High Tech Lighting Solutions for High Rise Living

Randall Whitehead
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Custom adjustable picture lights by Phoenix Day Company subtly offer additional illumination for the paintings by Marianne Kolb. The box beams visually float down from the ceiling to allow indirect light for the room

As more people select high-rise living in cities across the country, they are facing the tremendous challenge of how to get lighting where they want it, when the construction is primarily concrete. Often they are given a few junction boxes from which to draw power for their lighting needs. Sometimes they don’t even have that.

For example, the dining room in this luxurious 52nd story condominium at the Millennium Tower in San Francisco had little for the lighting designer, Randall Whitehead and interior designer, Michael Merrill to work with. Even though they had ten foot ceilings there wasn’t even a junction box in the ceiling for a power source.

The two designers worked together to come up with a solution that provided both ambient light and accent light for the space. They decided on the concept of fabricating of a series of box beams. The only power source they had to work with was a power feed for motor controlled blinds located in the upper corner of one wall near the ceiling line. A soffit was created along the wall to allow power to be run seamlessly from one beam to the next. The new soffit also helped balance the boxed-in HVAC ducting on the opposite wall.

Two stone figures from the Philippines draw focus towards the view of downtown San Francisco. The richly colored wall help minimize the reflections in the glass. White walls would have obstructed the view.

The beams are open at the top and float down from the ceiling six inches. This space allows two parallel runs of LED strip lighting by Edge Lighting to bounce illumination off the ceiling. This adds a layer of gentle fill light for the space, softening the shadows in the room and gently drawing visual attention to the high ceiling. Normal beams, installed flush to the ceiling, would have made the ceiling feel lower.

These beams also house recessed adjustable low voltage fixtures made by Lucifer Lighting that provide focus for the art, art objects and the table settings. These luminaires are using dimmable LED MR16 lamps, available through Focus Industries. The warm color temperature of both of these sources gives the feel of incandescent light from an energy efficient, low maintenance source.

The two paintings by Marianne Kolb were further enhanced with a pair of custom picture lights fabricated by Phoenix Day Company. The electrical contractor, Schulkamp Electric, used a radio controlled dimming system by Lutron to dim the lighting. Whitehead notes the lighting strategies that help complete the look of the room: ” Silver Candelabras by George Jensen from the 1930’s and a table lamp create the illusion of providing the room’s illumination. Recesses adjustable fixtures help to highlight the table setting and console.”

The end result is both architectural and subtly alluring. Guests are drawn into the room by the juxtaposition of the modern art and antiques. The illusion is that that the candles are creating the ambience, while in fact it is the well integrated lighting that paints the room with lush illumination.

by Randall Whitehead, IALD, Contributing Editor


Lighting Design: Randall Whitehead IALD, Randall Whitehead Lighting Inc

Interior Design: Michael Merrill ASID, Michael Merrill Design Studio

General Contractor: Muratore Corporation

Electrical Contractor: Schulkamp Electric


  1. Frederick Merrill February 26, 2010 6:42 pm

    I loved reading the article and how you solved a serious lighting problem and created so much drama to the space, yet to the untrained eye you made it appear seamless & simple.
    Congratulations on such a superb job, not only the lighting but the entire space!

  2. zaklady bukmacherskie September 6, 2010 10:15 am

    You post informative posts, bookmarked for future referrence !


  3. Dianne February 3, 2011 12:03 pm

    Agreed, dramatic and beautiful. Any ideas on working with an 8′ concrete condo ceiling? I was considering small bulkheads and low profile LED lamping, but an not convinced that LED is the best light for artwork. Anyone?

  4. Randall Whitehead February 25, 2011 8:26 pm

    Hey Dianne,

    In condos with 8 foot ceilings we have used pre-made box beams, fitted flush to the ceiling, to run wiring and house recessed fixtures and pendants. Take a look http://www.fauxwoodbeams.com. You can create parallel beams or a coffered ceiling.

    We then install low voltage remodel cans such as the Halo H1499-RT-1420. The contractor just cuts a 4″ diameter holes in the underside of the beams, using a hole saw.

    These fixtures take halogen MR16s, but you can also use LED MR16s as well. A good LED MR16 to try out is the Lumiselect MR16 PRO Warm White (www.lumiselect.com).

    Best of luck in your project.



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