Ample daylighting and a touch of Harry Potter

March 28, 2024
HLW’s lighting design and interior renovation of Crow Holdings’ third-floor office in the Hampton House in New Jersey emphasizes natural light and the architectural character of a historic building.

When the industrial group of the real estate investment and development firm Crow Holdings had nearly outgrown its modest 1,500-square-foot office in Montclair, N.J., 12 miles northwest of New York City, they sought a nearby location with distinctive character and room to expand.

They soon found it in the Hampton House, a meticulously renovated former furniture store originally built in 1890, with a distinctive Art Moderne facade, vaulted ceilings, and exposed brick archways, timber joists and ductwork. The six-person team now occupies a warmly lit third-floor space defined by glass-fronted perimeter offices, a large corner conference room, and an open work area suffused with natural light and the diffused glow of nearly 50 cable-hung, icicle-like LED pendant lights by Camman Lighting.

Completed in December 2022, the interior remodel and lighting design by New York-based architecture firm HLW builds on the work of developers Gary DeBode and Dick Grabowsky, of Gare Vent M.B. LLC and Bloomfield LLC, who purchased the building in 2017 for $1,962,500, and led its restoration and conversion to a mixed-use office building.

On a tour of the raw, unfinished interior with Crow Holdings’ senior leadership team in early 2022, HLW architects identified the third floor’s 18- to 35-foot pitched ceilings, and the restored steel-framed, mullioned windows that adorn the building on three sides, as the architectural catalysts for a plan to emphasize the building’s historic character and create a lively working atmosphere.

“When we started looking at the lighting design, we wanted to maximize as much light” as possible “and [the] visibility of the vaulted ceiling from the offices,” said Melissa Strickland, principal and managing director at HLW’s New Jersey office. “Because the rest of the design of the space is pretty simple, the statement was going to be the lighting in the ceiling.”

In the open workspace, an array of cylindrical, six-foot-long Tano pendants by Camman Lighting, rated at 15W and 800 lumens, emit soft white light at a color temperature of 3,000 K, “close to the color of natural light,” Strickland noted. Hung by cables at a consistent height of 10 feet above the finished floor to match the elevation of the glass partitions, the lamps appear as though they are floating at disparate heights due to a perceptual trick tied to the viewer’s perspective.

“It reminds me of the Great Hall in the Harry Potter films,” said Neil Grabowsky, a principal at Grabowsky Development, a business he operates with his father, Dick Grabowsky. The company has led the restoration of several buildings in the town’s historic district. “At night, when the light is dim and the streetlights are coming in from outside, the pendants…have a magical feeling.”

If the Tano pendants are the statement piece, the design’s ingenuity also is evident in the 10-foot-tall glass partitions separating the perimeter offices and conference room from the open workspace. In accordance with research from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggesting too much artificial light can make employees feel lethargic, the design minimizes the need for electric light. The glass fronts provide privacy for employees taking phone calls or meeting with colleagues while allowing natural light from the restored 6-foot-wide windows along the south and eastern facades to permeate the entire floor.

Throughout the office, the lighting choices are calibrated to serve distinct functional needs and enhance employee comfort, well-being and alertness, Strickland told LightSPEC. An analysis of light-intensity requirements of the open workspace area by Camman Lighting and HLW’s in-house lighting studio, Spark, led to the selection of the Tano pendants. In the enclosed offices, rectangular, 6-foot-by-22-foot recessed linear Edge EV1 LEDs by Pinnacle Architectural Lighting supplement natural light when needed without being harsh or overpowering. In the conference rooms, Fiori ceiling-mounted cylindrical sconces by OCL Architectural Lighting cast focused, directional light on the meeting area.

The design also includes several small touches tailored to the business interests of Crow Holdings and the personal tastes of its employees. Illuminated display boards arranged at intervals alongside brick archways offer a view of construction plans, contemporary artwork and Buffalo Bills memorabilia — the last at the urging of Clark Machemer, senior managing director at Crow Holdings, who, according to Strickland, led the charge to keep the office open and collaborative.

“We convinced him to put a door” on his office, Strickland said, laughing. But “we told him you don't ever have to close it.”

About the Author

Jeff Link

Jeff Link is an award-winning writer based in Chicago. His work has appeared in Fast Company and Dwell, among other publications.

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