The Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California, has many eye-catching features: live-edge dining tables in the cafe, a wall-less conference room sitting atop a circular red carpet, a theater for film viewing. But it’s the unique sculptural lighting that really make this office sparkle.
When talking about the luminants there, architect John Marx uses phrases like pools of light, moody lighting and, my personal favorite, swirls of clouds. A lot of the lighting really does look like clouds, with a glow emanating through white structures clinging to the ceiling.
Photos courtesy of John Sutton
The signature feature you’ll see repeated across Netflix’s two buildings is the strings of bulbs hanging from the ceiling like theater marquee lighting—a fitting motif for a company that brings entertainment to millions of homes around the world.
That marquee lighting provides a subtle incandescence that is sometimes overpowered by the California sunlight. But in one section of the cafe, things feel different after-hours.
“At night, they’re magical,” said Marx, the design principal at Form4 Architecture, the firm that designed the Netflix office. “They turn into little sparkly dots.”
Marx partnered on the lighting with Toby Lewis, a lighting designer from the firm ARUP.
About 30 percent of the light fixtures at the Netflix office are custom, much higher than the five percent typical for other projects at Form4. Much of the inspiration came from various movies, including scenes from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” where the chandeliers and pearls twinkle, or one where a lamp throws lacy shadows on the wall.
Marx has learned how to convince a client to increase their lighting budget for something unique, which is to say he has to make the lights functional, too. He’ll have a much harder time convincing a client to spend money on something purely artistic.
“It really adds character, adds a sculptural element that you can’t convince a client to do otherwise,” he said.
Proper lighting in an office is important. After all, studies show that natural light in a work space has a profound effect on employee wellbeing. But if you’ve been in the workforce long enough, you might remember the days when people wanted to work in near-darkness instead.
“In the old days they wanted offices left dark, with minimal floor lighting,” Marx said.
That’s because people were using CRT computer screens back then. Unlike LED screens, CRT screens were incredibly reflective. If your office ceiling was really white or, God forbid, someone with a white shirt was behind you you’d barely be able to see the screen.
“They were so bad,” Marx said. “Now, everyone wants this natural lighting.”
And now, having a number of different kinds of natural lighting is more important than ever, as the types of rooms and spaces within an office have evolved.
Over the last 20 years, Marx has seen large offices request smaller and smaller individual workstations—or, in non-architecture speak, cubicles—because there has been a increase in the popularity of collaborative spaces.
Those spaces need to be lit well. And if you’re John Marx, lit uniquely. Like with undulating, glowing structures on the ceiling that that gently guide you deeper into the office. Or lines of light zig-zagging on the underside of a staircase to look like lightning bolts.
“It makes it a little more lyrical, a little more special,” Marx said.