The program was straightforward: A cozy music room on a family estate nestled in the heart of the Redwoods. Three years later, the completed project encompassed a professional-quality recording studio and performance space, all housed within a 19th-century barn the owners discovered in New York and shipped to Northern California by rail. The PritchardPeck team was tasked with bringing the cutting-edge studio and historic barn into harmony, while creating an inspiring lighting design that met rigorous standards for acoustical engineering. What does beautiful lighting sound like? That question became an obsession for us over the course of this project.
The lighting, like the architecture, is built in layers that bring out the unique character of the wood while creating a warm, functional space for musicians. In-grade LED uplighting at the base of the support beams grazes the texture of the axe-hewn surface, while monopoints bring sparkle to the instruments and focused task lighting for musicians below.
To achieve a balanced uplighting effect on the ceiling, we notched an asymmetric channel along the top of each cross beam and concealed line voltage LED lights and fully shielded conduit runs for the low voltage monopoints. Extensive mock-ups and beam studies guided the choice of the corner uplights, aiming angles, and outputs that create a sense of internal luminosity.
We specified a subtle steel fascia on the side stringers, painted to blend in with the timeworn wood. This combination served as a valance to conceal motorized shades, the LED uplights and conduit. Structural limitations gave us a very limited space to fit and orient the uplights for maximum distribution across the ceiling.
One of the most challenging aspects of the project was designing a sonically neutral lighting system. With the rest of the estate on a wireless lighting control system, we created a separate wired control system to prevent potential electromagnetic interference. We then interviewed acoustic engineers and researched best practices around studio lighting, thoroughly testing every piece we chose for pops, buzzes, or hums. All connectors, plugs, and cabling were shielded, and drivers and transformers were moved to the accessible crawl space away from the recording area.
The barn’s skeleton provided visual charm, but also brought challenges: No two beams were the same width, the distance between beams varied, and none had flat surfaces. We worked closely with the installing electrician to field-measure each run length and adapt their design to the space’s realities to avoid distracting flash on adjacent surfaces.
In the main recording room, reflected light from the ceiling provided an ambient glow, filled in by monopoints attached to the beam custom-built mounts that were modeled on antique barn hardware and designed to have a “chunkiness” that harmonized with the mass of the beams.
Dimming provided an opportunity to create a more sustainable update to the incandescent rheostat dimmers studios typically use. A mix of halogen and LED technologies gave the recording engineer full control over the mood in the studio. The control room also features an irregular back acoustic wall, which the team lit with dimmable in-grade floor uplights to graze the wood and provide a dramatic backdrop visible to musicians in the live room.
The interplay of light and shadow was used as a recurring design motif throughout the space. The contrasts of positive and negative space in the ceiling are echoed along in the back wall of the recording booth, and recalled again in the sliding barn door that opens onto the back-porch stage.
The studio is located deep in the Redwoods, so path lighting connecting the studio to other buildings on the estate was essential. We chose 2700 kelvin light sources that emulated the warmth of a campfire, avoiding pools of light that might feel eerie. Additionally, we installed 10-watt LED uplighting on the nearby Redwood trees, and placed integrated LED step lighting into square 2″ steel hollow posts supporting the stair rail, with the wiring contained in the tube. The total effect is designed to invite and inspire human connection, creating a warm, welcoming stage where beautiful music can come to life.
Lighting Design: PritchardPeck Lighting
Architect: Schwartz and Architecture
Photo: Bruce Damonte