Talking to Kate Blackwell, about Kinetic Light Sculpture from Ink Lighting

Finding functional, but beautiful lighting as part of the interior design scheme for a chalet can be a challenge. So it’s exciting to discover a kinetic light sculpture, designed by renowned kinetic sculptor Ivan Black.

We speak to Kate Blackwell of Ink Lighting to find out more.

How did INK begin?  What was the inspiration?

Ink Lighting, Kinetic Light Sculpture, Nebula by Ivan Black

When we moved to Wales nearly a decade ago, leaving London for life by the sea, we wanted to build a creative business rooted in Pembrokeshire, but for the broader world.

After moving, we became friends with another family of city escapees, Lucy and Ivan Black, who were both artists.  Ivan was, and is, a renowned kinetic sculptor who has been making his art for nearly two decades.  His work is in collections all over the world, and has its foundation in many of the mathematical patterns in nature.

INK Lighting was born when we saw one of Ivan’s commissions, which combined a kinetic sculpture with light.  I remember the first time I saw it so vividly, it was incredibly hypnotic, one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

What was interesting was that through the addition of light, the kinetic sculpture went from being purely aesthetic to having a practical function, namely to illuminate a room.  We figured that not every room needs a kinetic sculpture, but every room needs light.  So why not make that light a piece of art?  That was basically the idea that seeded the business – to combine kinetic sculpture with light and make it available to the world.

How do you find the perfect balance between the design of the kinetic light sculpture and the more practical elements of lighting?

Ink Lighting, Kinetic Light Sculpture, Nebula by Ivan Black, Mid-Rotation
Ink Lighting, Kinetic Light Sculpture, Nebula by Ivan Black, Mid-Rotation

A kinetic light sculpture is actually incredibly practical, and you could argue that it is much more usable than a ‘normal’ light or chandelier.

There are two methods of controlling a kinetic  light sculpture – either through a smartphone app, or through a ‘gesture control’ system.  Both methods allow the brightness, speed, direction and pattern of rotation to be manipulated, by a finger swipe on a screen (using the app) or a simple arm movement (gesture control).  You can of course leave the kinetic light sculpture static, and simply turn it on and off at the wall as well, like a traditional light.

Lighting technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and the scope of what is possible is expanding every day.  Coupled with advances in gesture control technology, and the pure mechanical beauty of the light sculptures, the possibilities we can explore are endless.

We have standard sizes for the kinetic light sculptures, but we also tackle bespoke commissions.  As such, if someone has a particular space they need to fill, or a particular colour scheme into which it needs to integrate, this is all easily do-able.

The collaboration with Seeper is amazing. Interacting with an artwork in this way is something we have never experienced – how did this collaboration come about?

When we launched INK last year, we were looking for suitable places to showcase the sculptures.  We approached a company called ideaworks, who specialise in high-end connected home technology and electronics for super yachts.  My business partner Ivan had originally bumped into them whilst installing a sculpture at one of his clients, and given what we were trying to do with interactivity, we felt ideaworks’ London showcase centre would be a good home for our sculptures.

Interactivity was hugely important to us, because we didn’t want the sculptures to be distant and remote like museum pieces.  Art usually comes with a ‘do not touch’ sign, so we wanted to break that barrier by empowering people to essentially ‘conduct’ what the sculptures do.  And it’s fun too.

It was through ideaworks that we were introduced to Seeper, who specialise in interactive light shows.  Once we saw what they were able to do with gesture control, it was a no-brainer to work with them.  Their technology really took the interactive elements of the light sculptures to the next level.

What do you think makes a chalet or mountain home the ideal setting for these kinetic light sculptures?

There’s a practical answer and a slightly more romantic answer… I prefer the romantic one but will start with the practical one.

The vaulted spaces that you often find in chalets or alpine architecture suit ‘showpiece’ chandeliers or sculptures.  In many chalets you will find a double height room or an apex in which our kinetic light sculptures sit perfectly.  We can and do make the sculptures bespoke, but fundamentally the larger designs work in chalets because of the space available.

There is also something romantic about looking up at the kinetic light sculpture. They are evocative of celestial formations when they are in their ‘jumbled’ state.  I associate the crisp, clear night skies that you often get in the mountains with stargazing. We used to lie outside (well wrapped up, with a hot chocolate) and look for shooting stars at night.   For me, our sculptures evoke that same sense of wonder when you stare up at the stars and wonder how the universe works.

Do you have a favourite ski resort? Or a favourite ski property?

Ink Lighting, Kinetic Light Sculpture, Nebula by Ivan Black, Rotation
Ink Lighting, Kinetic Light Sculpture, Nebula by Ivan Black, Rotation

Favourite ski resort is a really tough one, because there are so many great places we’ve been to.  I did my first proper season in Courchevel, which has some incredible pistes and is great for high speed groomer runs (and Michelin star meals too!).

We have had a home in Morzine for 10 years. I love the variety of terrain you can access across the Portes du Soleil.  After 10 winters (and having lived in Morzine all winter 2016/17) we are still nowhere near discovering it all.

Two years ago we had an amazing winter  traveling across the US, visiting 8 different ski resorts. My favourite ski town is probably Breckenridge.  It has amazing terrain parks and the snow is so light, so perfect.  The town has retained its frontier-era charm too, with fantastic bars and restaurants – and a great local brewery.

But my absolute best resort remains Whistler Blackcomb.  It has all the elements I love – vast terrain, lots of deep snow, a real “high performance” atmosphere where people are really pushing their limits all over the mountain, and great apres as well.  But above all the locals were amazing, just the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet.  We lived there for 6 months back in 2002/3 and it remains one of the best times of my life.

If you were creating your dream chalet – what are some interior design must-haves?

Great question.  First, lots of natural materials.  I think chalets, more than any other type of property, really need to reflect their environment.  Morzine was a slate mining town originally, and is of course surrounded by forests. Bringing those materials into the local buildings gives them real integrity.  Natural materials are more practical as chalets get beaten up pretty badly. Having materials that look better with age, and can withstand wear and tear makes sense.

Chalets also need a touch of luxury and excitement. After all they are often ‘dream’ homes for their owners. The juxtaposition of rugged natural materials (wood, stone, slate) with the glamour of one of a kinetic light sculpture (for example!) works incredibly well.

You obviously need a roaring log fire, big comfy sofas to rest tired limbs, and a long table for dinners with friends and family.  If you get those basics right, you can’t go too far wrong.  A swimming pool, rotating dancefloor and a corkscrew slide (instead of stairs) would probably be on my kids wish list.

The Nebula range of kinetic light sculptures is stunning – what’s next for INKlighting?

Everything we do will have a kinetic element to it. Our next piece will probably be at the other end of the aesthetic spectrum.  We are developing an off-axis hanging cube, made up of horizontal metallic layers, with the edges lit using OLEDs.  It will basically look like something from the movie Tron. Slices of angular light.  It’s the Yin to Nebula’s Yang.

We are also looking to make floor-standing pieces and smaller sculptures that could work as table lamps.  There is a very deep ‘back catalogue’ of Ivan’s sculptures to adapt into lights, so lots more room for innovation.

Commissions are always exciting, working with new ideas and different with clients to create something unique.  That collaboration always creates an amazing result, and gives our clients the chance to be part of the creative process.

I N K – Nebula – from Ink lighting on Vimeo.

Why is the Gstaad alpine property market such a consistent performer?

On paper, Gstaad shouldn’t work. The ski area has a low altitude and snow cover can be unreliable, ignoring the unconnected and wind-prone Glacier 3000 area. While there is close to 220km of slopes, the skiing is split over 4 or so detached areas requiring transport between them. The ski resort isn’t particularly close to an international airport – Geneva is the nearest at 1.5 hours and the best skiing is for intermediate skiers.

Simmental Chalet Gstaad Saanen
Simmental Chalet Gstaad Saanen

Yet, its ski property market is a regular top performer in Knight Frank’s Wealth Report Prime International Residential Index (PIRI). This year (2017) it places 9th in the PIRI, showing an average price rise of 10%. True, alpine property stats should always be taken with a pinch of salt, as they are often based on a handful of transactions and one high or low priced sale can skew the results. That aside, Gstaad’s alpine property market is among the most resilient and attractive to HNW investors showing that an investment in ski property is often as much of a lifestyle choice as it is one of vertical drop and skiable miles. Surveys have shown that a good majority of chalet owners here never make it to the slopes; contrast that to Verbier or Val d’Isere. Gstaad also understands preservation. Local planning laws (from the 1950s) limit chalet design to the classic Simmental style.

Polo Gold Cup Gstaad
Polo Gold Cup Gstaad

The main village of Gstaad is a happy mix of designer style and traditional alpine charm, first identified as “The Place” by Time magazine in the 1960s and bursting onto the scene in the 1970s with the arrival of fashion and jewellery boutiques. Similar to the other most exclusive ski resorts of Courchevel 1850, Megeve and St Moritz, it has an airport for arrival by private jet or helicopter. Annual events include the Hublot Polo Gold Cup and the Swiss Tennis Open. It is home to the world’s most expensive private school, Le Rosey.

Gstaad’s nearest rival?
St Moritz comes close, not in terms of geography, but with property prices and atmosphere. St Moritz is glitz and glamour, Gstaad is privacy and discretion – it’s rare to see a paparazzi shot taken in Gstaad, despite the “celebrity” status of many of its inhabitants. While Gstaad likes to keep its borders closed, or at least well-manned, a recent referendum (January 2017) in St Moritz will allow owners of second homes to sell to a foreigner or a Swiss national. Time will tell whether this approach will allow St Moritz to overtake its rival or whether the Gstaad approach will come it top of the alpine property league.

Knight Frank Release Wealth Report 2017

How do we know it’s March? The release of Knight Frank’s anticipated Wealth Report 2017, of course.

Highlights for the alpine property market include:
– the value of a ski home by comparison saw 1.9% growth compared to a 2.4% on average increase for a city-based luxury home and a marginal decrease of 0.5% for a beach or coastal property;
–  the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad blasts into the Top 10 of the PIRI (Prime International Residential Index) with an astonishing  10% increase in property prices;
– Val d’Isere’s alpine property market shows reasonable growth of 4% and Chamonix retains its position with a steady 3.03% increase;
– Aspen is North America’s top performing ski property market, with a increase of 3.1%;
– Meribel in the French Alps and Verbier in the Swiss Alps are 2 other ski resorts showing some growth;
– Prices have slipped in Courchevel 1850, St Moritz (though this may change with a relaxation of resale rules to foreigners) and Megeve

Knight Frank’s neighbourhood watch focuses on ski property in the North American resort of Aspen reporting that the year-round social calendar attracts buyers to the heart of the action in the  downtown area, a short walk from the gondola, restaurants and entertainment. West Aspen is beginning to appeal to more buyers with property values around half those of downtown – US$1,000 per sq ft compared to US$3,000 per sq ft downtown. Expect to spend US$2.5m for  a detached family ski home.

Read the full report here: Knight Frank Wealth Report 2017

The Future for Ski Resorts?


How will alpine ski resorts survive? Increase their density says PhD student, Fiona Pià

PhD student Fiona Pià offers concrete and innovative solutions for the popular Swiss ski resort of Verbier, which for her is a typical example of the problems faced by our favourite winter desinations today.

Some Swiss ski resorts are reaching saturation point, with peak-season traffic jams, development in avalanche zones and incompatibility with the natural surroundings. While the Lex Weber has gone some way to reduce construction, an EPFL doctoral thesis suggests that the opposite approach may work better with investment in ski villages to increase their housing density and create seamless public transportation within.

At the Architecture and Urban Mobility Laboratory (LAMU), Fiona Pià from Andorra, studied and compared the challenges faced by the Swiss ski resorts of Verbier, Zermatt and Andermatt, as well as Avoriaz in the French Alps and Whistler Blackcomb in Canada’s British Columbia. Her thesis claims the idealised dream of an isolated chalet alone in a natural setting is responsible for the saturation of alpine towns. Using Verbier as an example, Pià suggest a series of solutions to safeguard its future while preserving its natural environment.

The Vision
Based on 10% of public building land still being available she developed a new urban model that brings together housing and public transport with the aim to resolve current mobility problems caused by traffic as well as rationalizing how to use the last plots of land. Pià recommends building 5 cable-car stations being the most appropriate form of public transport as it’s eco-friendly, relatively quiet and cheap, and it is suited to the alpine terrain while taking up very little land. The cable care to create a seamless infrastructure and to serve the whole of Verbier removing the need to use cars. Any new homes would have a density of 1.7 compared to 0.3 for a single chalet and would take up 6x less land than a chalet, adding 250k/m2 to the 963k/m2 of existing accommodation, without increasing the urban sprawl on the alpine landscape.

The End of The Chalet Dream?
Pià sees an inhabited infrastructure meeting two requirements that a chalet cannot: 1) being able to live in the open air; and 2) being at one with nature – without destroying it (arguing chalets swallow up nature, rather than being a part of it). Inhabited infrastructures occupy the land in a rational way and can help control our footprint on the natural environment. Add in green mobility and respect for natural dangers to preserve the unspoiled environment over the long term. What’s more, these buildings offer a new way of living at altitude. Without leaving the infrastructure, you can go directly from the cable car to your home or to see a concert at the Verbier Festival, go skiing, go for a drink along the pedestrian area in the middle of the building. Then you can take the cable car over the landscape to go to the market in Verbier village, take a class at the international school or go back down into the valley. There’s no need for a car, so you get to breathe the alpine air.

More information: Fiona Pià, “Developing the Swiss Alps: strategies to increase the density of high-altitude towns”, supervised by Inès Lamunière, Laboratory of Architecture and Urban Mobility (LAMU).

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What do you think of Pià’s vision for the Alps?