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Commercial lighting design for Napa Valley firm wins SOURCE Award

Mercedes Arenas won SOURCE Awards recognition for her commercial lighting design for the fictional Valleydate Interiors, an open, modern and upscale design firm in Napa Valley, California. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the inspiration for her design as well as her SOURCE Awards experience.

What was it like winning a SOURCE Award?

MA: It was an incredible moment. I was feeling so many things that day — pride, excitement and happiness. I never thought that something like this would happen, and it was an unforgettable experience that I got to share with friends and family. It was humbling to be with so many talented people and professionals. I was incredibly honored to be part of the SOURCE Awards. 

What motivated you to enter the contest?

MA:  As an interior design student at Purdue University, I worked closely with my professor to create the final design. He encouraged me to enter the competition from the beginning. I had been working on my project for quite a while and it was the best work I had ever done. The more my professors and friends believed in and encouraged me, the more I believed in myself, and the more I wanted to enter the competition. The week of the deadline, I decided to enter and hoped for the best. 

Tell us about your award-winning lighting design.

MA: Valleydate Interiors is an old Napa Valley barn turned into a modern and upscale design firm. I took inspiration from the lavender fields in Napa Valley and used those organic elements and colors in my design.

The first floor represents the grass and green areas of the fields. On the third floor, lavender becomes more prominent, symbolizing the growth of lavender in the fields. I utilized a lot of wooden elements throughout the firm to bring nature to the inside in a more obvious way. 

For the lighting aspect of my design, I wanted to incorporate a lot of natural light as well as artificial lighting that could be controlled to create different settings and moods according to the needs of the space and the time of day.

Every room in the building has incredible views to the outside — made possible by storefront walls throughout the space. Heat is controlled by electric blinds with UV protection, and the artificial lighting is designed to emulate daylight. More than 90 percent of the luminaires are connected to an info wall station. This allows the lighting to be controlled and adjusted as needed or desired. 

My design also includes daylighting strategies. A daylight sensor measures the amount of daylight in the space to adjust the lighting within each zone, helping maintain energy efficiency throughout the space. Most of the luminaires are also LEDs. This allows the lights to last longer and creates a more energy-efficient environment.

What inspired you to pursue an interior design degree? Do you specialize in a particular aspect?

MA: I grew up in a very artistic family — my mom is a graphic designer, and two of my aunts are artists — so I always had interest in the area. I’ve known I want to be an interior designer since I was very young.

When my family and I began looking for a new house, I loved seeing the designs of each house and how everything was planned out and finished. I don’t specialize in anything right now, but I am very interested in lighting design, especially aspects like sustainability and energy efficiency, as well as residential and hospitality design. 

What role does lighting play in interior design? How does it transform a space? 

MA:  Lighting can make or break a design. You can have the most incredible design in the world, but if the lighting is poorly executed, the design won’t work. Good lighting can help highlight or accent special features within a space. It can also help create a specific mood or look and feel, depending on the needs of the space. Lighting allows people to see and appreciate your design.

How has winning a SOURCE Award changed your future plans? 

MA:  It has inspired me to continue to enter more competitions, which will be great opportunities to learn, grow and put myself out there, even if I don’t win. I will continue to learn more about lighting and how to successfully implement it in every design while also making my designs more sustainable and efficient. Winning this award sparked my interest in lighting, and I will continue to follow this interest and see where it leads me. 

What would you tell someone aspiring to win a SOURCE Award?

MA:  I would say to enter the competition, even if you feel unsure about it. Don’t give up on your goals or dreams and keep trying until you succeed — because you will. Surround yourself with an incredible support group: professors, friends and family. Most importantly, and above all else, believe in yourself, and don’t compare your work to that of others. Remember to be true to yourself, and push your limits when it comes to creativity, innovation and getting out of your comfort zone.

The SOURCE Awards lighting design competition is open to current students who use Eaton’s lighting fixtures and controls in a conceptual interior or exterior lighting design. University students studying architecture, design, engineering or related disciplines are invited to enter.