Tell us about your overall career path.
I’m from a small rural town in Minnesota, which I left to pursue a 4-year degree in Behavioral Psychology that led me to teaching and tutoring in Chicago. For a short time I worked in retail, and finally my first job in lighting was at a showroom called Horton’s Home Lighting, which I started at after marrying the year before. After we went on our honeymoon to Sweden for a month, we moved to California when we got back. That’s where I started working at a manufacturers’ rep agency in San Francisco.
We moved to Emeryville a few years later, where I started work at a new agency. Together with my partner and talented creator Brittany (Ara) Skyy, we opened our own business, Kirala Figurer, LLC, in October 2021. Her love of the natural world, artistic collaboration, and thoughtful approach to sustainability in design are integral contributions to our practice as it evolves within us at Kirala Design.
What led you to pursue a career in lighting?
A friend saw that I needed a light in my life, both literally and figuratively, and offered to have me join him in his new job at the showroom. He promised to teach me everything he knew, and I quickly learned everything I could, devouring knowledge from every source I could find time to read, watch, or listen to, and developing new skill sets whenever possible.
Tell us about your favorite lighting project, and which aspects made it your favorite.
The first time I ever got to ghost-write a fixture schedule and do comprehensive Design Development-stage layouts was for a single family luxury residence in San Francisco. The designer of record liked my ideas, and eventually gave me more or less a free hand in selection and placement for the base layers of light, using whatever I thought would be both beautiful and effective. They were then able to focus on the specialty areas, while also spending extra time doing renderings and polishing their presentation to the client.
It turned out that nearly all of my selections were accepted by both the client and the budget. I was both very surprised and very happy. During the course of the project, we talked about trees and how the design would accommodate them as they grew, where the sun would fall at different times of day, and ways in which the clients’ family would use the various rooms of the home.
How would you describe your lighting or artistic style?
Playful? I’m still figuring that out, honestly. I like to imagine problems from the inside out to find the solution within. When thinking in 4D, about how new elements of a space will play out, I first think of nature, geometry, physics, and music — all of which are the same thing, in the end. If an equation can be a symphony or the universe, a hologram, shape, volume, and placement are the defining variables, at least to a strange mind like my own.
Recently, people have been talking a lot about biophilic design principles, and I enjoy those conversations, though to say it’s a style doesn’t entirely make sense to me. Natural selection, though, is a prolific solutions architect, and there’s a lot of inspiration to be had there, you know?
What are some essential techniques every lighting designer should know?
While no single skillset or toolbox of techniques can suit all the needs of life, some that are useful to wield as a lighting designer are things like how to balance contrast ratios, apply color theory in its many forms, and the ability to guide focus along points of interest.
A few techniques that lead to good handling of these are grazing multi-material textures, lighting moving water features, and implementing dark sky practices. Figuring out how to do those things artfully would leverage a lot of the basic skills that I hope to see from lighting design.
How do you determine the best lighting solution for your client projects?
Meeting people and places where they’re at can be a very effective strategy, at least when it comes to a final concept with which everyone is happy and comfortable. If there are too many thumbs shaping the clay, or lots of powerful egos trying to control while forgetting to listen, things often go sideways in the long run, or maybe they just turn out to be less than they could have been.
Earning trust, being empathetic to one another’s needs, and understanding the desires or activities of the occupants are often what make the difference in a space that a design was meant to embody.
What are some technical factors lighting designers should keep in mind when illuminating spaces?
Contrast ratios and color balance are technical aspects to which I continuously return. While these encompass basic metrics you’ll find on a spec sheet like delivered lumen output, beam angle, CRI/TM-30, CCT, UGR, and so on, curating an accurate intuitive understanding of how they all work together is more than the sum of these parts.
I always wonder aloud the question of, “where will people look and walk in this space, and how much light do they need in which part of the space at various times in order to do that?” ((X * Y) / Z) + time = light.
How do you leverage light to enhance the human experience in a space?
Leveraging light to enhance the human experience hinges on a fundamental understanding: light is a physical thing with force and dimension, not an ethereal emission of the universe. When the sun is high and hot, we feel its oppressive force pushing our eyes and shoulders down. When we find shade, we lift our eyes in relief. All the while, as our eyes and skin take it in, we make vitamins and proteins from it, even as the light itself pushes buttons and flips switches in our brain. Outside of our control, those inputs make real differences in our lives.
Circadian wellness is a small but majorly impactful problem that robs us of sleep, health, and energy every day, and I am convinced without a doubt that we are going to discover more ways in which we must adapt and swiftly change our approach to the design of electric light for inhabited spaces. Fortunately, the solution for circadian wellness seems to be simply to adjust spectra, implement controls — everywhere, and immediately. It’s the logistics that are the real nightmare there. These are not the first nor last problems we’ll solve. We are far from being masters of light, and there’s so much more to learn.
What steps can lighting designers take to hone and perfect their craft?
Learn constantly. Demand professional development from employers, insist on dedicating time to improving education within our communities. Become a science communicator by finding a way to teach complex concepts at five levels of difficulty. Become a lighting ambassador by remembering who first introduced you, and becoming the change you wish to see.
Not giving away all of your secrets, can you share one tried-and-true way you make spaces and objects within them look their best with light?
Contrast ratios and color balancing can be both subtle and powerful when it comes to flattering the focal elements of a scene and creating a sense of artistic dramatism in their presentation.
What questions should you ask your clients before beginning a lighting project?
Look into the IES Handbook 10E, Programming and Schematic Design chapter. The complete list is far too long for a blog post, and which selections are chosen for each space are project-dependent.
What approaches do you take to help you and/or your clients maximize budgets?
Within control: Select well, budget before buying, and buy early. Knowing products and historical cost data are the most important passive cost controls. Understanding the layers of markup, procurement processes, and construction cycles would be next.
Please do budgets through your local agents and reps; having multiple contractors bid through multiple distributors multiple times on SD and DD and CD and final check documents work like compound interest; small numbers become big numbers if left unchecked, both in labor hours consumed and useless estimates repeatedly expiring.
Prices will, as a rule, go up over time, so once you’ve decided, buy early. Storage nearly always costs less than inflation, and if the project is ready for neither storage nor installation, do not spend other people’s time budgeting for them.
Low control: Sometimes we can only watch, listen, and take feedback. Keep an eye on commodities markets; manufacturers need to estimate costs in advance, and the more volatility they experience in raw materials / freight, the more margin they’ll have to add to cover uncertainty; this results in inflation. Mostly, the feedback here goes into selection, and timing.
What steps should you take to avoid costly lighting design mistakes?
Learn your craft, check yourself against others, and when you do make mistakes, learn from those, too in order to grow as a person. So far as I can tell, there’s no single secret to living well.
What’s your favorite Luminii product? How does it help you achieve your project goals?
The Kendo and Bosca series do well. I like that they have Wet, 45-angle, and recessed versions with a variety of optics.
What’s your favorite way to stay connected with clients?
Collaborating on projects!
How do you gauge a client’s satisfaction with your work upon project completion?
Ask them! Seriously, don’t be afraid to ask.
Tell us why the world needs lighting designers.
Quality, speed, unity, and effectiveness.
Without light, a dark space is both empty and full of danger. In any lighting project, there are thousands of micro-decisions to be made within every room, and each of them affect the final outcome as well as the lives of the occupants. Skilled lighting designers are able to make hundreds of high quality and coordinated design decisions an hour on artistic, engineering, and scientific levels. Others sometimes struggle to make a single decision for days, and often end up with poor or incongruous outcomes based on convenience or anecdotes that overlook the deeper aspects of wisely planned design.
Connect with Haven Skyy of Kirala Design
Business Name: Kirala Design
Business Address: 1585 62nd St Unit 8276, Emeryville, CA, 94608, US