If they hadn’t before, those scouring LDW’s trade show circuit this year may well have come across the work of this immensely talented designer illuminating the entrances and exhibition spaces of the festival’s various venues. Indeed, since setting up her studio in 1997, Sharon Marston has fast established a niche for herself in the lighting industry, and is now highly sought after for her bespoke sculptural light installations. Hospitality Interiors’ Gemma Ralph spoke with Sharon to find out more about her signature style, design inspirations and future ambitions.

One need only glance at Sharon’s portfolio to realise that she not only possesses a great deal of technical skill and know-how, but that she is rigorous in her determination to push the boundaries of traditional decorative lighting.

The raw visual impact of her handcrafted pieces, with their microcosm of painstakingly assembled fibre optic filaments, blurs the boundaries between form and function, lending themselves more to a piece of art than a lighting fixture.

“It was whilst photographing some of my costume designs for a contemporary dance project that I first became inspired to work and explore lighting, due to the beautiful way the woven nylon crin material illuminated under the camera lights.”

From giant tapered chandeliers to abstract clustered forms, Sharon is anything but rigid in her approach to design briefs, yet she has that unique ability to instil something of her highly distinctive style within each of these diverse designs.

“My signature look could be described as ethereal and delicately elegant,” she explains. “My designs take inspiration from nature, which is evident in the decorative components and the compositions, yet is never a literal interpretation. No piece is ever really the same, there are always variations and different intentions for each project as the briefs are so varied.”

Despite this finesse for lighting design, it was not, in fact, Sharon’s first career choice. “I guess I have not taken a very conventional route into the lighting industry,” she explains. “I studied jewellery design at Middlesex University in the late 80s, which was a very conceptual mixed-media course, and it enabled me to pursue my interests in the theatre and fashion sectors.

“It was whilst photographing some of my costume designs for a contemporary dance project that I first became inspired to work and explore lighting, due to the beautiful way the woven nylon crin material illuminated under the camera lights.”

This bank of experience, and the versatile skillset Sharon has developed as a result, are certainly reflected in her dynamic use of materials, and her ability to cope with a diverse array of projects. Any given piece might incorporate a range of materials, whether it be hand-blown glass or fine bone china, all of which the studio’s team of engineers are equipped to handle.

“My work across different disciplines has undoubtedly influenced my current designs, and has led them to be commissioned by a range of sectors from interior designers and architects to filmmakers and theatre producers,” Sharon says.

“From my jewellery background I was able to develop the hand-crafting skills that led to designing and creating handbags and accessories for Paul Smith, Bella Freud, Michiko Koshino and work on productions with the English National Opera and Regents Park Open Air Theatre.”

Perhaps most importantly, Sharon’s flair for fashion design has enabled her to work with fibre-optic technology – her pioneering use of which has allowed her to make great strides in the industry.

“My passion for using the fibre-optic medium enables me to weave, stitch and sculpt with the fibres,” Sharon explains. “Their properties lend themselves to being easily crafted and manipulated using fashion and textile techniques. After working with oven polymers within costume design for so many years it seemed natural to light the work using another textile-based component.”

It is this greatly tactile approach, Sharon’s love of actively ‘drawing with material’, that perhaps attributes her work with its remarkable sense of fluidity. Far from creating a passive form within which light can be housed, Sharon’s penchant for fibre optics allows her to create a unified whole, throughout which light is artfully dispersed through its myriad pin-points.

As lighting trends wthin the hospitality industry continue to favour bold, statement pieces, Sharon’s idiosyncratic fusion of form and function is in great demand.

“Our chandeliers are often commissioned as works of art; they go beyond function and create impact, interest and atmosphere within a space."

“The role of decorative lighting within hospitality interiors goes above and beyond simply illuminating a lobby area now,” Sharon comments. “Our chandeliers are often commissioned as works of art; they go beyond function and create impact, interest and atmosphere within a space.

“These pieces become a unique feature for the hotel, and further emphasise the setting’s own unique identity. Take, for example, The Hilton, Hyatt and St. Regis Hotels. Although they are all chains, they have commissioned features that set them apart from their other branches, yet did not conflict with their brand image. Each have an identity.”

Incorporating highly individual statement pieces within a space, without compromising on brand identity, is a fine art that requires a great deal of communication between Sharon and her clients.

“I have an ever-involving collection of 27 different designs which can all be customised,” Sharon explains. “We work closely with our clients throughout the process. Firstly we establish the dimensions of the feature that they are looking to commission, and the material finish that they desire, and then discuss which compositions from the collection would suit the piece best.

“We then create drawings and submit samples so that we all understand and can visualise what the final outcome will be like.”

It is easy to see why the studio has attracted such a prestigious clientele, and how it has been able to build up an impressive portfolio of high profile projects across the globe. For Sharon, though, it is still the humbling points in her career, amongst the most challenging, that are particular highlights.

“Being commissioned by the V&A Museum to be part of their first ever exhibition on contemporary lighting, entitled ‘Brilliant’, was certainly a highpoint for me,” she says, “as well as creating our largest piece commissioned to date for Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.”

“The piece measured L 20m x W 10m x H 15m, and incorporated 35,000 hand-folded, woven copper decorative components. This really inspired my company into the extent and sheer scale we can customise and create the work to. To have my work alongside the likes of Anthony Gormley there, whose work I have admired for years, feels very special.”

Despite the flurry of activity surrounding the London Design Festival, Sharon is showing no signs of slowing, with an exciting array of projects in the pipeline that will test the creative bounds of her designs.

“At the moment we are working on a new Michelin star restaurant in Mayfair London, and have recently completed commissions for the Park Towers Hotel Knightsbridge, as well as two ballroom schemes for St. Regis Mexico and the Hyatt Regency hotel in New Delhi,” Sharon reveals.

“Following on from the London Design Festival, I hope to create further site-specific installations – decorative environments that would push the boundaries on how our hand-crafted work is experienced on an architectural scale, whether this is part of a performance on a theatre stage or within a completely new and ever-diverse space.”

With Sharon’s boundless creativity and imagination, alongside the immense skill and craftsmanship of her team, there is no limit to what this remarkable designer can achieve.