Randall Whitehead, AS '76

Internationally known architectural lighting designer Randall Whitehead found his career in a rather unorthodox, yet ingenious fashion.

"When I graduated I moved to San Francisco and got a position as an assistant to a photographer for Architectural Digest, who just happened to be one of the first lighting designers. I worked with him for 2 years in both the photography and the lighting design end of his business," he said. "At that time I was approached by an architect to go into partnership in a lighting design firm. So at this point my career was at the crossroads. I looked in the yellow pages and under the listing of photographers there were more than 1,200 entries. Under the category of lighting designers there were 3. I decided that I had better odds in lighting design."

Based in San Francisco, Whitehead operates Randall Whitehead Lighting Solutions and is the recipient of prestigious industry awards from the most important associations in the interior design and lighting industries. Randall also appears regularly as a guest expert on the Discovery Channel, CNN, HGTV and Martha Stewart Living Radio. Randall credits his time working for UD's radio station for helping him in front of the camera.

"Back then the radio station went by the call letters WDRB [now WVUD], which the guys from Firesign Theater decided stood for 'well done roast beef'...Without my experience at the campus radio station I don't think that I would have the same comfort level in these broadcasts as I do today," he said. "I also found my way into the theater department and was able to get good experience on stage as well as behind the scenes. Now I have appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN. Without knowing it I was preparing for the career I have now at UD."

"I would have to say that the greatest turning point in my own sense of self-worth was taking the communication courses [at UD]. I can't tell you how much these courses enabled me to be comfortable speaking in front of large audiences. I think that this is a great skill to have for anyone who is going into business," he said. "The ability to sell yourself or an idea confidently and successfully is worth its weight in gold."

Whitehead and his work have also appeared in Architectural Digest, Art & Antiques, House Beautiful, Kiplinger's, Better Homes & Gardens and many more.

"After working two years on the staff of [UD student-run newspaper] The Review, I got my first article published in Delaware Today magazine in 1975," he said. "I was able to use that article as a spring board into writing many articles for other magazines including Horticultural Magazine, Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping, The Journal of Light Construction, Metropolis and Professional Lighting...I've also have been writing a monthly column for Residential Lighting Magazine for the past 4 years. I am sort of the 'Dear Abby' of lighting and people write in about their illumination problems."

Whitehead's latest endeavor takes him back to his photography roots. It is a compelling collection of images called Lost Dolls, The Hidden Lives of Toys (Arjonna Press).

Looking back on his time at UD, Whitehead, a native Delawarean, recalls the buzz that was in the campus air.

"Campus life in the 1970's was very exciting. There were protests going on and people were generally trying to make the world a better place," he said. "Strong friendships were formed that continue to this day. Even though Newark was not so far away from Wilmington, where I was born and raised, it seemed worlds away as I began to interact with people from other states and other countries. I will always look back fondly on the years that I spent in Newark."

"I truly believe that the skill-set that I developed at the University of Delaware allowed me to have the confidence to pursue these various interests as they presented themselves. The University of Delaware helped make me fearless."

While Whitehead's expertise and ability has lead him to work on the homes of several celebrities including Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia, Bing Crosby and actress Rita Moreno, he has plenty of lighting advice for fellow Blue Hens.

"First off I would recommend that you consider remodeling your bath and kitchen areas. These are the 2 spaces where you can add 90% of your investment directly to the value of your home," he said. "Lighting-wise to get a good effect it is necessary to do 'light layering'. What this means is to blend various sources of illumination together to create a more cohesive and flexible design. The 4 types of lighting are decorative, accent, task and ambient."

"Decorative lighting is what we are most familiar with; this includes the chandelier hanging over the dining table and the 2 lanterns flanking the front door. Their job is to create some visually sparkle, what I like to call architectural jewelry."

"Accent light highlights objects in a space to help to create depth and dimension, but accent light by itself causes the museum effect where the things you own appear to be more important than friends and family."

"Task is a light by which you do work and best is located between your head and the work surface. This includes undercabinet lighting in the kitchen, lighting in closets and illumination in shaving and applying make-up at the mirror."

"Ambient light is the most important of the 4 functions, but is the one that is most frequently left off of a lighting plan. Ambient light is indirect illumination that fills the volume of a room with light and helps soften the shadows on people's faces."

"Once you get comfortable with these 4 techniques of lighting you can improve the look and feel of any room in your home."

In closing, Whitehead had simple advice when it comes to residential lighting.

"The best lighting blends seamlessly with the other elements of the space," he said. "My job is to make what others create look great at night. It is better to draw attention to what is being illuminated rather than to its source."


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