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5 tips to switch on dinner party ambiance 

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Anna-Kaisa Walker

It seems fitting that lighting designer Matthew McCormick got his start by hosting a dinner party. Five years ago, one of his guests—the electrician for Vancouver’s Fable restaurant—admired the glow of his homemade light fixtures. Shortly after that night, McCormick was building lighting for some of Vancouver’s buzziest eateries. Now, his minimalist-yet-warm fixtures can be found in restaurants across the continent, including Toronto’s Cactus Club.

“Lighting can really tie a space together and tell the whole story,” says McCormick. “It’s what sets the tone.” He lent us some of his expertise on how to make your next dinner party shine.

 
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1. THE WHOLE TRUTH

Start out by looking at your space and your invite list holistically, says McCormick. Does the lighting fit with your decor? “You don’t want a midcentury modern room lit with harsh metal halide lamps,” he says. Think about the type of event you want to host. A busy, boisterous gathering, or a sexy tête-à-tête? “If you’ll have a lot of people and plates moving around, you’ll want brighter lighting. Compare that to a cocktail bar, where the lights are barely even on,” McCormick says. 

 

2. KEEP IT ON THE DOWN LOW

When McCormick hosts friends at home, he turns off most of the overhead lighting and turns on floor lamps. “It anchors you down psychologically,” he says. “Having everything lower than you has a calming and grounding effect.”

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3. REIGN OF FIRE

A few well-placed candles—think romance, not séance—are a tried-and-true way to bring out the best in your guests. “Humans grew up around fire, so it’s the type of light that we’re most accustomed to,” McCormick says. Flattering to most skin tones, it’s also why incandescent bulbs are still beloved by many designers, despite the wealth of energy-efficient options. They typically burn at a colour temperature of 2400 Kelvin, which is close to that of candlelight.

 

4. LET LEDs LEAD

Despite the perception that LED lighting is cold, McCormick’s designs, like his sculptural Dodeca pendant, incorporate LEDs for maximum energy efficiency without sacrificing warmth. “They’re available in the same colour temperature as incandescents, and certain types can even make specific colours glow brighter,” he says. “In that way, they’re superior.”

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5. CENTRE STAGE

Don’t forget to choose the right lighting for your dinner table, the centre of the action. “A chandelier is the centrepiece of the room, and it should complement the space,” McCormick says. Make sure it doesn’t hang so low as to obstruct views when standing or sitting, and it should have a dimmer to set the mood (and then adjust it as the wine and conversation flows).

 
 
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