The sensitivity towards lighting grows as you observe it. This is what happened to Maria Reig, who for years has been fascinated with the effects of light found in natural settings, and with how to illuminate the spaces we inhabit. With a degree in law and the fine arts from the University of Barcelona, she is the heir to a large family inheritance which she manages through Reig Capital Group. This businesswoman and politician from Andorra has also participated very actively in the cultural and business life of Barcelona in the past decade. Lighting takes a prime place in both her private residences and in her hotel properties. Her reflection on the nuances of light and shade offers a perspective beyond strictly design.
What is light?
There is not just a single kind of light. There are as many kinds as the ability to cast shadows. Shadows are what confer colour, atmosphere and warmth in a space. With lamps, I often notice that I never quite find the one that can create the atmosphere I want. I want a lamp to have so many features, not just to be a source of light, but also to regulate intensity, use light bulbs with different tones… I think that there is one aspect that we often forget: the ability to cast shadows around us. There is no relief without shadows.
Should artificial light imitate natural light?
No, and most importantly because it can’t. Natural light changes every minute. It depends on the colour of the nature around it; it is different in the desert than in the forests of northern Europe. In the forest it is more metallic than the southern light, which is more yellowish. What I think is that artificial light should be able to adapt to any atmosphere you want to create. There is a plethora of lamps on the market, thousands of them, but to me they all have one flaw: they focus on giving off light instead of the ability to create moods and cast shadows, not only one but several layers of shadows.
Does the perfect lamp exist?
I think it does. It would have to create a scene that is a mixture of a hotel lobby and a velvety “velouté” atmosphere with the capacity for seduction. Lamps cannot be static; they have to be dynamic; they have to capture the colours around them and project them. Thus the importance of the place where you put the lamp and how you accentuate that colour that you want to highlight.
If I had to commission the perfect lamp it would not be about light, it would be about casting shadows. If I could find a lamp that used a dimmer to amp up or dim the shadows, it would be the perfect lamp. These shadows would not have to re-create nature; they would have to re-create angles of light or layers of shadows. It could totally be done.
How do you light up your house? What factors do you bear in mind?
To me it’s like creating a painting. To light up a room, I think about where I would put the brushstrokes of light. I might decide to light up a bit of curtain in order to spotlight the colour I like. I keep changing it throughout the year, in the different seasons, moving the light a bit closer to or further from objects and fabrics.
Tell us about the dilemma between form and function…
Today there are two obsessions. The light source should be as white and powerful as possible to cast light. People want light, light, light. There is too much light everywhere. Light is confused with comfort and ends up being invasive. If you are incapable of controlling the light source with filters or projections of shadows, it becomes unbearable. I always say that there are houses which look like airport lobbies. Houses have to be more intimate. The points of light have to be in the place they are needed. If you are going to sew or read, then you need the point of light where you are doing the activity, not everywhere.
The second obsession is with design. Today you can do anything with LEDs, which are tiny, or with the sheer number of light bulbs available. LEDs have brought a new dimension to lighting. It is a cool source of light that can get very close to the person without bothering them. They don’t heat up the air around them.
They say that design should be functional and that the object should be beautiful. But what I ask of a lamp is primarily that it not invade either you or your environs.
Which designers do you like?
Those who think about comfort and values related to harmony, proportion and respect for the human being. In this sense, I identify with both the Japanese and the Scandinavian countries, whose cultures live very close to nature.
You talk about lamps that are left on during the day.
I like them a lot. Now that LEDs hardly consume anything, it’s even better. It’s like the Nordic peoples usually do with firelight and candlelight: they are always present. We light candles at night, and they do so at 9 in the morning or noon. They eat with candles, and it’s not that they don’t have enough light; rather it’s the culture of fire and the wisdom of how to make a place cosy or create an atmosphere around fire.
When someone says, “there’s an ugly lamp on the nightstand, so I cover it with a handkerchief so I don’t have to look at it”, this handkerchief becomes a kind of language you use through that light, and it is projected into the atmosphere you want to create. Light is a language that explains your culture and your sensibility.
You don’t adapt to the light, the light adapts to you.
When I go to look for a lamp I don’t pay attention to whether it is for an office or a table top. I choose one because it casts my shadows in just the right way. I really like lamps that swing on arms. And I like them with opaque shades that funnel the light upward and downward. Just like when you build a house you tell an architect how you want to live, it would be great if you could tell a light manufacturer what you want the light to be like. If I could manufacture my own lamps, it would be easy with Marset.
What role does light play when you decorate your spaces?
When the decoration in your house is beautiful to look at or take a photo of but you don’t feel good there, you wouldn’t stay there. With good decoration, you feel like taking refuge there, making it your place and living there; it’s like a nest. And light really helps in this. Points of light should illuminate to accentuate what you want to highlight; they create a language for the person looking. You illuminate the points where you want to show what you’re interested in displaying. Light is a language which reveals your culture and your sensibility.
If I were a Superwoman and could give out the Lamp Prizes, I would get rid of all who put the emphasis on design, creating a homage to themselves, those who walk around arrogantly “I’m a lamp designer”. Why do we put up with lamps that illuminate in a way that prevents us from living well and feeling good? You have to be daring with light and buy a lamp that works well with what you want to do, and not buy a design that bothers you, your house and your ambiance.
What is your relationship with Marset? How did it become part of your life?
Through design. I noticed some lamps that I really liked and they were from Marset. What I like about Marset is its focus on a kind of design that does not follow well-worn patterns; it develops a culture of its own, part of it is local and part is international.
You can also clearly see that there is someone behind Marset, that it is a small-to-medium-sized company made up of people who like to listen, improve, surprise. I identify Marset with a modern Mediterranean culture.
What is your relationship with the objects around you?
I’m not much of a collector of things that complicate life. For example, when I buy a work of art, I know that I’m going to have to like it my entire life. I’ve owned ninety percent of my things for many years and I still love them. Objects are like an elderly person or a home; the more years go by the more beautiful they become. They keep evolving. To me objects, just like light, are a language that show what you are like, but they show it subtly.
What is beauty?
I would talk more about harmony. Beauty without harmony, without proportion, does not exist. Proportion can be disproportionate, it can be enormous, but harmony is what confers beauty. For example, the Grand Canyon in Colorado. It’s huge, red, striped! Amazing! A forest full of trees is gorgeous. So what makes harmony? The repetition of colours or sunrays or trunks, or the light that falls in the forest. Nature is very important to me, and so are forests. I call them sanctuaries. These sanctuaries can be very small or very large, but they are strong. I adore that superimposition of shadows, colours, textures and reliefs in nature. I think that it is extremely difficult to recreate that in interior décor. That’s why I go outside to find it.
Can light affect your mood?
Bad light can. Excessive light makes me really uncomfortable, and it can even keep me from going to a restaurant with too much light. I love the light of London. To me there is too much light in Barcelona. Have you ever been in Valencia? If you drop your contact lens to the ground at three in the afternoon in Valencia, you can find it. Maybe that’s why it’s called the City of Light…
In the European Union there are regulations on light in public areas, and Spain uses seven times what it should. What do you see in Tokyo? Neon, neon and more neon. I don’t like it. What I love about Tokyo is when you see a raspberry or blue light on the skyscrapers that blinks on and off in the middle of the fog. It’s like a sea with infinite raspberries – amazing!
What makes a product high-quality?
More than the materials, the details… the presence of a fine material as a detail. Wood is a language of quality, just like fine metals, good papers and beautiful fabrics. Today cool materials like stainless steel are overused, but if there is too much wood it’s not contemporary.
Perhaps I prefer the language of authentic materials more than new materials, even though I also like mixtures – LEDs with fine materials, for example.
What is luxury?
It is more closely related to quality than to price, to materials that last and never go out of fashion. Cashmere is cashmere 30 metres away; so is linen. You can’t quite see what plastic is 30 metres away. I like what can be recognised at a distance. Luxury in materials is what does not need to be changed because it ages with dignity. Furthermore, materials get better and more beautiful over the years. For example, cement and iron age well, but stainless steel doesn’t – it stains.
Sometimes you can have luxury without too much money. It is related to the choice of materials, textures and quality, which become harmonious when they are mixed. To me, that’s luxury. For example, sisal can be a great luxury material. You see an old English mansion and it doesn’t have wool or silk carpets but old sisal ones. The Chinese have silk carpets, perhaps a bit faded, but that’s what I like: seeing things that are used, that have been around for years and that have aged well.