Lighting Designer Deborah Witte on Her Process
August 24, 2016 - 11:29am

Deborah Witte: My goal is to improve peoples’ lives, and I do that through lighting. I’m always looking at how lighting impacts individuals and their experience. If it’s a hotel environment and people are sitting out by the pool, I think about where they are. Are they in Costa Rica? Are they on the California coast? If it’s an office building, I have to get into the corporate culture. Are these young people? What’s the energy level like? I imagine myself having their experience.

Eventually, I study the plans of the architect or the interior designer, absorbing as much information as I can. I want to know every piece of tile, every piece of fabric, everything that they are putting in this space. What are the possibilities with these surfaces and shapes? I draw cross-sections where I think beams of light will come from and what angles they need to be at to do something with the materials. If I can’t make a decision about something it’s because I don’t have enough information.

I build layers of lighting to accommodate all the experiences they are going to need. If I know that they are going to read in a particular chair, I build some task lighting for it. If they are people who entertain a lot, I’m going to program the lighting control system for different effects. I might program a bedroom with a relaxed theme for the evenings. But if the couple is giving a house tour, they won’t want something too intimate to showcase the interiors. So, the finished lighting will have levels tailored to the different uses and experiences of the space. Theatrical lighting is set up to evoke certain emotions. That’s what lighting layers do for individuals.

In terms of inspiration, I live in the mountains in Colorado, and I worked for many years in San Francisco. I have studied light in nature and how light interacts with things. In San Francisco, I used to admire driving over the Bay Bridge into the city at sunset. The city would be this blue silhouette, and the sunset would be pinkish red. Red advances and blue recedes. So, it had this surreal effect. In Colorado, in the mountains, the weather is always changing. You can’t separate sunlight from the weather. It can be a clear day and low humidity, or a cloudy day and early in the morning. What kind of emotions does it bring out? What kind of feelings come up? I look at how light affects people — at any moment.

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