Weston Park Museum
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Sterling effort

The text below was that submitted to Light Magazine for their article ‘Sterling effort’. It was published in Light Magazine, p30-31, March 2004.

In 1996 Waddesdon Manor won the National Lighting Award for its carefully tailored lighting of the paintings and furnished rooms. Since then new lighting has been added each year both for new displays and for newly created rooms. The latest addition has been the new display of the George III Silver Service for Hanover set out on an arched table in the White Drawing Room.

This display presented some interesting problems for Waddesdon’s lighting designer Paul Ruffles. The cast details on the surface of the silver needed to be well modelled to show the detail and quality. But the curved polished surfaces of the silver surrounding them meant that reflections had to be controlled if sparkle was not to turn into dazzle. The dozens of objects of varying height and form had to be lit as a setting rather than with any one object dominating.

The room offered few places where lighting for the objects could be hidden. Paul had always been able to hide or disguise new light sources within the Manor up to this point and was determined to continue this tradition with the Silver Service. The White Drawing Room, with its shallow carvings, wall mirrors, minimal furnishings and simple decoration, restricted the opportunities for concealed lighting. The need for the lighting to work by day with the south facing windows partly shaded and in the evening with just electric lighting added to the complexity.

Following a number of trials and demonstrations to the Academic Committee a mixed lighting system was devised which not only gives the silver its due prominence within the room but also makes it sparkle and highlight all the details of its neoclassical decoration. This was to be a combination of an unusual application of established technology, fibre-optics, with innovative use of an emerging technology, white LEDs.

Lighting method

The silver on the main horseshoe shaped table is lit by two sources. On the table itself these dozens of small fibre-optic lighting points are concealed behind items of silver that light the objects behind and to the sides of them. Locating these fibre-optic points was a tricky job. The bare table had to be laid with the agreed layout of silver and the position marked onto the tabletop. A trial installation running the fibre-optic tails over the table surface, confirmed the numbers, sizes and positions of the tails for each object. The table was then drilled with holes of the correct size and angle for each tail and the damask cloth then laid over. The table cloth had to be slit in the specified locations to allow the optic on the tails to be fed through and in some cases be laid almost flat on the table to light low objects nearby. Each tail was fixed on a small adjustable bracket. The projectors were mounted out of site below the table.

The second lighting system for the main table was an innovative solution. Some means lighting the most important items of silver in the ensemble at the front of the table had to be devised. This could not be visible to the public or intrude upon the décor of the room. As a new rope barrier system had to be provided, to keep the public back out of arms reach, it was thought to be a possible lighting position. A number of options were considered and demonstrated. Both fibre-optic and LED solutions were thought to offer the neatest solution and were considered in more detail. Eventually it was decided to proceed with the LED option. The rope stands were being specially designed for this room and the opportunity was taken to integrate LEDs in to the tops of the four central posts was taken.

To make this work well careful design co-ordination was needed between the lighting designer Paul Ruffles and the architects, Inskip & Jenkins. The brass posts were designed so that the top could be removed just above the rope support position. The triple cord ropes were made by Hodsoll McKenzie with electric cable concealed within them to provide power to the posts. Once the design was completed and tendered careful co-ordination was needed between the manufacturers of the posts, Ridgeway Forge, and the precision engineers, Stable Developments, who were to make the subassemblies that held the five one-Watt LEDs within the top of each head. The subassemblies linked to the brass post-tops to act as heat sinks for the LEDs. Filters were added to each LED to match the colour of the fibre-optic lighting on the table. The final assembly took place on site with the rope and wiring being laced up to each post in turn. The power is supplied from one end leaving the other end and one post free to be removed if needed for access to the table.

The two rear console tables, displaying silver, glasses and linen for wine and desert, were lit adopting a favourite trick at Waddesdon of incorporating miniature spotlights within the existing chandeliers. These lights were specially finished to blend with the decoration of the chandeliers and light down and across the displays. In addition a single spotlight is located behind the end of a pelmet to provide a general wash of light down and across the main table.

The overall impression is one of controlled splendour without the public being aware of any special lighting in the room. The lighting works well during both the daytime and in the evening for special events and tours. Another case of a little lighting used wisely being most effective.

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