Design: Light fantastic

12 July 2013 by
Design: Light fantastic

In the first of a new series on how to create ambience, we look at key elements of interior design to show operators what they can achieve, from tweaking existing decor to a total refurbishment. Emily Manson gets in the mood with an in-depth look at lighting

Hospitality design has never been more exciting. Developments in technology mean that designers can make virtually any scheme a reality, no matter how wacky or hairbrained the concept.

Lighting is a fundamental part of any 
concept, and interior designer Anita Rosato believes that it is one of most important things to get right. "You could have a space decked out in black bin liners, but beautiful lighting could make it look stunning. It can change 
the character of any space, from completely bland to truly characterful," she says.

So what makes a good lighting scheme?

Create a concept "Initially, you have to take a step back," says lighting designer Paul Nulty, "Consider the aspirations of the venue, its uses and the demographic of its guests. A busy bar would be dark and moody, while a fine-dining restaurant may need a more sophisticated Parisian brasserie feel."

Debbie Wythe, creative director and lighting consultant of Design In Progress, says it is vital that schemes are adaptable. "If it's a breakfast, lunch and dinner venue, you can't change the furniture, but you can use light to change the environment. Breakfast would be bright and jolly, while dim lights or candles would be more suitable for evening dining."

This encourages people to stay and have that extra glass of wine, explains Sian Baxter, founding owner and lead designer of Sian Baxter Lighting Design. This would be in contrast to fast-food operations, which use clean, sharp lighting to entice people in but not linger.

The building layout is also a fundamental consideration of any design. Wythe notes that doorways and archways can be highlighted to create more interesting spaces: "Lights can guide the eye and invite guests through, while more discreet lighting can be used to close off areas and create visual barriers."

Differentiate spaces Operators should look how a space functions, not just complement the interior, warns Wythe.

Baxter adds that the number and configuration of tables, and whether they're fixed or movable, will substantially affect any lighting design - as will the clientele. "A venue for twentysomethings will have a totally different atmosphere and lighting requirement to one for pensioners," she points out.

Interior designer Afroditi Krassa adds that flexible spaces, such as multifunctional hotel lobbies or bedrooms, need different lighting options. "A soft, calm ambient light is perfect for intimate chatter, whereas a more vibrant and 'loud' lighting system will encourage interaction between unfamiliar guests."

Create an atmosphere Rosato notes that how places are lit and the way they are lit has changed dramatically. "Sometimes the lighting is invisible, but the effect is not," she says. "It's about seeing what's in front of you - the art or the feature wall - without questioning where the light is coming from."

Baxter says it's important to recognise that certain things work in some spaces and not in others. "It's about highlighting things like architectural features while diminishing any negative aspects of a space," Rosato adds. "The art of good lighting is that it's not all about 'look at me', it's about delivering the message."

A way to create an atmosphere and retain flexibility is to use layers of light, advises Wythe: lights from the ceiling provide general, focused light; lamp lights at eye level create softer layers; and low-level uplights or floor-washing lights can add sparkle.

For fine-dining establishments, Krassa suggests indirect lighting, such as concealed light sources, pendants and an emphasis on details like artwork. "By lowering a pendant above a table it creates the impression that every table is a unique 'island', making the customer feel special and taken care of," she says.

Ensuring venues look open for business during the day is another challenge, says Nulty. A need to be moody and intimate at night often means establishments end up looking shut in the daytime. "More light needs to be pumped in during the day so people find their gaze 
is being pulled inside, rather than the windows becoming black mirrors," he says.

Current Trends Like everything else, lighting is subject to trends. Rosato notes that lighting designers are increasingly focusing on what the light is lighting, while Baxter has found that, although design fundamentals haven't changed, the choice of fittings is now limitless.

Clients are more sophisticated and Baxter has seen a general trend for operators to spend more on their lighting. "Guest expectations are much higher - much the same as with the food. People now have better lighting at home, so they recognise poor lighting when they go out." she says. In terms of design, black or dark rooms with bare bulbs, and retro, industrial and urban styles are en vogue, along with oversized fittings and linear lighting around the back of banquettes or coving.

Cluster lighting is also a new favourite. "Hanging lots of lights at different levels using naked bulbs or clear glass mixed with metal or wood is very popular," notes Baxter.
But there are often restrictions with what can be done in buildings and within budgets. Wythe suggests: "Come up with the ideal scenario and then work reality around it." Nulty adds that flexibility is key. "It's about the 
overall composition and balancing light across however many spaces you have. It should feel balanced and achieve the atmosphere you want in relation to the overall brand."

Ultimately, the mark of success is to walk into a space and think it feels good - not that the lighting looks good. "It's about seamless integration," says Baxter.

Nulty puts it more bluntly, stating that the aim should be for a flattering light. "If girls feel they look good in the light, they will want to hang around; and if they hang around, the boys will always want to follow."

10 things you need to know about lighting

By Sian Baxter Lighting

1 Light a surface, don't light air.

2 Reduce glare. Bare bulbs look great from a distance, but can be unpleasant up close, so position them where they won't shine in diners' faces.

3 Balance the light. Don't have a room that is bright one end and dark the other, as it is psychologically unbalancing.

4 Add depth and pockets of light. Don't have a bland, flat scheme.

5 Choose your fitting. Consider where you want the light to go. For example, if it's a pendant over a table, it needs to have a solid top so the light is forced down.

6 Colour has a temperature. Pick LEDs carefully.

7 Choose the position of your light fittings and use layers of light.

8 Use light to draw and lead the eye to the whole of the room, as well as focusing on specifics.

9 Consider functionality. The scheme needs to work on a practical level as well produce an inviting effect in the room.

10 Toilet lighting needs to be balanced and consistent with the main areas - it shouldn't jar too much from one space to the other.

LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes)

The lighting industry has mushroomed over the last decade with the evolution of LEDs. Not only do they tick the environmental boxes required by new and continually evolving legislation, there have also been huge improvements in quality and variety.

Although they can cost up to three times more than other lights, they earn their money back through energy savings. However, not all LEDs are the same - warm colour lighting is preferable for most operations.

LEDs with a Colour Rendering Index number close to 100% will have a warmer colour, and lower ratings look colder with a bluish hue.

Dimming options should also be considered as there may be glare owing to the placement, and operators may need different circuits for

10 steps to creating your concept By designer Afroditi Krassa

1 Review your competitors: what do they do well, and what do they do badly?

2 What is unique about your business? Is it really unique? Is it a gap in the market?

3 Does your experience convey a story and is it telling the right one or is it outdated?

4 Isolate exactly who should care about your venue and why. This is your customer profile.

5 How has your customer profile changed over the past few years? Has your venue moved with these changes?

6 Look at your local area and its history. This could be used to build a story around your property.

7 What meaningful innovation will set you apart from your competitors?

8 Are you looking for a concept that is a stepping stone or a milestone?

9 Wll this concept work in five, 10 or 15 years? Consider how to futureproof it.

10 Toilet lighting needs to be balanced and consistent with the main areas - it shouldn't jar too much from one space to the other.

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