Q+A: Wave Makers

Three top-tier lighting designers offer illuminating insights into how they help switch on memorable hospitality environments.

Glare draws the ire of illuminationworks’ Chad Rains. “It detracts from the soothing feel that many hospitality settings seek to engender,” says Rains, founder and creative director of the London-based firm.

For Focus Lighting’s Brett Andersen, it’s too-low lighting levels, especially in restaurants. “When it's hard for guests to read the menu or see their date's face, it takes away from the experience,” says Andersen, principal designer and a two decades-plus veteran of New York-based Focus.

And for AWA Lighting Designers’ Abhay Wadhwa, it’s illumination schemes that don’t reflect an understanding of local culture and context, thereby creating a disconnect with guests. “Every culture has a distinct relationship with light. As the hospitality industry increasingly crosses geographic boundaries, lighting designers need to have a greater understanding of such cultural drivers,” says Wadhwa, design principal and ceo of Brooklyn, New York’s AWA.

Given all that can go wrong with illuminating installations in hospitality settings, Boutique Design conducted a Q+A with this trio of experts, seeking to shed some light on the specific role firms like theirs play in helping such projects avoid gaffes like these, while also attaining that holy grail of creating sensory-driven, mood-matching experiences that bring people back for more.

LET’S START WITH EACH OF YOU WALKING US THROUGH THE DETAILS OF ONE (OR SEVERAL) OF YOUR RECENT PROJECTS.
A selection of projects spanning the globe.

ANDERSEN: At the new Beauty & Essex restaurant in Las Vegas, Focus used architectural and decorative lighting to give guests the sense that they’re dining inside a highly curated jewelry box. The transition from what appears to be a storefront pawn shop to a restaurant where guests are enveloped in a world of gold, pearl and crystal, creates a completely immersive experience.

WADHWA: I’d like to offer up quick descriptors of two favorites of mine for AWA, both in Mumbai: For the Blue Frog restaurant, we created a filigree pattern of lighting nodes that’s resulted in the taking of countless selfies and social-media posts; for tote, a restaurant/bar/banquet destination, we used fractal design concepts to craft lighting patterns in the ceiling.

RAINS: The Beaumont, London, is an adaptive-reuse project that involved converting a 1920s-era art deco car park into a contemporary luxury hotel. To accommodate the operator’s request for no recessed downlights in the public spaces, illuminationworks specified miniature surface-mounted adjustable spotlights to highlight art in the lobby, light tables in the bar and restaurant, and provide illumination in key circulation areas in the spa. Cove lighting, a characteristic of the art deco period, is used throughout the hotel as a unifying design element, although we did utilize fixtures incorporating current LED technology.

GIVEN THE IMPACT YOUR FIRMS ARE HAVING ON THOSE PROJECTS AND OTHERS, PLEASE DETAIL WHAT LIGHTING EXPERTS SUCH AS YOURSELVES BRING TO THE TABLE, IN TERMS OF A VALUE-ADD TO THE DESIGN TEAM.
Different firms, different approaches–along with several commonalities.

WADHWA: We believe in first really understanding the context that the project is being built in, and then contextualizing our lighting design response. With any new project, the design process begins with a kick-off meeting to establish its general scope and main objectives. This leads to a client briefing, so our team can focus on their goals, in terms of function and aesthetics. At this stage, we also discuss any branding or image concerns from the clients, as well as a preliminary budget for the project.

With this information, AWA performs the necessary research to form a conceptual lighting design for the project. Depending on the project, the foundations for custom fixture design and system integration begin during the concept phase. From these carefully crafted ideas, layouts and details are developed. We complete the process through construction administration, to ensure that the specified products are purchased and correctly installed.

ANDERSEN: Focus’s lighting design approach always begins with creativity and the development of a single, emotion-evoking concept. Each project offers an opportunity to create something memorable and special for the owner. We ask ourselves what the best way is to accomplish this, prioritizing the primary views within the project’s first look, transition and task.

The first look at a space from the car as you arrive, or as you are walking up to the front door, creates the build-up and the impression. The transition is the second step, and is about making a visual impression in the areas in between, like the lobby, the reception desk or the elevator hall, to extend the impact of the first look. Finally, the task pertains to the functionality of a space. Here, we’re addressing such things as: can you prepare the gourmet meal, can you read the menu, and can you see your date’s expression across the table?

RAINS: We often say that we see the light but not the light source, to reflect how much of our lighting is integrated into the architecture through clever detailing. Especially in hospitality work, we seek to envelop the guest in light from the perimeter as much as possible. This approach allows for the limited use of downlights, which can feel oppressive. With more light coming from vertical surfaces, a space can feel lit without being overly bright. This adds to the sense of relaxation.

We also spend a lot of time on-site at completion. We focus all adjustable lighting to get the spaces looking exactly as intended. We set up the dimming system schemes and timeclock so that the lighting in each space complements the time of day and the available natural light throughout the year.

 

IN YOUR VIEW, WHEN SHOULD LIGHTING DESIGNERS BE BROUGHT INTO THE CREATIVE PROCESS, AND WHY?
The unanimous verdict: The earlier the better.

RAINS: It’s best for us to be brought in during the concept stage. Usually the architectural and interior design teams have already advanced their own concepts and done the space planning/initial layouts. We tend to comment on their ideas. Then, we take it further and create our own lighting design concept package with 3D sketches and break down the different lighting ideas for a space. Often, we will present several options and develop the chosen ideas further.

ANDERSEN: The lighting designer should be brought in at the beginning, while the team is still discussing the emotion someone should feel inside of the space. Why? Because it’s the lighting designer’s responsibility to inform the owner, architect and interior designer what they will see, and to address such issues as what light is going to be reflected from which surfaces and back into the eyes of those in the space. The lighting designer is the curator of the visual image.

WADHWA: To create the most integrated and seamless lighting design into the fabric of the architectural intent and the hotel operators’ requirements, the lighting designer must be brought in during the concept/schematic phase of the project. This is the time we can work with the client and architect most effectively; it helps us define how the project can be sculpted by light.

WHAT TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGES ARE HAVING THE MOST IMPACT ON YOUR WORK? 
Though LEDs have been on the scene for some time now, the respondents all say ongoing improvements in that energy-efficient illumination source continue to make it the most noteworthy addition to their tool kit.

ANDERSEN: The warmth of incandescent light has always been crucial in hospitality settings, and most especially restaurants—it impacts the way light renders people’s faces and food. Recent developments in warm-dim technology for LEDs are creating more affordable opportunities to use that technology to produce a very similar quality of light.

WADHWA: LED technology is still evolving at a furious pace. Improvements in LED chip efficacy and an increasing number of manufacturers in the market are driving down the prices of LED fixtures.

RAINS: I’m a big fan of tunable white LED technologies, which mimic halogen/incandescent dimming. This is especially useful in rooms with daylight, where “cooler” lighting temperatures look better in daytime and can get gradually “warmer” as night falls.

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