Aug 15, 2017

At a global law firm, the lighting fixtures are star witnesses

By Leonora Desar

Photos: Eric Laignel

When envisioning a law firm, especially one that dates back to the beginning of last century, one may picture stately rooms dressed in opulent wallpaper, coupled with rich carpeting and high-end fixtures. There may be a marbled staircase, or two, not to mention windows with drop-your-jaw views. But in the Los Angeles office of global law firm White & Case, this is only half the story. On the one hand, the international firm, founded in 1901, wanted to retain its traditional aesthetic—a custom staircase, wood veneer paneling, a large space for entertaining. On the other, they wanted transparency and comfort, not to mention natural light, for the 33,000-sq ft space.

Not surprising considering the client, “there was quite a bit of a debate between the younger attorneys, who wanted a modern, sleek look, versus the older attorneys, who wanted a more traditional law firm appearance,” says Clay Pendergrast, director of interior design for HOK’s Los Angeles office. “We wanted to make it unique but recognizable as White & Case.”

Copper fixtures hung close to the ceiling cut a dramatic entrance. Cove light creates the illusion of greater height.


In collaboration with eSquared Lighting, Redondo Beach, CA, Pendergrast used all LED fixtures and aimed to create a hospitality environment in the office’s public spaces. In the elevator lobby, copper spherical fixtures in varied sizes (Viso Lighting) provide a stately entrance. “The spherical pendants are one of three decorative fixtures on the project that establish a copper finish palette to further enhance and connect the architect’s finishes,” says Erin Erdman, owner of eSquared Lighting. “These fixtures are experienced together so that connection between them is paramount. The specular copper finish to the spheres add unexpected sparkle to the arrival sequence.”

Distinctive details also set the tone, from graphic ebony veneer paneling to silver wallpaper with a raindrop pattern. “It’s sleek, it’s trim, there’s a certain amount of streamlining we’re borrowing from residential and hotel design ideas and incorporating them into the workplace,” Pendergrast says. “This way it’s more comfortable, but without sacrificing efficiency.”

Mirrored spherical fixtures hang at different ceiling heights above the staircase.

Cove lighting added to the elevator lobby gives the appearance of greater height and makes it appear as if the spherical fixtures are floating, even though they are fairly close to the ceiling. “It was a strong move without being overpowering,” Pendergrast says.

The same copper fixtures are used to offset the staircase. Here, the ceiling is a soaring 22 ft, giving the team much more volume to play with.

Instead of hugging the ceiling as they do in the elevator lobby, the fixtures hang at various heights, giving a sense of grandeur while also bringing the scale of the space down.

In the reception area, rectangular pendant fixtures with rounded corners (Sattler) create a line of light that draws your eyes to the windows, to the impressive city views beyond. Some of the fixtures are open, transparent, while others are filled with a vinyl fabric, their centers glowing. “The design team wanted to achieve a lounge-like feel,” Erdman says. “This fixture was a great addition to anchor the space and connect the copper vocabulary.”

All of the finishes—the marble, the ebony, the granite—evoke a more traditional law firm, but the shapes are modern and minimalistic. The details—a beat custom wool and silk rug with leather upholstered furniture, a coffee table with a solid wood top, almost 2.5 in. thick, as if cleft from a tree—could be straight from a hospitality setting. “We wanted something that didn’t look stodgy but that acknowledges it’s an established firm,” Pendergrast says.


In a conference room, glass walls reveal copper pendant fixtures.

In a large conference room, copper pendant fixtures (Zumtobel) are visible through the glass walls. The fixtures are 8 ft long and striking, but without detracting from the pendant fixtures in reception. A white marble table reflects back their light, creating a warm, inviting environment.

A number of rooms without fixed walls open to create a multipurpose room used for entertaining or a classroom-styled lecture. To unify the individual spaces, the designers used square copper fixtures, the same used in the reception area. Here, the designers were presented with the challenge of a lower ceiling. To avoid making the space appear too low, the team hung the fixtures close to the ceiling and used transparent fixtures without the skin. “The fact that you can see through them doesn’t make the ceiling seem so low,” Pendergrast says. “The light reflects the DESIGNERS above, giving the impression of as high a ceiling as possible.”

The attorney offices are lit by recessed fixtures, which give off good light but without drawing too much attention to themselves, not to mention breaking the bank. “The other fixtures we usedwere very expensive,” Pendergrast says, “so we wanted a good-looking, very functional, economical fixture for the attorney offices.”

Best of all? The attorney offices are separated from the corridor by glass walls, permeating the space in daylight. “The previous space had been fairly dark—not the artificial lighting but the solid walled environment,” Pendergrast says. “We wanted something that looks unusual, beautiful, something that gives off plenty of light and provides a sense of place.”