Vivid memories resemble the kind of snapshots that are difficult to recreate. Think of the beach on a slightly overcast day — the waves tumble forward, catching any white glow that breaks through the clouds. The familiar image is easy to picture, but the feeling is almost impossible to replicate in a different time and place. But that’s what Bentley Meeker, lighting designer extraordinaire, does all the time. He converts physical spaces into phenomenal spaces, ensuring that weddings, galas, and special occasions feel and look as momentous as the events themselves. An early gig as a Palladium stagehand — during the golden era of Ian Shrager and Steve Rubell — sparked Meeker’s fascination with Vari-Lite, the world’s first moving light, and “ignited the passion that became my career,” recalled Meeker.
In 1990, Meeker founded his current company, Bentley Meeker Lighting and Staging Inc., and soon became the go-to guy for celeb-filled celebrations. Meeker “vividly” remembers his first high-profile event: “Eddie Murphy’s 1993 wedding in the Terrace and Grand Ballrooms of the Plaza. “That wedding, more than any other, began a lifelong love affair between the Plaza and me,” said Meeker.
Meeker particularly likes designing weddings “because it’s really about making the best day of someone’s life better.” Over the years, he’s lit nuptials for a long, fabulous list of famous faces and tastemakers, including Chelsea Clinton, Melissa Rivers, Billy Joel, and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. As Meeker’s spectacular lighting gained widespread acclaim, he’s found fans in fashion — the versatile visionary illuminated Christian Dior’s catwalk at New York Fashion Week. Meeker also flickered the lights in some of New York’s most storied buildings, including charity events and movie premieres at MoMA, the New York Public Library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here, in the Hamptons he’s lit the Parrish Art Museum and a concert by the Dixie Chicks. But Meeker doesn’t light only A-list events and formal celebrations; he also relishes the chance to pursue unconventional artistic endeavors like Burning Man, a weeklong communal experience that defies any simple characterization.
This year, Meeker will take over 300 fixtures, a mile of cable, and a crew of 15 to illuminate the festival’s main temple. Over the Labor Day weekend, 50,000 participants from all around the world will be drawn to the site by Meeker’s lights before it’s burned down to signal the festival’s conclusion. Additionally the Core Club has commissioned Meeker, who has been dubbed “the lighting guru” by the media, to create a light sculpture for its lobby this fall .
When Meeker isn’t creating art, lambent ambiance for celebrity weddings or corporate events, or taking part in festival rituals, he might be enjoying some downtime, in exquisite lighting of course. Meeker enjoys escaping Manhattan for his house in Water Mill. “My home is very modern yet comfortable. One of the ways I’ve achieved this is by removing all extraneous colors from my field of vision. I chose natural colors that are closely connected yet relaxing and beautiful to look at. I also use ambers, pinks, and sunset colors, because bringing the outdoors in is what works best out East.” After 20 years of lighting private parties and public functions, elegant affairs, and fashion fêtes, Meeker’s “seen a lot logistically,” and isn’t fazed by the technical difficulties that surface every so often. But he still faces plenty of challenges in the design process, specifically in his outspoken campaign for quality of light. “Because of the proliferation of fluorescent and LED lights, people are sacrificing quality of light for efficiency,” noted Meeker.
This year, Meeker’s first book, Light X Design, was published. It’s a big and beautiful study in what light can be. Images of Meeker’s work fill the pages. “It’s an art book presented almost like a photo album, but an album for light and light’s infinite possibilities,” said Meeker of his publishing debut.