TPL has been a key resource for interior and architectural lighting based in Canada for more than twenty-five years. From their home base of Toronto, they have been providing professionals and every-day customers alike with the industry’s best light fixtures from North America and Europe. Recently, however, they have taken their passion for lighting even further by opening up a one-of-a-kind interactive lighting studio, The Adelaide Project, in one of Toronto’s heritage sites called the William Clarke Houses.

They purchased one of the row houses built in 1883, in dire need of a renovation, and have transformed it into a space where customers don’t just shop for lighting but experience and interact with it themselves. It’s a sort of shop-meets-light-laboratory. We sat down with Jennifer Pott, Co-Owner and Director of Brand & Customer Experience at TPL Lighting and Clarisa Llaneza, Designer and Creative Director of The Adelaide Project to find out more about their new endeavor.

The Adelaide Project feels like such an intuitive yet innovative concept for finding the right lighting. When did you come up with the idea?

Jennifer: I had the seed of the idea in the months after I joined TPL. I think one of the most important observations was that there seemed to be a gap in the lighting specification industry.  Showcasing lighting in a way that reflects actual project applications is surprisingly uncommon.  You have traditional lighting showrooms (typically jam-packed and overlit), you have a digital presence from manufacturers and online retailers, you have agency reps who do their best to mock-up samples in a firm’s library or in a boardroom for a product presentation.

Clarisa: My industry experience and education have been nurtured and inspired by international work, and I always dreamed about bringing to life an innovative studio and inspirational “hub” for the industry in Toronto, something that you might typically see in Europe, Miami, Los Angeles or New York.

The property itself is impressive! Tell us about the history of the space (located in one of the William Clarke Houses) and why it was the right place for the studio?

Jennifer: William Clarke was a Toronto builder who built two pairs of semi-detached houses at 505-507 and 509-511 Adelaide in 1883. The houses are now designated heritage sites, based on their physical architecture and style: bargeboard-adorned gables, patterned brickwork and bay windows typical of Gothic Revival design are all present.  The property seemed a perfect fit for the studio we wanted to bring to life.  The heritage home reflects TPL’s own heritage as a family business, showcasing our respect for the rich history of the city and its many beautiful architectural spaces. Functionally speaking, it features high ceilings, allowing for great showcasing of lighting; multiple rooms allow for demonstrating a variety of lighting applications.

What was the state of the house originally and what were the challenges in renovating it?

Clarisa: I’m not going to lie, the house was in rough shape.  Everything needed to be updated. We had issues with old gas lines, nothing was square or level, asbestos needed to be removed, plaster would crumble the moment it was touched; every challenge you could imagine in a house of this age.  Despite knowing the challenges that renovating a heritage property would pose, I was beyond excited to be the designer of the space.  

It was important to us to be able to preserve as many of the original features of the home as possible, which from a construction perspective, can often result in a lot more work. For example, preserving the ceiling rosette that is in the front foyer turned out to be one of the most laborious tasks, as not only did the knob and tube have to be carefully removed without damaging the plaster, the original gas pipe also had to carefully be taken out!

What was the vision for the new design of the house?

Clarisa: The overarching design goal for the space was twofold: First, to invite people to come in and make themselves at home, and second, to achieve what traditional showrooms lack – character and context.

Aesthetically, we kept the overall design simple, giving a nod to the classic elements of the Victorian home in a way that complements current, more minimalistic designs.  We envisioned a space that would be both sleek and graphic, raw and refined, a blank canvas with personality.  Functionally, we envisioned a space that would allow for the flexibility to rotate products in and out of the studio frequently. To do this, a tremendous amount of work went into the electrical and lighting design.

Tell us about the material and design details that you included in each room.

Clarisa: Most rooms are fairly neutral but maintain a personality that speaks to our design sensibility. It was important that the studio feel like a homewarm, inviting, intimate.  We used herringbone floors and light oak wherever possible. I played with tones of light and dark,  creating contrasts and wanting to demonstrate how good lighting can bring the color of the space to life. 

I used neutral tones mainly in the spaces that are going to be changing frequently and had a bit more fun with tones and textures in spaces that will not be changing as much. In my office, for example, I decided to go for a monochromatic look and made everything beige. That may sound boring, but we designed ribbed wood furniture with Ross Etherington and painted the walls with a lime finish from Pure Original to make the small space bold, rich yet comfortable and tonal. With the bedroom we went with a moody dark grey – “Chelsea Gray” by Benjamin Moore – with dramatic dark drapery and Trevisana’s closet with a gold finish mirrored door. 

The Adelaide Project allows visitors to experience and understand luminaires in a new way. Could you share how it achieves that?

Jennifer: We have created a space that allows for the exploration of lighting and controls from the perspective of application first instead of product first.

Clarisa: Creating a new way of bringing light and design together in a non-traditional showroom setting has been an exhilarating challenge to see through, from concept to reality. Throughout the studio, visitors are able to feel the effect of the luminaires, play with the fixtures and the controls, and experience how those pieces can work within a space. 

In what other ways does The Adelaide Project offer itself?

Jennifer: While The Adelaide Project is, at its core, a collaborative presentation center and curated lighting showroom, there are so many other functional uses of the space. It can be used as a venue for events, art shows, speakers, shared workspace, photography studio, etc.  We want The Adelaide Project to become a hub for the design community – a space that provokes thought and inspires conversation.

What are some of the pieces currently on display in the studio and how often will you rotate them?

Clarisa: There are some foundational pieces on display in the studio that will remain static for the next few years: some of the recessed architectural lighting, the kitchen provided by Trevisana Kitchens as well as the custom office furnishings provided by the phenomenally talented Ross Etherington of Etherington Designs. Currently, we have two partners in residence: Paul Petro Gallery (art) and Salt by The Caza Project (accessories and decor). Paul Petro curated the art himself with the incredibly talented art curator Stephen Smart to bring to The Adelaide Project award-winning art that doesn’t compete, but rather complements the lighting. Montana Burnett Design styled and accessorized the entire house with pieces that they sourced from around the world.  

From a lighting perspective, we are highlighting everything from downlight and track lighting to suspended, decorative, table lamps, and wall sconces – all coming from our roster of manufacturers that we represent. Following that, our intention is to rotate the lighting, as well as furnishings, art, and decor on a quarterly basis.

Why is lighting so crucial to the success of a space?

Clarisa: I usually like to go back to an article I read in Lighting Magazine about light being the most important material in a building – I truly do believe that. In said article, the writer likens light to the “spirit of a building”; and while we can easily quantify light, it is far more complex to determine the qualitative aspect of light. Lighting can be designed to influence the way someone experiences a space or an object…it can make or break the experience of color, atmosphere, and texture.

As lighting experts, what is something that the average person doesn’t know about lighting?

Clarisa:  I think the average person understands that “light” (in general terms) affects our daily life: overall health and wellness, how productive we are, our mood, our quality of sleep, etc.  What I don’t think the average person knows is the degree to which this is true.  I recently attended a fundraising event for Sick Kids Hospital where they were highlighting key areas of innovation.  One of the topics that struck me the most – both as a new mother and as an architectural lighting designer – was the importance of tunable white lights for the NICU. (For reference, “tunable white” means a light that can go from warm color temperature to cool, or from the color of candlelight or sunrise to the coolness of daylight at noon. From a biological perspective, this kind of lighting system is important to our rhythms: light helps to set our circadian rhythms.)

I found this fascinating as I have understood this technology now for years, but the fact that we are talking about it more for our healthcare systems and daily lives made me re-evaluate and remember the importance of my work as a lighting designer and the great effect it has in our community.