illumni People Profile: Ellie Coombs
Ellie Coombs is a Director at Paul Nulty Lighting Design. Having studied Museum and Exhibition design at the Hull School of Architecture, she worked in a number of design roles within TV, theatre and film before discovering architectural lighting design. She spent six years at BDP working on a variety of projects covering a wide range of sectors and scales from Guerilla Lighting to PwC More London.
In 2011 Ellie left to help establish the award winning Paul Nulty Lighting Design, now one of the largest independent lighting consultancies in the UK. Her current projects include several public realm schemes, a roof top park, one of the largest residential projects in central London, four luxury hotels and a master plan for London Unground.
New Tube for London. Photographs by PriestmanGoode.
Can you explain the major drivers behind your design work in a sentence or two?
People centred, sustainable, pragmatic and integrated; I really like playing with contrast. I studied science and art at college, against everyone’s advice, because I couldn’t understand how they could be separated.
PNLD View Waterloo Office.
Is there a place, space, or experience that stands out in your mind as inspirational? Why?
We have had our studio up in The Tower Building by Waterloo Station for over a year now and none of us have tired of the constantly changing sky. You can watch the weather fronts roll in and out of London, fantastic sunsets, wispy cirrus clouds skipping across the sky, ominous grey masses that suddenly sweep in and block out the daylight, lightning storms, rainbows, multiple rainbows………the only thing we don’t get to see, however late we work, are the stars which makes me sad and a little angry.
Tell us about someone who has had a big influence on you as a person and/or as a designer, and how?
The new client I met today, the PNLD team, Claire, Tom, Polly, Philip, Harriet, Martin, Nadia for her beautiful illustrations, Jessica, Paul, Laura, Mark, Jacqui, my god-daughter Nancy, watching her learn and discover new things. I don’t idolise one person, I think you can find something inspiring in everyone. But, if I had to pick one person it would have to be my Gran who I talk to everyday and put the world to rights with.
Photographs by Ed Reeve and Vincent Kan.
Can you tell us something that not many people know about you or your work but you wish they did?
I won a Blue Peter badge aged seven-and-a-half for a piece of furniture I made. I had my own little carpentry set that my Grandpa bought me. I still really enjoy making things, although with the space you get in a London flat it’s usually something I’ve made on my sewing machine or in the kitchen these days.
As lighting designers, we often find ourselves learning about tangential things in the context of our projects. Can you tell us about something unusual that has been a source of inspiration or influence?
This is one of the real perks of the job, you get to learn about all sorts of random things, meet fascinating people and see inside buildings and spaces you wouldn’t otherwise get access to. We are currently working on a London HQ for a finance company. They have an amazing private art collection and historical artefacts from the finance world including beautiful hand calligraphy bonds and leather bound ledgers. Pure craftsmanship.
Ascot Underwriting, 20 Fenchurch Street.
Photographs by James French.
Who have you most enjoyed collaborating with?
That’s a tough one. I have collaborated with lots of exciting and innovative designers over the years on some great projects. There are designers who really appreciate the importance of light and therefore projects with them are always a joy to work on as you can really push the boundaries. There are some where at the start of a project they just don’t get it, but by the end they really appreciate what a benefit having a lighting designer involved is – those are really rewarding. Then there are designers who really challenge you. Naming no names, but a well known architectural practice known for their minimalist style stick in my mind when they decreed that they didn’t want to see a single luminaire in the space – which was listed – and where we couldn’t touch a lot of the surfaces to create architectural details.
What springs to mind if I ask you what is your all time favourite bit of kit?
I don’t particularly like ‘favourite’ questions but if pressed, I’d say that squared paper, 3 Artline200 fine 0.4 pens; one green, one red and one black; and a roll of trace are the essentials I need to function. I can get a little OCD when it comes to my stationary.
What, for you, is the most exciting thing about working in the field of lighting design…..?
What isn’t? The industry is still relatively young and growing fast so we are all constantly learning and discovering. This growing body of knowledge and technological advances provides us with more and more opportunities to create innovative and beautiful environments and have a positive effect on people’s lives.
And the most annoying or upsetting thing about working in the field of lighting design?
I guess a lot of the frustrations we deal with, be it value engineering, unrealistic programs, apathy, even prejudice, are born out of people’s lack of understanding of lighting design. It’s understandable as a young industry that this is the case and over the years we have seen, at least within associated industries, an increased understanding and awareness of the importance of good lighting design but we still have a long way to go. The more time we as an industry put into educating, engaging and exciting the rest of the world about the benefits of good professional lighting design the easier our jobs will become and the opportunities to create not just good but outstanding lighting schemes will increase. One thing that has come up in recent discussions with other lighting designers is that outside of the design and construction industries no one seems to know we exist. When there is a topic about lighting in the general press they rarely, if ever, ask one of us for our professional opinion. At the end of the day this is something only we ourselves can change so I try to see the frustrations as a positive challenge, an opportunity to change another person’s perception of lighting design, rather than a downside to the job, but that’s easier said than done some days.
I say light; you say ?