Creative Talk

Being very close to his carpenter grandfather as a child, Daniel Blaker, our Creative Director, has always been fascinated by what can be created when materials are manipulated. “You can use light to chip away at the darkness. Light can reveal depth, contrast, colour, and texture. Just like a chisel and rasp carve wood, light can be used to shave away the darkness.”

Light wasn’t Daniel’s obvious path to follow. He first experimented with aeronautical engineering followed by product design. It was while studying product design that the attractive qualities of lighting took hold. “The marriage of physics and art is what initially attracted me. Whether it’s the light within a Caravaggio painting, a film, or a church, light has a powerful, universal emotional resonance within us all.”

Daniel joined Nulty in 2012. Now the Creative Director of a design team across four continents, he ensures each project scheme that goes out the door has the Nulty ‘wow’ factor. In order to get there, he challenges the teams to explore unchartered territory whenever possible, treating each project as a new creative challenge, “What’s the point in putting the same stuff out into the world each time? That isn’t design.”

Daniel’s ideal project isn’t about the structure or scheme itself, but rather the creativity and ambition of the client, one that encourages challenging convention. One such project is Batman-inspired Park Row, a recently opened fine-dining concept in Soho that is cleverly peppered with DC Comics references. Working alongside Ab Rogers Design, Daniel and his team designed a lighting scheme that skilfully highlights the various narratives told within the bold new 18,000 sq ft timeless realm of Gotham, where a glamorous world of cocktails, dining and entertainment awaits. “We needed to deliver a lighting scheme that sensitively reinforced the DC Comics world, and crucially, respected the historic interiors of the building. The internal fabric of the building is listed and uniform throughout, so our first job was to carefully upgrade the Art Deco-style lighting within the walls, pillars and ceiling. The lighting system across the whole space is now totally versatile and can be changed according to the time of day or what’s happening in the space. After that we added the details to tell each room’s story.” (Find out more about the project here.)

Sustainability is also high on Daniel’s agenda. To the extent of being part of an ever-growing body of industry colleagues that have established a forum called the Green Light Alliance – a platform for bringing together suppliers, manufacturers and end users to discuss the sustainability and environmental impact of lighting, including that of the supply chain, through-life use, and product efficiency. “In the commercial sector the current life cycle of light fittings is not based on how long a lamp can last, circa 25 years, but in reality, how frequently a space is re-fitted out. This can be as frequently as every five years! As an industry we need to be leading the conversations about the bigger picture. It’s not just about how light works and feels, we need to be exploring the future life of projects and the impact our industry has on the environment.”

Daniel’s inspiration comes from a wide variety of sources from travel and exhibitions to personal interactions. He also believes there is no one definitive source of inspiration, finding that you are normally inspired by the strangest things, the opposites, or in lighting terms the negative space. “I have found that I have been more inspired by the art exhibitions etc. that I didn’t want to go to than the ones I did. You learn very little from staying with the familiar, being challenged is what keeps you developing, being uncomfortable is where you grow.”

The pandemic and its limiting nature gave him an exceptional creative opportunity; from learning a new instrument to watching early fashion shows of Alexander McQueen. “There is so much growth to be found online or in literature – all you have to do is find the time… something that there was an abundance of. The time I would have spent commuting was relinquished back to me, which really helped liberate avenues of creativity and problem solving. I am always trying to shift perspective about what the problem actually is; I don’t like looking at a challenge from one angle – the more I expose myself to the small details of history, art or science the more I learn how to dig out solutions from unexpected sources. That is something that lockdown has helped force my hand at.”

Is there a Nulty ‘look’? “It is harder to impose a ‘style’ so much in the architectural lighting scheme side, as each project addresses a particular brief. And if we do our job right, the lighting shouldn’t really stand out; it should be an integral resonant part of the project as a whole. With customised lighting installations however impact and statement are all up for grabs. The work our sister company Nulty Bespoke does certainly has scope to bring about tangible unique product – I love seeing one of their final works installed in-situ. It feels like the creativity of the team is somehow embodied within whatever materials the piece is made from. The theatrical structural lighting sculpture we commissioned them to create for the Batcave-style stairwell within Park Row (more here) is a great example. But with any project whether it be a physical installation or a more abstract lighting scheme, what keeps me going is that there’s always something new to discover.”