Fall/ Winter 2008: The Experts

The Lighting Guru

Ballroom or barn, mansion or garden, every setting can be made magical with a stellar lighting scheme.

By Brittany Jasnoff

While ice sculptures, a martini luge, and fireworks can certainly set the mood, less dramatic measures, like a few strategically placed lights, can magically transform a bride into a supermodel, or subtly guide your guests toward the dining room at the appointment hour. Armed with a background in stage design, Waltham-based Suzanne B. Lowell dishes on how the right lights can make—or break—a scene.

What effects can lighting have on guests’ perception of an event? I like lighting tricks that act on a subliminal level. We can alter candlelight later in the evening, introducing colors that change the way that guests view the room. Red is an exciting, sexy color, while blue can be quite calming. I find illuminating walls, fabrics, and reflective surfaces very beautiful; it creates this ethereal glow. It’s even possible to light flowers and other decorations so they look as if they’ve been plugged in, almost electrified, rather than lit from above.
If a bride wants something spectacular—and cost is no object—what might she get? We did one really lavish event in several tents. We hung a seven-foot chandelier in the entryway, where the place cards were. It created a place for guests to linger before walking into the tents. In the ceremony tent, we hung chandeliers in the aisle leading up to the chuppah, with beautiful white circles of light focused in between, on the aisle runner. The classic style of the chandeliers contrasted with the geometric look of the floor lighting. We’ve also created some wonderful events by suspending hundreds of Japanese lanterns in the canopy of a clear-top tent. As evening falls, the lanterns begin to glow a rich cobalt blue.

How much does lighting a ceremony or reception site set a couple back? Can the process really ever be budget-friendly? We’ve gone anywhere from $1,200 into the six figures. An upscale wedding at the Boston Harbor Hotel, for example, could start at $4,000 and go up from there. Couples on a budget should have a lighting company use up-lighting to accent architectural and décor elements, and supplement it with candles.

OK, so not all lights are equal. What does everyone want right now?
A lot of today’s event designs are fixture driven—giant crystal chandeliers, Japanese lanterns, gorgeous Italian table lamps, beautiful torches. They’re tangible, almost like pieces of furniture. The other, more subtle approach is to create visual focal points in the room—architectural elements you want to highlight, or places you’d like people to gravitate toward.

Keeping everything perfectly aglow can’t always be an easy task. What’s your biggest wedding day horror story? We once did an outdoor wedding in a hurricane. When the winds and rain came in, it was a mess! The area near the dimmer panel got struck by lightning, so it zapped two thirds of our lighting. At one point, the rain came down so hard that it washed all the oil out of the wicks and we couldn’t light the torches. We spent the rest of the time cleaning up and drying the tent.

Does season matter? Do you do anything special for fall or winter weddings?
The best way to approach a warm, autumn color palette is to create the look of candlelight—to play up reds and golds. If the theme is wintry, with cooler tones like aqua, ice blue, cobalt, or navy, we can pick up on that, too. Lighting should work as it does in theater and dance. It isn’t a stand-alone design element—it works with your venue, your décor, and your music. For a cohesive look, everyone’s got to work together.

Suzanne B. Lowell Lighting Design, 781-899-5883, sbllighting.com.


It’s your day to shine, but beware: Sometimes the spotlight isn’t always your best light. Here, Lowell’s tips for staying bright and beautiful.

Beware of Fluorescents

Those bright white bulbs you use to illuminate your features while applying makeup will do just that at your wedding—highlight flaws in harsh, unforgiving light. “It’s the least flattering light I’m aware of,” says Lowell.

Choose Color Wisely

Pale blush colors bring new life to your gown and your face, while primary greens and yellows can dull both. “They can be used as accents around the room,” says Lowell, “but they ought not touch the bride.”

Don’t Uplight Yourself

Use this effect to draw attention to centerpieces and flower arrangements—but not to you or directly around the ceremony area. “It’s like putting a flashlight under your chin,” says Lowell. “It reverses your natural shadows.”–B.J.