Layering on the Light


Sarah Garrison

Studio Gild Gives Expert Tips on Selecting Lighting 

Did you ever have a kaleidoscope when you were a kid? If you're anything like me, you loved looking through this magical toy, watching different colors, shapes, and textures move through the light, then suddenly shift into a pattern so perfect, you wished you could freeze it forever. The individual pieces were important, yes, but really it was all about the light. The light brought everything together, creating a collective beauty that no single piece could achieve on its own.

What is it about light – that most elusive element – that captures and enlivens our artistic sensibilities? Lighting can transform a space and set a tone, dramatically affecting mood, color and perception. It’s the wow-factor, the final touch that can make or break your design concept. An obvious enough observation, but what may appear evident conceptually is often much more complex to achieve in reality.

Enter Studio Gild. This young interior design firm makes lighting a space look effortless, “gilding” each project with their Midas touch of thoughtful detail. The Chicago-based firm – co-founded in 2014 by Melissa Benham, Jennie Bishop, and Kirsten Ekeland – quickly established their clout on the city’s design scene with a reputation for interiors layered in sophistication and whimsy. 

Living room by Studio Gild with gray couch and square coffee table photographed by Mike Schwartz

Studio Gild landed on DUNN’s radar in their fledging year when they specified our Sorenthia Chandelier for an upscale Chicago condo. When we continued to hear from the designers for additional projects, I thought it was high time to find out more about the trendy trio, named “Ones to Watch” in Architectural Digest’s April 2016 issue. 

So find out more I did! The more I learned, the more I liked about the three principals behind the buzz-worthy firm. Between them, Ekeland, Benham, and Bishop bring an impressive portfolio of work, covering an expansive range of commercial and residential projects across the continent. What’s more, their resumes not only read like a veritable who’s who of design-industry bigwigs, they come fully loaded with numerous degrees from top institutions and coveted honors from multiple publications. Color me impressed! 

Black and white dining room with gold details by Studio Gild, photographed by Mike Schwartz

I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to learn from these design mavens, so I asked them for some pearls of wisdom when it comes to selecting lighting for a project. Here’s what they had to say:

DUNN: Who is Studio Gild and what is your mission? 

GILD: Studio Gild is a Chicago-based interior design firm co-founded by Melissa Benham, Jennie Bishop and Kristen Ekeland in January 2014. We are dedicated to creating environments that are curated, provocative and timeless. We share a love of modern lines, artisanal details and authentic materials. The final layers can be the most important in completing the full story of an environment. Often times they are forgotten or overlooked. Gilding each project with a fine layer of thoughtful detail is our trademark. 

DUNN: How do you approach selecting lighting pieces for a space?

GILD: Lighting is a layer that we often have the most fun with. We tend to view decorative lighting as jewelry – an opportunity to add eye candy to an architectural space. Like jewelry, light fixtures deliver a stylistic message to express personality.

DUNN: How can lighting be transformative?

GILD: Lighting plays a significant role in each and every one of our projects, as an integral element that allows us to create atmosphere and intrigue. 

Monochromatic bedroom by Studio Gild with sconce over bedside table photographed by Mike Schwartz

DUNN: You’ve used pieces in our Sorenthia collection in a number of your projects. Can you share a little more about these spaces and how our fixture complemented the material language of your designs?

GILD: We’ve recently incorporated Sorenthia fixtures in the dining rooms of two downtown Chicago condos. Both were situated on high floors with unobstructed lake views, so it was important to specify fixtures that didn’t compete with the dramatic sight lines. The striking, airy bones of the Sorenthia collection were the perfect complement in both settings.

Gray and white dining room by Studio Gild with custom Sorenthia Triple in Brass by Studio DUNN photographed by Mike Schwartz

Detail shot of blue dining room by Studio Gild with Sorenthia Double by Studio DUNN photographed by Mike Schwartz

DUNN: The lighting industry is rapidly evolving. How does this ever-changing technology affect what you do and how you work?

GILD: The need for energy efficiency is driving innovation in lighting. We are constantly educating ourselves, and we often rely heavily on our esteemed vendors for their technical expertise.

DUNN: What advice do you have to offer clients or fellow designers looking for a statement fixture? 

GILD: We often incorporate a large-scale statement fixture to bring multiple zones together in one cohesive gesture. It’s also important to layer in well-planned task lighting, in order to ensure that form and function are equally addressed. Successful lighting should complement interior spaces without sacrificing practicality.

I want to thank Studio Gild for their expertise and advice. Their concept of carefully developing a design – layer by layer – demonstrates the precise thoughtfulness that has become one of the hallmarks of Gild’s work. After speaking with Gild, I kept thinking about that kaleidoscope I loved as a kid without really knowing why. And then I realized, these designers work just like that kaleidoscope. They layer on color, shape, texture and pattern until – snap – perfection! And the element that draws everything together: light.

Photo Credit: Mike Schwartz Photo