A conversation about books and libraries at Soane revealed Lulu’s secret desire to have been a librarian. While studying Egyptology at University College, Lulu’s library pass gave access to all the London University libraries and she recalls how she moved between them, relishing the variety of architectural styles and atmospheres. Interestingly, while the Art Deco Senate House library was a favourite, she preferred to work in, “the least beautiful library,” at the Institute of Archeology. It was, Lulu explains, wonderfully intimate with a warm atmosphere conducive to quiet research and essay writing. Though of course, she remarks mischievously, there were inevitably distractions – such as a handsome student on a nearby desk!
Libraries had their origins in the ancient classical world as depositries for the earliest writings, on clay tablets at Sumer and papyrus in Egypt. The Great Library of Alexandria was the largest and most significant library of the ancient times. Constructed in 3BC, it was dedicated to the Muses (the nine goddesses of the arts) and part of the Musaeum of Alexandria, an extensive group of buildings said to have inspired the model for modern university campuses. There were reading rooms, lecture halls, dining rooms, gardens, a peripatetic walk (a covered walkway where scholars conversed as they strolled in the shade) – even an exotic animal zoo. It was here that great classical thinkers, such as Euclid and Archimedes, developed their ideas of mathematics, astronomy, physics, geometry, medicine and more. Its destruction, in most part by attacks on Alexandria by Caesar in 48BC and Aurelian in the 270sAD, is considered to be the single greatest loss of knowledge in history and the ‘burning of the Library of Alexandria’ has become legendary in art and literature. In the recent ‘Agora’ (2009), filmmakers recreated the library in scenes showing the lead character Hypatia of Alexandria (a brilliant female mathematician and philosopher), speaking to other classical scholars.
Lulu has, since her student days, collected many books. At home, history, art and design books line sitting room walls and are corralled in great piles on tables and footstools. At Soane’s Pimlico Road showroom there are yet more: in Lulu’s office, in the design room and on the shop floor arranged on a Bookcase Etagere. She admits to being unable to resist a secondhand bookshop on her travels and now also hunts out old books online, through the brilliant Abe Books. These books are a constant source of inspiration for Lulu and in conversation she regularly reaches for a volume to illustrate her point. At the suggestion that we write a Journal post about libraries, “The Most Beautiful Libraries In The World” (Guillaume de Laubier and Jacques Bosser, 2003), was deftly plucked from a shelf and she was soon absorbed in its pages, sighing in admiration.
Time spent poring over books and other close work, whether studying antique textiles or sketching new designs, directly influenced Lulu’s decision to introduce specialist task lighting at Soane Britain. Whilst she considers lighting crucial to creating atmosphere, she also recognises the vital role of proper task light. As a result, Soane offers an extensive collection of brass wall lights, floor lights and table lamps that create practical pools of light over bookcases, by armchairs and on desks. Engineered by skilled British metalworkers, these classic designs have varying degrees of movement with jointed swing arms, height adjustable sliders and angled heads for maximum functionality. Lulu is particularly excited about the new Argo Flexi Lighting Collection that combines outstanding task light – using completely flexible, articulated brass arms – with understated good looks. Finished in polished or antique brass with neat metal shades, the Argo Flexi Wall Light, Floor Light and Table Light use Soane’s signature Argo ‘rope’ detail to great effect, introducing low-key glamour to these eminently practical designs.
For more task lighting inspiration, see Soane Britain’s Pinterest boards:
Top gallery images: The sitting room of Soane Britain’s Lulu Lytle (photograph by James Mortimer); The Reading Wall Light with Metal Shade and Swivel by Soane Britain; ‘The Course of Empire: Destruction and Desolation’ by Thomas Cole, 1836, alluding to the burning of The Great Library of Alexandria; Trinity College Library, Dublin shown in ‘The Most Beautiful Libraries In The World’ by Guillaume de Laubier and Jacques Bosser, 2003; Soane Britain’s Argo Flexi Table Light, shown here with The Bascule Desk and Fez Stripe wallpaper.