Architects and Design Lighting Duo

Special efficient lighting in the house. Photos by Suzanne Guldimann

Husband and wife architect and lighting design duo Geoff Sheldon and Roxane Berger opened their state-of-the-art mountaintop home and studio for the Topanga Chamber of Commerce’s July mixer.

The focus of the evening was on light, and how thoughtful design in a home or business can maximize natural lighting while lessening light pollution.

Sheldon and Berger own Topanga Architectural Design, and their house is a showcase of their craft. 

Thick walls insulate; deep overhangs are angled to bring light in during the winter and keep it out in summer; clerestory windows bring natural illumination into every room of the house, including the closets, and provide passive cooling by venting warm air.

“The house is oriented north-south,” Sheldon said, explaining that he designed the home to take advantage of the solar calendar as well as the stunning view of the mountains and ocean. “In summer, the sun is high in the sky and sets and rises farther north; in winter it’s lower and sets and rises a little more south,” he explained. “The clerestory windows face north. They let light in and cut down on heat.”

Berger, who teaches lighting design at California State University, Northridge, discussed how lighting impacts health.  

Roxane Berger in her studio showing how LED light is made up of a red, blue and green spectrum by shining it through a kitchen colander.

“Bright blue light in the morning is stimulating,” she said. “We need more red or warm tones at night. The revolution of LED lighting lets you change light wavelengths. It’s really nice. One LED lamp can change from cool to warm. Everything about lighting can be controlled now. 

“It’s not just aesthetics. Research increasingly indicates that sleep disorders are tied to lighting, and that the blue light emitted by computer screens and cell phones mimics the color spectrum of morning sunlight, affecting the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.”

Berger explained that using warmer LED lighting at night can also help reduce light pollution, as can making sure only the area that needs illumination is lit. 

“We don’t want to be lighting up the cosmos,” she said. “One of the basic principles of lighting is that we want to light what needs to be lit. We don’t want to be lighting up the sky. There’s a tendency to use too much lighting. We want to keep our skies dark.”

Sheldon and Berger described several practical ways to retrofit lighting. 

They explained that retrofit kits for recessed lighting and even for fluorescent lights are an easy and relatively inexpensive option to upgrade existing fixtures. Berger, who is also an artist, added that well-designed lighting can set the mood for the home or work space, creating a calm, more productive environment. Lower energy costs are an extra bonus.

“It’s an exciting time in lighting,” she said. “You can think outside the box.”

More information on Topanga Architecture, including photos of Sheldon’s and Berger’s LEED-certified home, can be found at

Learn more about the Topanga Chamber of Commerce at


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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