Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lighting Considerations

Siena Trattoria

Dining room lighting, from a design standpoint should define, in shape and spectral color, a major portion of the room's design motif.
Generally, overhead, pendant, track or directional lighting is permanently affixed to the ceiling in a static fashion, beaming downward to the table tops below as if the tables themselves were bolted directly to the floor.
Knowing that seating flexibility in a restaurant is an absolute premium, the required act of combining several two tops or four tops, with one or more of the other, to accommodate larger parties, can have a dramatic effect on the overall visual balance of a previously well designed room.
I have visited, on many occasions, an otherwise stellar restaurant, illuminating an improvised table for eight, with one, 100w pendant while two additional, matching pendants beamed their attractively expensive glory onto an empty spot of floorspace.

There are creative ways to insure harmony and balance of design, as well as providing sufficient practical lighting for the dining guests seated below.

1. Think Light Not Fixture.
This is a fantastic opportunity to add an original design twist to set your restaurant apart from the competition. Envision the area that needs to be illuminated, determine the amount of light (in wattage) that will be needed. With this information in mind you should now design how you want to use reflectance, diffusion, collective radiance and any number of lighting techniques to unify the lighting in the specified area. Your goal at this point is to meet your lighting parameters for the specified area, thereby avoiding dedicated lighting being determined by table placement.

a. Reflectance- Think of a flashlight, behind the bulb you will find a bowl shaped reflector,usually semi-sphereical. This configuration will concentrate all available light from the bulb into a conical beam that streams directly out from the reflector. This is a fairly narrow configuration with an intense output.
Now, if you flatten the bowl of the reflector into a larger more shallow bowl, the light output will be less intense as the same amount of light is cast in a much larger area. We'll call this a pool of light. The diameter of the pool is determined by the wattage of the bulb, the area and depth of the reflector and the distance from
the reflector to the surface to be lit. You can now determine the distance required between lights to connect the separate pools of light into a harmonious area of controlled ambient light. Save this concept as we continue.

2. Think color.
Consider a rainbow, a spectrum of all possible colors split from clear light. Notice I did not refer to it as white light, for light is not white. It is clear light devoid of noticeable color. Clear light is indeed a mixture of the full color spectrum of available light. Please follow me on this one as it will soon become important.
The psychology of design in a restaurant environment is pretty straight forward. We humans are a fairly predictable bunch. When we want to eat, we seek an environment that is calming, relaxing, and familiar. Our brains can be manipulated by color to suggest perceived warmth and even stimulate the appetite. A soft honey-gold to rose colored glow, (see photo above), reminds us visually of the sunset at the end of the day, inducing subliminally a desire to relax, to enjoy ones meal. Indeed this particular frequency of color actually makes the food itself look richer and more appealing.
These psychological cues often play a large part in how fantastic a meal is, in a successful restaurant, whether this is perceived in the mind or on the tongue is rarely given a thought by the guest.
I have recently seen a shift in lighting design towards using cobalt blue lighting for dramatic effect. I myself have used this motif on three very different restaurant environments, Beware of how you use this. Unbalanced blue lighting can make the beautiful caramelized color so desired on a steak, roast poultry and fried food, look deathly gray. This unappetizing effect is easily remedied by balancing the cobalt blue with the aforementioned honey-gold to rose hue creating... Yes, you guessed it, clear light. Myself, I generally add a little more of the latter to regain the positive psychological effects.
color pooling is also a great way to define separate areas of a room without the need for walls and dividers, leaving a comfotable open design plan. Save this concept with the last and we will continue.

3. Now Think Fixture.
So now we know how much light we need, the wattage, the distance between bulbs, the distance to the surface to be lit, even the color psychology needed to complete the designated dining area. We know we are creating a solid mass of controlled light that is not tied to the placement of the tables below, and we also know that at this point we can create, by design, a fixture array that can be a sculptural statement, defining the motif of the dining area.

Examples in practice.
Nicola's Italian with a twist is a great example of a custom lighting array designed specifically for the room.

Notice the suspended sculptural lighting arrays, the design was based on the curved reflector surfaces on the underside of the clouds. The light pools created by the four arrays constructed all merged at their outer edges, ensuring even lighting throughout the entire dining room.

In this view we see three different types of specialized lighting. In the forefront, the round lighting is an example of diffusion lighting, in the middle right a multi colored example of reflected lighting and in the rear, the lighting clouds.

In this design rendering for Tony's Seafood, the blue wave shape to the left is a translucent series of polycarbonate panels which act as a diffusion panel for the halogen pin spots shining above. This panel will collect and spread the light evenly for the 40' run of the dining room, regardless of the table migration below.

Sorry for the focus, This is the actual panel with lighting. there is a matching panel on the opposite side of the room making a total of 80' of controlled lighting.

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