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Elegant dining hall with vaulted ceiling, rustic chandelier, and warm lighting, set for a large gathering.

In Conversation With Max Barlow

We sat down with Max, Creative Director of Maxwell Barlow Lighting, to talk about how lighting has the ability to transform an interior when used creatively.

Smiling man in a stylish, botanical print shirt standing in a brightly lit room with a window view.
Dramatic staircase with circular design and warm lighting, featuring a modern elevator and wood paneling.

Having begun his career in the creative field of events lighting at Starlight Design, Max went on to join award-winning architectural lighting specialists, John Cullen Lighting where he learned his trade from the ground up. In 2013, he founded Barlow and Barlow Design alongside his sister, interior designer Lucy Barlow and after five years of successful partnership, Max decided to form his own lighting studio in order to collaborate with other designers and architects. 

Max is passionate about working closely with his clients, design teams and contractors to strike the perfect balance between practicality and style. From boutique hotels to Caribbean villas, listed townhouses to large country estates, he creates exclusively tailored schemes that respect the heritage and style of the architecture and complement its interior features. 

Today, Maxwell Barlow Lighting is a thriving independent lighting consultancy, offering a tailored and comprehensive service for residential and commercial projects, both in the UK and internationally.

We sat down with Max to talk all things lighting and how to maximise its impact within interiors.

How important is lighting within interior design? 

Without stating the obvious, it couldn’t be more important because without it there is nothing. An interior can look amazing in the day with just natural light but what is it going to look and feel like at night? 

And we’re not living in California or the south of Spain so actually you really need to consider what artificial lighting you will need in the day as well - we don’t have the luxury of guaranteed long sunny days! And if you don’t get the lighting right, you could easily waste all the money and hard work you’ve put into designing that beautiful space.

At what stage of the design process should you consider lighting? 

The lighting design should be considered as early as possible in the overall design process, ideally during the conceptual and schematic design phases. This will ensure that the lighting is an integral part of the overall design and not treated as just an afterthought. Ultimately it will allow for a better user experience once completed and will complement the architecture and interior design better. Early collaboration between the architect, interior designer and lighting designer is key to creating an effective lighting design. 

How do you ‘layer light’?

Layered lighting is a term that gets bandied around a lot and I’m not sure people always understand what it means. In essence, it’s about using different types of light to create either focused light or ambient light. And it’s the combination of these light sources that create different ‘layers’ and add interest and depth to a room. 

For example, you could use a pendant to create a central focus in the room whilst also producing ambient light at a high level. At eye level, you then combine directional spots to highlight art and the curtains and table lamps creating a more ambient light. You could then add some uplighters to a fireplace or a doorway which would create some low-level focused light offsetting the light sources coming from the ceiling. 

If you can allow shadow to fill in between the different light sources this is how you create an interesting, cosy, atmospheric lighting scheme that people will love to be in.

What is the best way to combine architectural and decorative lighting? 

This carries on from the idea of layering light. It’s the combination of the architectural and decorative lighting that will create that wow factor. With the right decorative lighting, you can create that soft ambient lighting that we’ve already discussed. But also, this is a chance to specify some really amazing pieces of design. 

Think of architectural lighting as the foundation and then decorative lighting is the jewellery - the final piece to tie a scheme together.

Elegant dining hall with vaulted ceiling, rustic chandelier, and warm lighting, set for a large gathering.

We then asked Max to share his top product recommendations from our collection.

I love pendants that reflect light down onto a surface and the Cosmo and Ona, with their slim profile, are a great option above a dining table or kitchen island. In tighter spaces, it is nice to use slimmer profiles so the space doesn't feel too cluttered. With a frosted diffuser covering the light source, it creates a soft glow which is ideal for fittings installed at eye level.

A favorite wall light is the Dori in ivory finish. The ribbed ceramic finish gives it the feel of a classical column, which I'm always drawn to, and I love the soft glow that an indirect light source such as this gives. I'm also a big fan of a shaded wall light. It provides a lovely soft ambient light up and down while eliminating all glare from the light source at eye level. The simple design of the Edie in dark bronze is a classic.