Public Speaking: Shiu-Kay Kan, lighting designer


Soho stalwart SKK Lighting has brought everything from neon dinosaurs to garbage chandeliers to Brecknock Road since moving late last year. We meet its visionary founder



Photo: Martin Usborne
‘I’ve lit the houses of Jennifer Saunders, Marc Knopfler, Annie Lennox and many more.’ Photo: Martin Usborne

I always thought I’d settle in Italy. I left Hong Kong to study at Edinburgh, and soon after graduating got my first big commission from Jasper Conran. That success made me feel like this is where I should be.

Kentish Town is the real London. I’ve lived here for 25 years and chose it because a lot of places in this city don’t actually feel like you’re in the centre. This does. That might mean walking to Hampstead or going shopping at Queen’s Crescent. I took a lot of early inspiration from having a stall in Camden Lock Market too. All that variety a short walk from home.

Technology is transforming our work. In our original Soho shop we were the first to experiment with halogen bulbs, working on what they could do with George Davies, the founder of Next. The last six years we’ve played with LEDs: they’re not bulbs, they’re solid, so we had to start over again with our concepts. Now we are 3D printing. Soon we can make our own lighting to order right here in the shop instead of getting moulds cut and shipped back from China.

'We looked everywhere but here felt like an exciting challenge.' Shio-Kay Kan. Photo: Tom Kihl
‘We looked everywhere but here felt like an exciting challenge.’ Shio-Kay Kan. Photo: Tom Kihl
Celebrities would pour into my Soho shop. When we set up in Lexington Street, it was empty but for us, yet a lot of famous faces would just walk through the door. We lit the houses of Jennifer Saunders and Griff Rhys Jones, and rock stars like Dire Straits’ Marc Knopfler, Annie Lennox and U2’s Adam Clayton. Who else? Hollywood director Tim Burton was a regular, and we even sold lights to the boyband Bros, who gave me tickets to their Wembley Arena gig.

Brecknock Road couldn’t be more different. It’s a lot more diverse than Soho for one thing. One of our best clients is an 11-month old who pulls his mum in to buy something every time they pass. We have pensioners with Zimmer frames, and people who can’t afford much, as well as young families, couples and professionals. We looked everywhere – Hackney, Clapton – but this felt like a more exciting challenge.

I like people to offer their price. As long as I feel the time that went into making something is rewarded, I’m happy. If I like the person, that might mean it’s theirs for free.

I’m inspired by giving art away. Years ago I had the chance to light a Francis Bacon painting for a private collector in Belgravia. Bacon always placed glass over his work, meaning reflection was a problem. I had to be careful the lights didn’t heat the canvas too, as it was worth £12m. The owner told me he had grabbed the picture from Bacon’s hand to stop him just giving it away. Genius. But he was considered an alcoholic too, of course.

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Find SKK Lighting at 39 Brecknock Rd, London N7 0BT. Open weekdays 10 – 6:30pm, Sat 11 – 6:30 or call 0207 434 4095

  • Show Comments

  • Leslie

    Hey, Shiu-Kay! So lovely to have you in the neighbourhood! I will drop by and say hello very soon! Your once-upon-a-time devoted seamstress. XX

  • Jackie

    An amazing shop & a wonderful man. I bought a couple of things in there recently and when Shiu-Kay heard my mum was ill he sent me home with a gift for her. What a beautiful gesture…so kind and thoughtful 🙂
    Drove past the other day and saw a fantastic led Xmas tree in there….I’ll be back for one of those soon!
    Love this shop and the warmth that exudes from within it 🙂 x