Lighting used to create ‘scenes’ in Milford on Sea home

PUBLISHED: 11:36 05 August 2015 | UPDATED: 11:36 05 August 2015

Gates swing open to reveal the house, hidden from passers-by

Gates swing open to reveal the house, hidden from passers-by

Joe Burke

Joe Burke has channelled everything he knows about lighting as a ‘Gaffer’ in the film and television industry into his own lighting business - he shows Emma Caulton around his home in Milford on Sea

The design is deceptive: the house is three storeys highThe design is deceptive: the house is three storeys high

Joe Burke knows how to make a scene. He does it with lighting. In his home in Milford on Sea he ‘layers’ light so he is able to create a series of ‘scenes’ in each room at the press of a switch. “Lighting gives houses soul,” says Joe. It creates a sense of drama, too. This is apt as Joe started out as a lighting designer in television dramas.

Having completed his apprenticeship at Pinewood Studios he started work in television on popular series including Silent Witness, Midsomer Murders 
and Waking the Dead. It was on the latter that he met his wife, Anna: he was the Gaffer (Head of the Lighting and Electrical Department) and she was an 
Assistant Director.

The couple moved to Hampshire to be closer to family after the birth of their first daughter, and Joe utilised his skills to establish his own lighting design business creating lighting schemes for homes and gardens. Their own home, which he and Anna designed and built, is a showcase for his work. “Having designed lighting for many film sets, I have an understanding of how things go together, and I see lighting plans visually, rather than simply two dimensionally.”

His previous career also influences his approach. Not only does he describe creating ‘scenes’ and atmosphere in each room, but he uses film industry techniques to great effect. An example of this is his use of light and shade. He has incorporated a ‘shadow gap’ feature along the top of walls and around door frames.

“The shadow gap is a detail that has been used for decades in the film industry to help separate different surfaces. It creates an attractive finished edge and, in this house, it adds a dark line around the ceiling to separate it from the walls - otherwise everything would be flat white.”

The galleried landing features natural lighting, pools of light and light as artwork to great effectThe galleried landing features natural lighting, pools of light and light as artwork to great effect

This use of shadow also helps to suggest the character of an architectural feature, adding detail and interest to Joe and Anna’s home, a stunning contemporary house of glass and cedar with far-reaching views across open countryside and the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

Anna comments: “It’s lovely when the sailing boats are out on the Solent and the waters are busy with colour and movement.”

The original house was ‘a blot on the landscape’ and the view was hidden by overgrown evergreens.

Initially their architect, Olly Bray of OB Architecture, came up with an ambitious design comprising of three barns which Anna recalls as being ‘too extravagant’. So Joe provided him with a floorplan of what they wanted to achieve with the principal rooms taking advantage of the views.

Even scaled back their home is impressive. As the electric gates open, it has the presence to astonish. Inside the wow factor steps up another gear. An oak staircase with glass risers appears to float in front of the view. We move into the stairwell and I look up to appreciate the three-storey high atrium with galleried landings. The third floor, an addition suggested by Olly, includes a luxurious master bedroom suite, and from here those views are mesmerising.

A large scale space demands an oversized pendant and adds dramaA large scale space demands an oversized pendant and adds drama

This is an impressive light, bright and spacious six-bedroom, four-bathroom house with balconies and full height windows. Throughout the house Joe has used lighting to add detail, shape and ‘soul’. In the hall a striking vertical recessed lighting feature is more art installation than light source - and pools of light on the landings complement the natural light flooding in. Lighting turns the bathrooms into oases of indulgence with low level lighting for the baths and bright halogen lights, the best for skin tones, at eye level alongside the mirrors. Even the cloakroom features a wall of regularly spaced punctuation points of light.

Joe comments: “I like the idea of using cloakrooms to do something more creative with light; you don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to do something different and unexpected. Ours has become a bit of a talking point. It’s nice to cluster groups of small lights together, although I usually try to make things look random, which is actually harder than positioning them in an orderly pattern.”

In the open-plan kitchen-dining-sitting room, a vast space with vaulted ceiling and walls of glass pulling back to open onto the sunny terrace and garden, a Metronome XL takes centre stage. This futuristic sculptural crinoline of a pendant dominates the kitchen, a sleek minimalist affair of ash, white glass and grey worktop. This is the first of its kind in the UK to be used in a residential setting - although they have been hung above catwalks to dramatic effect.

“I usually try to keep lighting as inconspicuous as possible as we want people to come in and look out to the view and not be distracted by the lighting, but this feature light had to be big to fit the architecture and the space.”

Joe can use light as a spectacle, but usually it’s for accents, tasks and mood.

Big windows in the open-plan kitchen-dining-sitting area make the most of the viewsBig windows in the open-plan kitchen-dining-sitting area make the most of the views

“It’s about light and shade not just about flooding a place with light. With every space I try to introduce two, three or four ‘scenes’. In this area there’s a bright scene for cooking and food preparation, a more intimate scene for dining, and even one for just sitting here in virtual darkness and being able to see the stars at night, with low level lighting under the island units to help with circulation around the room.”

Practicalities are considered alongside aesthetics. In such a high-ceilinged space, wall lights are kept low so that they’re accessible for maintenance. Also there’s less light spill the closer the light is to the area being lit. Throughout their home, every light has been considered and carefully positioned depending on the purpose of both the room and the light.

Joe reels off useful tips. He suggests experimenting with light, for example using uplighters on the floor to reflect light off the ceiling. He advises on layering lights rather than using a single light source, and explains that low level lighting adds atmosphere yet warning that light from downlighters isn’t flattering.

He is currently working on a property in Fareham with a brief to make the house look like a Lady Gaga concert with lasers and saturated colours, however Joe is also advising the client to ensure there are practical lighting elements, too. Where he tends to experiment most is with lighting schemes for gardens, creating false moonlight, accent lighting flower beds and washing walls with light.

“External lighting is more like film industry lighting. You can be more creative as it is about creating an effect, but you want to control light and avoid spill, and complement the landscape with pools of light rather than floodlights. The challenge is hiding the light source.”

Joe's clever lighting designs create mood and atmosphere in the luxurious bathroomsJoe's clever lighting designs create mood and atmosphere in the luxurious bathrooms

I’m looking at lighting with fresh eyes, and it will also be hard to view television drama in quite the same way again.


Get the Look

• Joe Burke Lighting Design, Milford on Sea,, 01590 427590

• House designed by OB Architecture, Winchester,, 01962 865344

• Poggenpohl kitchen from Searle & Taylor, Winchester, 01962 850851

• Bathrooms supplied by Wave Bathrooms, Salisbury, 01722 333553

• Bespoke oak staircase made by Dorset Joinery,, Poole, 01202 241089

• Italian porcelain marble-style tiles from Minoli, Oxford,, 01865 778225

• Diminished appearance windows and doors by Internorm, Ecohaus Internorm, Godalming,, 0800 612 6519

• Meadowcroft is on the market with Spencers of the New Forest, 01590 674222,



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