Design, Build and Installations
Designer and builder
Michael Simon Toon Instagram

Si-Huis Vera Lighting System

See yourself in a better light™ with studio-quality lighting; designed to be the most functional, versatile, and efficient lamps ever made, that produce the best quality light made by any domestic lamp, ever.

“It is easy to take a photograph, but it is harder to make a masterpiece in photography than in any other art medium.” - Ansell Adams. 

I picked up the camera for the first time when I was fourteen. At the time, all photography was ‘film photography’ - it required technical knowledge and skill to produce results that were any better than the average amateur. From a very early age, I had been a proficient illustrator, and had experimented with almost every artistic medium. Of all of them, I believed photography was the most challenging, and I was determined to master it. At age 18, I was a photographic assistant to a commercial studio, with multiple clients every day. Eventually I ran the studio, set up lighting, and often took the pictures, unsupervised. Every morning I would get to work, in a room with no windows (photography studios don’t have windows because the light needs to be controllable and predictable) so before any work could begin, I would have to switch on my favorite lights. Always, the first light I would choose, would be the big soft box, simply because it was cozy and provided the most light. It enhanced my mood; it made me feel happier. There’s not much else in the studio except for four walls, a ceiling and a floor. With regular domestic lighting, it would have been a depressing place. With some considered lighting, it would be magical.

Lamps lighting lamps lighting lamps. Photographed with iPhone

There is an old photography adage: it’s not the size or even quality of your camera that makes a good photograph. Today, your phone is better than most of the professional camera equipment ever made. In theory, anyone should be able to make a photograph, tv show, or movie with the same or better production value than some of the greatest classics of the 20th century. It never is though, not just because of the absence of a well-crafted plot or superstar casting; but predominantly because of lighting. It’s the reason countless families used to, and still do, visit high street photographers to get their family portrait. Lighting. It’s the reason why our favorite movie stars look beautiful; shiny objects look dazzling, and food looks delicious; good lighting is why almost everyone and everything in magazines, movies and on tv, looks good. 

It’s dark half the time, and during this time, we can only see by the light which we create ourselves.

Si-Huis Vera Lamp Development 2023

This has been the case since the discovery of fire, perhaps half a million years ago. Except for the last century or so, the main question regarding lighting was what to burn to make the fire, by which to see. Fire creates a beautiful light in a warm orange color, which people find to be pleasant, even though it provides limited clarity, is less controllable, comes with fire risks and smoke inhalation, risk of death, and the high cost of consumables. In the 1800’s, the electric incandescent lightbulb was a quantum leap for humanity, vastly superior to any human-made lighting source made previously. The heating of its element produces an attractive orange color similar to fire, and similarly, this icon of invention itself still uses most of its energy to produce heat. LEDs were invented in 1962, initially red only with green LEDs were invented shortly after. Finally with blue LEDs in 1979, we could produce white light - the same full spectrum that we are capable of seeing; the same color of light that the sun produces (amongst others) in abundance; the same light to which all living things on Earth have adapted. In terms of human-made lighting, lighting is at a cusp, as new as that for computers, AI, or the internet. In fact, Charles Babbage’s difference engine predates modern electric lighting by over half a century.

Carbon fiber adjustable lamp heads

If you take a look around you, it is highly likely that you will be able to see one of these new fangled electric lights in your immediate vicinity. Let’s dissect it. It’s either ‘functional’ or decorative. 

If you’re unfortunate enough, you may see a fluorescent tube unceremoniously bolted onto the ceiling, perhaps behind a plastic filter. To explain what is so wrong about these light sources, one must describe a phenomenon that is very familiar to professional (film) photographers of the last century. These photographers knew some secrets about light. First, your eyes can deceive you due to a phenomenon called metamerism. Photosensitive film does not. Modern digital cameras employ white balance to compensate for these color biases so that the human inability to see the true color of certain lights remains unknown to most people. Professional photographers would only use transparency film, not negative, as transparency film records the color of light with truest fidelity. However, there is more room for error; it requires more control, and sometimes color compensation. For example, if you were to photograph a scene with transparency film under fluorescent light, it would be entirely green. Not subtle green, but everything would be different shades of green. If, similarly you were to photograph the same scene on the same film under classic Edison-style tungsten lightbulbs, everything would be different shades of orange; the film and photograph would be unusable. Only photographs taken in daylight (at a specific time) or under electronic flashlight would produce full color photographs with no color bias. This is the reason professional studio photographers use strobes, not continuous lighting. Professional film photographers required many different colored lens filters in varying strengths to compensate for the color of light in a scene (if we were shooting on location). A pink filter makes fluorescent light appear neutral; a blue one fixes tungsten. Not only do fluorescent lights produce an unflattering, unnatural spectrum of green light for models and subjects, they also produce UV which is outside our visible spectrum (though it still affects us, which is a dangerous combination).

Carbon fiber lamp parts

If you are fortunate enough to live in a world without fluorescent lighting, you will be using LED, tungsten, or halogen - the first has become the most popular. The light from these sources is often exposed directly to the subject (and your eyeballs) with little to no consideration for clarity or comfort of the viewer (arguably the ultimate and only beneficiary of the generated light). This would be the equivalent of opening the tap all the way when turning on the faucet, or the equivalent of putting uncooked meat onto a plate and serving it as a meal; it is raw and unfiltered. One does not need everything all at once. No-one drives everywhere at their car’s maximum speed, all the time. It is not subtle, and it is not considered. Direct light does have its place but it can produce glare, high contrast, dark areas, and highlight blindness. If you would take a photograph under such light, it would be unflattering for persons and most objects. It would look amateurish, exactly because this is the kind of lighting to which amateurs might unknowingly use. When using direct lighting, care must be taken not to shine it into the eyes. When used puposefully, it can produce dramatic and desirable highlight and accents.

Diffuser clips 3D printing path

Ever since at least the 17th century, in the days of gas and oil lamps, lampshades have been employed to intercept and modify the light produced by light emitting materials. Historically, these lampshades have been predominantly decorative in nature. The Romans similarly used to decorate their plumbing in the same way; archaeologists have dug up artifacts such as pipes and cisterns with spectacular decorative and floral embellishments, some of which may never have seen the light of day. These embellishments served no function in regard to the plumbing or conveyance of fluids. We do not know the motivation of those that lived in the past, but if they are anything like the people that live in the present, it may have just seemed like ‘the right thing to do.’ A world without art or decoration is not an attractive proposition, after all. A stylish luminaire is be an opportunity to enhance an overall aesthetic, or express ourselves, or reinforce an identity - but technically this is an object of art that also happens to produce light as a by-product. It is art first, lamp second; it is not a functional machine for producing and controlling light pleasantly and efficiently - these machines are, so far, restricted to professional studios.

Proprietary wifi controllable dimmer switch (with large manual override dial and button)

Good light, delights, soothes, stimulates, inspires, or uplifts the observer. It’s not just photographers and filmmakers that are aware of the power of light as a tool. Bioluminescent animals use it; dive bars use it; the emergency services use it; traffic lights use it. Light communicates. It affects those than can observe it, positively or negatively. We can choose to consider it or not, but those with sight cannot escape its influence. Lamps, whether they are candles, oil lamps, or lightbulbs, are machines that rival the wheel in importance. Artificial light is the only indication of our civilization from space. Historically, light, and lamps are notably used heavily in religions and mythology as icons and symbols to represent that which is inherently good and right: the light of God; Buddhist enlightenment; the Menorah candles of protection and safety; the Amnesty International candles of hope and vigilance; the light side of the force; the genie in the lamp; when characters have a great idea in a comic strip, they are drawn with an electric light bulb over their head. Captain Jean-Luc Picard even had a personal relaxation light.  Even far into the future, it is difficult to imagine the lamp as anything but an essential and relevant object.

Various substrates comprising the composite material of the diffuser

“There is no good or bad. Only thinking makes it so.” - Buddha. 

What do I mean by good light? I think, good light makes you happy. Technically, that is the essence of Buddhism. Arguably, as we have established, good light can make you happy instantly, or at least perhaps, more happy than you were. It can provide comfort in good times and bad; it can keep you safe; it can show you the truth; it can you lead you out of the darkness; it can show you the path ahead; light can give you hope. 

There is a strong argument that our relationship with light runs even deeper still; Einstein won the Nobel prize for describing the unique relationship between photons and electrons (electrons interact with, and can make photons and vice versa). All matter is made of electrons and protons, electrons being the key component in all chemical bonds. If we ourselves are composed only of electrons and protons, the case could be made that we are comprised only of ‘captured light.’ “Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter.” - Yoda

Tripod collar before and after adding knurled surface

I believe that real life could and should look as good as the movies and the magazines. I believe that good light can make people happy, and a machine that produces such a light could be considered a ‘happiness machine.’  

Over the course of twelve years, I have designed a collection of lamps that perform this function. We have made a light soft box, for instance, that directs all of the light from the source through its front face with an engineered polymer that scatters photons, not intercepting them with photon-absorbing pigments such as titanium dioxide, or merely the thickness of material itself. It is entirely efficient, not wasting any perceivable amounts of light produced by the source; it has no leakage from the sides, or the back, with no lighting artifacts (strange shapes of light created by lampshades or bare bulbs). It even improves on the performance of studio lighting for photography and video, producing sharper, more homogenous, gradiented highlights in reflective objects. It is designed to be flattering and comfortable for portraits, video conferencing, blogging, streaming, and many activities being performed currently by professionals, novices, and keen amateurs, often with sub-par available equipment. We have also produced a lamp which emits the same diffused light from the back of the diffuser as well as the front. Such a lamp is capable of single handedly-illuminating a room with very pleasant light. Our direct lighting lamps have powder-coated aluminum snoot-shades to completely eliminate glare from the side, or anywhere except the direction in which the lamp is pointing.

Rod painting and diffuser assembly

Beauty, which one could argue is the objective of decoration, can be an emergent property of function. There is beauty in nature; a sunrise, a sunset (both colors of light, incidentally), a tree, or a rose. A rose did not wake up in the morning trying to impress you; it may be trying to impress a passing bee, but its beauty is not aimed at us. We find them so appealing, but they are simply machines; they are merely concerned with eating, drinking and reproducing, and in that sense, not so dissimilar to ourselves. The machinery for that function, including their color, produces a complex overture of form and function that somehow please our sense so much, we present them to potential mates in the hope that we too can eat, drink, and reproduce. Arguably the greatest beauty, is an emergent property of either a complex function, or by an infrequent accidental occurrence. Human-made objects that are entirely functional may have emergent beauty: the look and sound of an Italian race car; the form of a simple bicycle; the inner workings of a Swiss watch; a perfectly well binded book; a leather suitcase or chair; a well-made shoe. Either natural materials, craftsmanship, or simply proficient engineering, can produce beauty as emergent property without having to cram it into an object by ‘designing in the beauty,’ either by simply painting pictures onto it, shaping it arbitrarily, or by forcible association with a fleeting fashion or any motivation unconnected to its primary function. That is, ‘painting the roses red.’ One cannot take apart a motorcycle to try to find its noise.

2D vector graphics: lamp head design

The Eames chairs, the Mies van Der Rohe chair, the Flos Arco lamp: There are very few icons of design that survive the test of time, but when objects are designed with pure functionality in mind, not subject to the whims of fashion, their usefulness remains even as fashion changes. These pieces are not merely furniture; they are life-enhancing tools which provide comfort, relief, sanctuary, and therefore happiness. These pieces are in production almost a century after being launched, because their efficient design has not been improved upon. In fact, from observation, all Flos lighting products are of the form-follows-function school of design, reduced to its most essential and critical components. It is the exception to the rule in an industry of decorative furniture and lighting, and the only lighting company for which I have admiration. The Anglepoise lamp is pleasant and functional but it is environment and task-specific, does create glare from certain angles, and the springs wear out. Fatigue and longevity has been a consideration for our own product, and we believe collectively, that a product should last a hundred years, and should be easily serviceable in the event of an unlikely malfunction. Responsible design means not only being efficient with labor and materials, but making sure people in the future won’t feel compelled to put those materials in landfills, as they continue to be functional for as long as possible.

3D modeling: lamp head, collar, and diffuser shaft design

Our lamps utilize aerospace-grade carbon fiber rods which are stronger than any metal; however carbon fiber cannot be machined without compromising its integrity. We utilize over a dozen different carbon fiber 3D printed connectors per lamp, with system of long-life elastic polymers that are simultaneously under compression and tension, securing its components in place with a force greater than the weight of the lamp itself, with zero movement over time. The perfect balance of friction and compression (like a seatbelt) keep everything locked in place, but is also easily adjustable if necessary. The diffusers are die-cut and scored polyester film with a photon-scattering coating on both sides for double-diffusion, some with 100% black-out vinyl film rear shade. The diffusers are unique composite films with multiple types of material for their different properties, including machinability, formability, and dimensional stability over time. The diffuser is designed to be manufactured using existing and established methods of processes employed by the printing, finishing, binding, and die-cutting industries (though there is no ink or printing involved), which are capable of producing vast quantities of units in short amounts of time, with comprehensive costs. All polymers are ozone resistant; The size of the lamps range from 2.5' to 8' height, with 6.5' clearance. The stands are no thicker than the power cable itself; they are black, like the strings of a puppet. (Studio lighting stands are generally black, to avoid appearing in reflections.) As a consequence of high-performance materials and efficient design, the tallest lamp weighs 3lbs. However far from being fragile or unstable, its stand is made of rods as strong and flexible as the highest performing fishing rods and is assembled in a configuration which makes it more stable than a regular floor lamp, or any lamp that isn’t attached to a block of concrete; to knock the lamp over requires sustained force; otherwise, quick, sharp and even heavy accidental-like impacts are totally absorbed and returned. It dances, it jiggles, it may even do the side-step upon impact, but it doesn’t want to fall over. In such an event, it is so light, that it falls to the floor with such little inertia that it does so without damaging itself, like swatting a fly in mid-air, its own lack of mass means it experiences no damage. If you put a weight on the base of the stand, like one might in a studio in a high traffic area, then the lamp may as well be weighted down with concrete; it will not fall down ever. The stand’s flexibility is what gives it stability. Like the wing of a airplane, it bounces instead of breaks, it bends rather than falling over. The free-moving and self-balancing boom gives the lamp a dynamic center of gravity, keeping all three legs on the ground with equal force at all times, giving the lamps a feel of an object larger and heavier than they are, with more stability than they appear to be capable. The boom performs as would a tightrope walker’s pole; when the lamp experiences force laterally, the counterweight stays in place, like an ‘inertia-anchor.’ Besides function and performance, every interaction with the lamp has been considered; the ‘feel’ of the materials, the force required for daily operation, even the sounds produced by the components; all as a single phenomenological experience. 

Our lamps are an exercise in maximum function with maximum efficiency. They are designed to be the best domestic lamps ever made, and to produce the best quality of light made by any lamp, ever.

 - MST

Lamps lighting lamp. Photographed with iPhone