Ken Fulk’s 7 Lighting Design Essentials

“It can kill or make a project.” What, exactly, was AD100 designer Ken Fulk referring to when he made that statement? The answer, of course, is lighting, which should come as no surprise to others in the design trade. No matter how much time you spend getting the flow of a space just right, finding the perfect furnishings, and topping it off with eye-catching finishes, if the lighting is too clinical, or too dim, the project just won’t feel right.

So when Fulk joined AD features director Sam Cochran over Zoom yesterday to talk all things lighting for the latest installment of AD PRO’s Expert Eye talk series, there was plenty of ground to cover. From revealing some of his secret sources to discussing the approaches he takes to lighting everything from a closet to a sprawling lobby, Fulk generously shared his well-honed tricks. Here are some of the practical takeaways.

Human-scale fixtures

One type of space that pops up again and again in Fulk’s portfolio is a grand, vertically oriented room. “This is not an easy space to light,” he says, referring to the very tall living room of his own home in San Francisco. “We have a lot of human-scale light around the perimeters of the room.” In other words, there’s an abundance of table lamps and other decorative fixtures that provide a subtle and natural glow throughout the space.

That’s a trick that Fulk returns to often in his projects, including with hospitality spaces. “When you have voluminous spaces, how do you create human-scale lighting so that everything doesn’t feel like an office building? You want drama, you want sex appeal,” he says. Smaller fixtures can help punctuate a massive space with moments of intrigue, and also will make that room feel a little bit more intimate in scale.

A vintage brass piece in one of Fulk’s projects.

Douglas Friedman

Limited ceiling lights

Fulk’s modus operandi when it comes to lighting is to know when to pump the breaks. “By inclination we tend to want to overdo it,” he says. “For me, you really don’t want too much overhead.” Indeed, that topic came up frequently in the talk. “If I were left to my own devices, there probably wouldn’t be a ceiling can in any project we do,” he continues. “I hate a ceiling that looks like Swiss cheese.”

If you look through Fulk’s projects, you’ll see overhead lighting used sparingly. Of course, there are beautiful fixtures sprinkled throughout, but only when necessary. Otherwise, luminaries are more subtly tucked into nooks and crannies—out of sight, unless they add an important decorative flourish.

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