MA Studies > Interior design > Interior design alumnus > Lena Torheiden

Lena Torheiden

Don't be Afraid of the Dark

Finding the Beauty in Shadows and Darkness

Lena Torheiden

Light is a design factor, that is strongly connected to the matter of modern interior design. In the second half of the 20th century, the idea of the modern, light-filled space has manifested itself in people’s minds.

However, in recent time it was discovered, that the way we currently use artificial light is not healthy for our human organisms. Artificial light has changed our behaviour in such a dramatic way that our bodies do not function correctly anymore. So why do we hang on to the idea of having a bright living space? Why do we suppress our natural longing for darkness?


My project in the exploration unit focuses on replacing this idea in people’s minds by developing a new, light reduced design, that will be accepted broadly because of it’s functionality as well as aesthetic value.  Therefore I want to find the beauty in shadows and darkness and add this to a living space to create a new form of modern interior design that does not cling onto the brightness of artificial light. A further goal is to explore ways to direct light more specifically and by that being able to create rooms withing rooms with darkness and light only to replace barriers and walls. By doing this I also want to explore the topic of privacy in our living spaces and how darkness can effect feelings like security and intimacy.

I found a lot of inspiration for the aesthetics of darkness and shadows in Japanese modern interior design, where shadows and dark spaces are still appreciated and thus make the living areas more exciting and vivacious. The Japanese give every room their own light and shadow atmosphere and create different situations for different functions. I want to apply these kinds of ideas to my design in order to reintroduce this theme in our „western“ modern interior design.


The next steps in my research are going to focus on different techniques of directing light through a room to make it more focused and thereby creating interesting shadows. To do so, I will work with modells to explore my ideas and try them on a smaller scale. Furthermore I want to continue my research in Japanese interior design to find more inspiration for the different uses of light and how to use functional and beautiful shadow effects.


In the end of my research I want to have gathered enough information to be able to create a catalogue of different uses of light and shadow and how one can focus and direct light more effectively and create beautiful, exciting shadow effects. I would like to be able to present a project of an residential space like an appartment or house, where I applied the techniques from this catalogue to form an interesting space, that will inspire people to reduce light in their homes.

Update:   09-12-2010

Don‘t be Afraid Of the Dark

Artificial light has become a very important part of today‘s interior design. People seem to seek the brightness of light, not only during the day, how it always used to be for millions of years, but also during the night to prolong the productive time of the day.

However, people don‘t seem to realise that this overuse of artificial light is not natural. It is not meant to be light during the night, we are not meant to sit underneath an artificial light source, when it is dark outside. Our bodies need the rest of the night, they need the absence of light. So why do we keep forcing ourselves into this artificial world where light is so dominant?

A lot of work as been done in the energy saving field in the past decades. People have become more aware of environmental issues and agree on not wanting to waste money or resources. Through this progress new technologies were evolved and today our market is overflowing with LED‘s and Energy Saving Bulbs. These light sources save lots and lots of energy, so they will soon replace the traditional lightbulb alltogether. However, what most people don‘t know is that these new, modern, energy saving lightsources are not healthy for our organism. They contain a huge amount of blue lightwaves, which are less in our more traditional light sources and almost completely apparent in natural sunlight. A list of diseases in disorders these blue light waves can cause or strengthen in our body is listed below.

The only solution to this problem for me seems to be to reduce our overall use of artificial light sources generally, whether these are traditional or energy saving light sources and exactly that is what I want to do in my Master design exploration project. 

I want to introduce people to a new way of
designing their home.

I want people to accept that modern, does not always mean lightfilled and bright.

I want people to appreciate the beauty and
aesthtics of darkness and shadows.

I want them to stop being afraid of the dark and start appreciating it. 


Light Techniques:

To efficiently reduce light I need to explore new ways of directing light and using less light atmospherecly. This is the most dominant part of my research and the most important part of my design goal.

I am going to create a Light Technique Catalogue that shows and explains various ideas of artificial light reducing techniques that could be applied in any residential home.

This will help explaining my idea and show how broadly my findings can be applied. My catalogue will be build up like a regular light catalogue, for instance from Philipps or Erco. It will picture the technique in a basic technical drawing and a view image of the product and how it illuminates a room. The different usages will be categorised conveniently divided into the different living situations, where they can be applied, for instance: working, sleeping.There will be the specific light source listed that will be used and a calculation of how much that specific technique reduces your amount of light sources.
The catalogue will be divided into two types of lighting:

Functional light for very specific light that can be used for working and cooking, and amtospheric light that can be used in living areas and sleeping areas.

Application - Reference Spaces

The choice of the residential space came early in the design research. To me it is natural to try to integrate my design into the most basic, and most prominet place, a home. Furthermore, in a residential space are lots of different functions combined into one spot and all these functions need different light situation. Take, for instance, the light you need to prepare a meal in your kitchen or the light you need to just relax in your living room and watch TV.  These are two actions that within your home might happen five metres appart from each other. This is the most important factor for my decision to apply my design first and foremost to a residential space.
Secondly, I have to take into consideration that my design is based on the use of Artificial Light only, so I am working in a night situation and even though many people in todays society work very late, I can only truly work with a night situation in a residential space.
Lastly, I am basing my decision on the fact, that if I want to change people‘s attention towards the use of artificial light I should start in their homes, where it has the most personal appeal.

These three factors made me choose a residential space as my reference space, that I want to present to show how to apply my techniques and the atmosphere of such a design in a space.

For this first presentation I have chosen a very basic, very common form of housing in the Netherlands, the City Row House. By doing this, I want to show that also a very normal space can be completely transformed.  I am displaying three different examples of living situations that are very common.

The first one is a single appartment. The size of the appartment is 28qm.

The second one is a couple appartment with an overall size of 55qm.

The third one is a family house, housing four family members, with overall 140qm.

I want to stress that the techniques I am developing can be applied to any house- or livingsituation.

The Research Report:

A very important value of my research report to me is that it should be very closely connected to my design project.  After starting my research I decided on a very abstract topic, that at first might not seem to be too closely connected to design. However, I find it extremely useful and interesting for my design.

The topic for my research report is going to be „Don‘t be Afraid of the Dark - A Research Report Exploring People‘s Phobia of the Dark“. In this Essay I want to explore why people are afraid of the darkness. 

To do so I am going to research into very different areas going from science, to psychology, mathematics, philosophy, art and design.


Sigmund Freuds notion of „unheimlich“

Peter Weibel  -  Architecture starts, where space ends.

Lars Spybroek  -  Proprioception

Lars Spybroek  -  Liquid Architecture

Friedrich Kiesler  -  Blood Flames Exhibition

Charles Sanders Peirce  -  The Logic of Continuity

Use of Darkness in Art  -  Caravaggio  &  Bill Henson