LED's: A Bright Idea?
Is it a home? Is it a showhouse? Is it a spaceship? Visitors to the Vos Pad can be forgiven for their confusion because this unique apartment, overlooking the Thames near Chelsea Harbour, is perhaps a bit of all three.
The Vos Pad is a home to Marcel Jean Vos, a Dutch designer and property developer. Marcel has been renovating apparently modern two-bedroom flats in London for several years, stripping out the cheap and inadequate interiors placed in by the original builders and customising them for a wealthier, largely single clientele. There are certain tricks of the trade which he has learned over the years: getting rid of the second bedroom, enlarging the bathroom, installing underfloor heating under limestone flooring and adding some good lighting. Especially the good lighting. Marcel became more and more interested in lighting design and began to feel that many of the current fashions, especially the near universal use of halogen downlighters, were actually rather bad lighting, being harsh and unforgiving. He looked at the emerging technology of using LEDs (light emitting diodes) and started to incorporate them in a limited way in one or two of his conversions.
Then he appears to have been hit by a brainwave. Why not use nothing but LEDs in his next apartment? No one else has ever done this before. Not in the UK. Not in Europe. In fact, nowhere at all. It was both a challenge and an opportunity. The Vos Pad was born.
LEDs have existed since the 1960s — in red. We have grown used to them being used in displays for calculators and digital clocks but we tend to think of them as being useful only for intricate task lighting and displays. However it took nearly 30 years for them to make a blue LED and even longer to produce a white one. Whilst red and green LEDs are produced in millions and are incredibly energy efficient, the blue and white colours were expensive to produce and used a lot of power. But improvements in the manufacturing process are being made all the time and the American lighting firm Luxeon have recently produced an LED that has the optical power to take on conventional lighting. Luxeon's LEDs have a precise beam with minimum glare, operate on a tiny current, generate almost no heat and have an anticipated bulb life of 50,000 hours, way above anything sold commercially as a lightbulb — a compact fluorescent, long life bulb is reckoned to last about 8,000 hours in comparison.
The Vos Pad is lit by no less than 105 light fittings, each containing three LEDs, one red, one green and one blue. Turn them all one together and they produce a very clear white light though dimming controls mean that the colour mix can be varied to produce either a warmer colour or fully fledged coloured party lights. What is perhaps more remarkable is that all these 105 lights are mounted in the floor, pointing straight up at the ceiling. "This is actually a very good way to light a room," said Marcel. "Washing the ceiling with light — uplighting — is a much gentler way of providing light to a room and it gives a far more even light quality." It's only possible to do this because the LEDs produce almost no heat so there is no risk of fire or burning at floor level. Additionally, the LEDs operate at such low current that they have been wired together using low voltage data cabling, Cat 5, better known for networking computers and telephones.
To get the floor lighting effect correct, the Vos Pad has been carefully designed in the minimalist style. The surfaces are all white or off-white and there is a minimum of soft furnishings around. The walls have been kept pretty bare and the lights have been arranged around the perimeter of the room. Even so, the uplighting wash is effective enough to ensure that the overall effect is a very even light throughout. To showcase their capabilities, Marcel has also chosen to fit LEDs into the spa bath (the fittings are waterproof) and within the kitchen's glass worktop.
At the moment, LEDs are still someway short of becoming mainstream. There are still few suppliers and very few electricians will have ever come across them. Prices for fittings are still on the high side, especially considering how many fittings you need to light a flat. TLC, a discount mail order supplier, is selling white LEDs for £25 each. But on the plus side, the power consumption is negligible — with every light on in the Vos Pad, the power consumption is only 300watts, about the same as five ordinary bulbs. And the longevity of the lamps means that it is unlikely they will ever have to be replaced. If the trend towards lower prices for Leds continues, it will only be a matter of time before other homes appear using this amazing technology for lighting.
In the meantime, Marcel Vos hopes to become more than just a groundbreaker. His first step in creating an LED-lit apartment has aroused enormous interest from fashion magazines and property developers and he has started a consultancy, Vos Solutions, to kick start the LED lighting revolution. Given time, LEDs may become as commonplace as low voltage halogen downlighters: but this won’t happen without a great deal of encouragement and vision from entrepreneurs like Vos.
Vos Solutions 0207 384 0714
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