Lighting the Way
In an artful home in Houston’s Tanglewood neighborhood, Benjamin Johnston uses layers of light to spectacular effect.
Adding depth and layers to a newly built home is no easy feat — and for Houston designer Benjamin Johnston, it starts with the lighting scheme. While wall color, furniture layout and fabric selection play starring roles in the story of a room, designers ultimately depend upon the lighting scheme to bring it all together. Here, Ben walks us through a French Provincial stunner in the city’s covetable Tanglewood neighborhood, where a slew of smart lighting choices from Visual Comfort serve to accent, showcase and light the way. Read on to learn his top trade secrets, and be sure to watch the video at the end of our Q&A.
Q: This home offers many plays on tradition — like a paneled library and mosaic tile floors in the entry — yet the statement lighting, large-scale art, elliptical shapes and uninterrupted sight lines feel wonderfully modern. How did this interplay figure into your design and lighting schemes?
This newly built home is situated in the mostly traditional Tanglewood neighborhood of Houston.
However, when it came to interior design, the goal was to reflect the dynamic energy of a young family. The process began with a focus on traditional architectural details, which were then complemented with contemporary furnishings. What sets each space apart are the subtle contrasts — curved sofas seamlessly blend with architectural lighting, while angular chairs are paired with luxurious textiles and pillows. These design elements establish a creative tension that’s not only visually appealing from an editorial perspective but also enhances the experience of the spaces themselves.
Q: The entry, in particular, packs a punch. What did you want it to say about the clients and the home, and how did your lighting choices reflect that?
As you approach the front door of this home, you’re greeted by an entire wall of windows.
To ensure privacy for the interior spaces beyond, a large wall was added at the rear of the entryway, which also serves as an ideal location for showcasing a large-scale piece of art. The Verso Large Chandelier was carefully selected for this space to establish the tone for the lighting throughout the house. Its bold and striking form complements the scale of the artwork, the pattern of the stone floor and other elements in the area. Additionally, the McClean Easel Light was added to the console table, providing another layer of lighting to the expansive space. Even with just this piece switched on during the evening, the entryway is softly illuminated, creating a welcoming glow.
Q: Nearly every room of this home has a chandelier, sconces, table lamps, floor lamps and easel lights. We’re all for it, obviously, but what’s the process like of getting a client on board for this finely layered approach to lighting? Do you present it as part of your design scheme for the room, or is lighting a separate conversation?
Lighting plays a crucial role in all of my designs, and I always consider it as an essential component of the overall design strategy for any space.
As this was a newly constructed home, we had the opportunity to have a more extensive conversation about the functional and aesthetic objectives of the lighting strategy early on in the process, and then specific lighting pieces were later presented as part of the furnishings presentation.
Q: Let’s talk about mood. The furniture you specified for this home tends toward low and comfortable, which visually expands the high ceilings even further, but it still feels cozy. How can lighting work with the rest of a scheme to set and complement the mood of a space?
Setting the right mood is crucial, and lighting is a vital tool in achieving this goal.
Some spaces are used more frequently during the day, while others are primarily used in the evening, so the lighting design must be flexible enough to cater to both. That's why incorporating multiple layers of lighting (overhead, table, and floor fixtures) is essential. Functionality is always our starting point when designing a lighting scheme, to ensure that a space serves its intended purpose. Once we achieve this, we can then focus on aesthetics, such as color, shape, and finish. I like to envision how my clients will utilize each area, then layer in the lighting that best creates the desired experience.
Q: What about color? I noticed the anchoring furniture pieces in these rooms tend to be solid, while printed textiles on the accent pieces and large-scale art really go for it.
The design of this home revolves around celebrating the client's artwork, and as such, we opted for a neutral foundation in the spaces.
However, we also strategically introduced pops of color in certain areas to maximize their impact and complement the artwork and rugs.
Q: Not to say that all these layers, lighting and otherwise, suggest a fear of commitment — the luminous green plaster walls of the dining room are rather like coming face to face with a martini olive.
Yes! This home is all about commitment, and the full tinted plaster finish in the dining room creates a bold and vibrant atmosphere.
With its distinctive floor plan, striking artwork, and custom architectural details, there's something to love in every direction you turn.
Q: What’s your favorite space in this home?
Among the many stunning spaces in this home, my absolute favorite is the formal living room.
With its own fireplace, direct access to the bar and a wall of windows overlooking the breathtaking pool and outdoor area, it's the epitome of style and comfort. The room perfectly blends traditional and contemporary elements, creating a truly unique and inviting atmosphere. To top it off, the layered Visual Comfort lighting elements — from the Rousseau Grande Ten Light Articulating Chandelier to the alabaster and Clayton sconces to the sculptural Kelly Wearstler table lamps and elegant Ralph Lauren floor lamps — add to the room's charm and allure.