The Gate Hotel: Interview with Jo Calver, Isla James Interiors

General News

Isla James Interiors is a Berkshire based design company that focuses on creating tailored classic and contemporary spaces. We were delighted to work with founder, Jo Calver, to supply the lighting product to an exciting project at The Gate Hotel in London. We caught up with Jo to discuss the lighting scheme and products she chose to use throughout.

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Tell us a little about the background of the project and what you wanted to achieve with the lighting?

The hotel front is across two busy London streets and the panes of glass that look in are large and tall. I wanted passers-by to be drawn in by the warmth and the glow of the inviting venue beyond and feel tempted to pop in to the bar and be a part of something. The inspiration came from Edward Hopper’s painting of Nighthawks. The painting displays a cold, deserted city street which is illuminated by the warm glow of a diner. You feel drawn into the large window and find yourself wanting to be a part of the conversations happening inside. I wanted the same feeling for those passing The Gate Hotel.

What was important to you about the lighting products used in this scheme – what did you need to consider?

The members club on Level 5 is a large area with three distinct zones. It was important within the lighting planning stage to acknowledge these zones and create the right type of lighting for the feel of each zone. The architecture of the building is very interesting and on Level 5 and the reception there were many vertical influences on the eye with tall glass panes around the room and the concrete pillars. I wanted to accentuate the vertical shapes so I used Lucca 30 uplights in the reveals of each window. To accentuate this effect and draw the eye to the curve I used tall vertical wall lights. However, I wanted to then soften the look within the more central ‘living spaces’ so I used circular pendants over the tables, bar, conference table and on the wall where the relaxed seating area is I used a curved fitting to juxtapose the vertical influences.

The hotel showcases artwork curated in collaboration with Maddox Gallery. The Maddox Gallery is an international group of galleries who specialise in modern and contemporary artwork. When you light artwork, it is important to have fittings with a high CRI (colour rendering index), but also fittings that are anti-glare. The artwork needs to be well lit but I had to take into consideration the comfort of the guest who may be seated nearby. The Vorsa track lights meant I could choose the right type of beam width and then add a lens if there was any risk of glare to any of the hotel users. There are many beautiful works of art at The Gate Hotel but I have to say lighting the Banksy was my favourite part.

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The style of this project is quite industrial – how did you incorporate that through the lighting?

We have used pendants and wall lights that echo the style. Choices of fittings were based on industrial materials, including metal, glass and iron. The Vorsa track lights from John Cullen really suited this vibe too and made a complimentary statement. In fact they added welcome interest to the ceiling.

How did you work with John Cullen Lighting to supply the architectural lighting for this project?

I designed and planned the lighting and chose the pendants and wall fixtures and then John Cullen offered me support with design queries and invaluable advice on technical aspects of product fit. The customer service from purchase and through to after care has been fantastic.

The Gate Hotel Lounge Space and corridors

How do you first plan a design project – do you have a process for determining your clients’ needs?

In normal circumstances I would visit the site and interview the client, however, more recently this has been via Zoom and then the client shows me around the property. It is important to get a proper look at the building and interior architecture. Chatting to the client helps get a real feel for the end result they are looking for and what they are trying to achieve. With lighting I often find that the client knows they want good lighting and that it is important to them but they do not know how to get that end goal. The first meeting is really exciting because I usually can see so many things I want to light. It is important to work with the designer or home owner though as you will achieve the best results. For example lighting a chair that is going to be upholstered in a beautiful fabric. Good lighting shows the room in its best possible form. There are so many possibilities with lighting and it is often overlooked, so I think it is important to bring it back to the forefront of any design in order to achieve the overall feel that the clients are looking for.

Describe your signature style in 3 words…

Inviting, Architectural, dramatic.

When considering your design, how important is the lighting and when do you think of the lighting?

I think of the lighting literally before anything else. When I see a building or an interior all I can see is the lighting. It is the first thing I think of and it matters the most.

The Gate Hotel Lounge Space with track lighting

What do you think lighting brings to your scheme?

Standard lighting tends to be generic and will light the whole space. Usually, in most homes, you get a grid system on the ceiling which doesn’t represent the true colours in your home and all it will do is light the floor space. If you look up to your ceiling now, you have probably got a grid system of down lights. That is historic and what we all used to do. This will make the colours in your fabrics look more uniform and merge detail together. Lighting is a fantastic tool which can make your space look bigger and the colours in the room feel more vibrant and passionate. If you have a small room then lighting is so clever because by angling the lights at the walls you can push the walls out visually making your space feel much larger.

How do you combine decorative and architectural?

The architectural lighting for me is as important as the decorative. They go hand in hand. When designing the architectural lighting it is important wherever possible to only be aware of the effect of the light and the skill is to not notice the source. Lighting the architectural elements accentuates the most beautiful and interesting areas of the building. Give me a curve anyday – they are the best to light! The decorative lighting elements in a large space such as The Gate Hotel are set into zones and wall and pendant lights give character and interest to specific areas. The successful combination of the two will result in interest at the ground, mid and upper levels of the room having lighting interest which will result in a complimentary scheme.

The Gate Hotel Lounge Space with Vorsa track lighting

Are there any design trends that you are picking up on at the moment?

Yes definitely. Hollywood glamour, so think Marilyn Monroe, milky glass balls for bathrooms and living room pendants. Industrial arm chandeliers in the middle of a sitting room which are industrial looking and have pointed shades and big arms. Plus the wicker trend – beautiful woven basket style pendant and lamp shades. I love the look and texture of these but I am afraid do little for the lighting unless they have a very close weave. If I was designing with this type of fitting I would support the light using the Polespring 40 to give discreet directional accompanying light.

If you could design a house for anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

Italy is my favourite country. I love everything about it but in particular I get sucked in by its architecture. The Pantheon blew my mind! I would love to light the interior and exterior of an Italian villa, just imaging lighting up a line of Cypress trees! George Clooney lives in Italy doesn’t he?? That will do.


Location: The Gate Hotel, London

Interiors by UrbanR Studio and Lighting by Jo Calver, Isla James Interiors

Architect: Stockwool Architects

Lighting product: John Cullen Lighting


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