) solutions for Nike; slick setups for Burberry, Alaïa, and Soho House; a scheme for the Ritz Carlton in Astana, Kazakhstan; or a cutting-edge private residence in Notting Hill, Nulty works at the intersection of creativity, aesthetics, and technology, illuminating spaces and places of all shapes and sizes.
Founded in 2011 by Paul Nulty – who initially set-up shop at his living room table – Nulty now takes on hundreds of projects a year across offices in London, Dubai, Beirut, and Miami. Here, Mr. Nulty enlightens AD PRO with some bright ideas, sharing the latest trends and tricks of his trade.
AD PRO: You began your career as a lighting designer in theater. Does that still influence the work you do today?
Paul Nulty: The big difference is that in theater, if it feels right it is right. It’s all about the emotional reaction that you get from lighting. Whereas in the real world, you have to be more technical about it – safety first, if you will. There are many regulations to meet, technical solutions to get right. But I think the notion of feeling right still applies: You just have to back it up with the right documentation. First and foremost, it is about the drama of a space, no matter the context.
London’s Haz restaurant.
Photo: Courtesy of Nulty
AD PRO: You’ve worked on projects all around the globe: from Kazakhstan and China to Norway and Dubai. Do you find that the “language of lighting” is quite universal?
Nulty: This is kind of a politician’s answer, but in truth it is and it isn’t: Lighting is universal because it’s ultimately a beautiful, intangible substance that is both psychological and physiological, but at its simplest, it’s there to emotionally connect you to the space you’re in.
But culturally, people react to light very differently. Of course, every project is unique, but I would say the major difference we see are in the Scandinavian countries, and in the Middle East. In the Nordics, you’re contending with many months of darkness and battling that with soft, warm lighting. In the Middle East, there tends to be a lot of cool, cold light, which offers a kind of psychological break from the heat and the sun.
AD PRO: Based on your recent projects, what would you say are the most notable trends in lighting design right now?
Nulty: We’re seeing is a greater focus on health and wellbeing. So in a hotel room, that could be lighting that is linked to your alarm clock: Twenty minutes before it rings, the lights very slowly turn on and you begin to gently wake up. When you’re going to sleep, it’s about finding ways to relax the brain, so not having a lot of blue light in the room is beneficial. LEDs are notoriously bad for bedroom lighting because they have very high proportion of blue in their spectrum.
In residential, dynamic, tonal changes are popular: a space that reacts to the level and quality of light outside. People also increasingly have light systems that link into circadian rhythms and help to create beneficial sleep environments, which is a case of light really being used to create a health benefit. We’re also seeing simplification of lighting controls: In the last ten years, you we went through a phase of very complex control systems, where you walked into a home and you didn’t know how to turn the lights on. Smartphones have helped a lot with this as there are great apps that allow for easy, hands-on control.
Leake Street, a tunnel in London covered in graffiti.