Sight Specific

The need to create lighting appropriate to its space might sound obvious, but it’s not that easy to achieve, says José Manser, who looks at three success stories

Lighting design is a potent force which deserves the most careful and site-specific consideration. And nowhere does this maxim apply more than in a retail context. It is pointless to bedeck a shop in an indiscriminate way with handsome or fashionable light fittings in the ill-founded hope that the resulting light quality will be satisfactory.

What products are you selling should be the first question to consider, and how can they be lit so that they look their best the next. Because for sure, nothing will sell to its maximum potential unless it presents the potential purchaser with an instantly desirable image.

Tina Ellis of CD Partnership, who has been working on the new Conran Shop shortly to open in a listed building on the River Elbe in Hamburg, is uncompromising on this point. “You must make it easy for customers to see the product. In the case of the Conran Shop, we are talking about furniture and furnishings. Inept lighting reduces the modelling of pieces of furniture and detracts from their quality. You need a warm light, but one which doesn’t flood the place or alter the colour and texture of the merchandise on show.” Concord Lighting proved immensely sympathetic and competent in working with CD Partnership to devise a lighting scheme which has fulfilled these requirements for a site which initially presented many difficulties. Quite rightly, it was designed as a one-off, and not just given a trite routine retail treatment which – judging by the uncomfortable results – is the case in some lesser shops. Equal care was taken in the three very different case studies which we show here.

Granada Hospitality, Chieveley

Shops are an increasingly important add-on to petrol stations, especially at motorway service areas, and Granada, which was in at the start of this particular business, is well aware of their profit potential. Now, with 28 such outlets, Granada Hospitality has worked with retail design wizard 20/20 to overhaul its concept of retailing on the road. The first pilot outlet to receive the 20/20 treatment opened at the Chieveley service area on the M4, and seven or eight others have followed in quick succession.

The intention was to cater for various types of shopper, from those who have nipped in for a take-away sandwich through to families who have time to linger. Similarly, there is a huge variety of merchandise: snacks, drinks, newspapers, toys, compact discs and first aid equipment, to mention just a few. 20/20 has split the newly designed stores into distinct areas, each with its own character and atmosphere. This change of pace has been achieved by expertly exploiting design methods and materials, and most of all by subtly varying the light levels and effects.

The Fresh Express, for instance, is where sandwiches, fruit, snacks and soft drinks can be bought. It is easily accessible at the front of the store, where it is likely to be the target of fast-track customers, and as well as employing hard, bright materials like tiles, stainless steel and glass to invoke the traditional dairy-cleanness of the delicatessen, the designers have concentrated on bright, fresh lighting comprising fluorescent tubes, concealed on the ceiling but diffusing light down through an opaque acrylic canopy onto the large chiller area.

In the music department the pace is slower and the surroundings softer to encourage browsers; but the image is a go-ey one intended to invoke rock concerts and fun. Erco spots with colour filters are suspended from curved bulkheads on the ceiling, and there are brushed aluminium and steel mini-spots bolted to the bright blue display stands. It’s all, as 20/20 director Bernard Dooling says, “a bit like a slice out of a Megastore”.

Other departments are defined with the help of equally pertinent lighting, and throughout the store, ambient lighting comes from recessed downlighters by Iguzzini, and compact fluorescent downlighters with etched glass reflectors; in addition there are recessed directional downlighters with white SON to light floor units.

Valentino, Via Condotti, Rome

Hosker Moore and Kent has been working on Valentino’s store and office design in the US and the Far East for five years. A recent commission was to design the company’s flagship store in Rome’s fashionable Via Condotti.

Occupying 325m2 in a fifteenth century palazzo, the store deserved the very grand treatment it has been given. The overall design, and especially the lighting, aim to make a wonderful show case for displaying the merchandise at its best.

As Hosker Moore and Kent partner Peter Kent explains, this shop reflects the whole glamorous Valentino lifestyle. “You want a high enough light level to be able to see the clothes, but you don’t want light outlets littered all over the ceilings, and we didn’t want to lose the amazing ceiling heights, which are up to 4.1 metres in some areas. However, because we had to lower the ceilings to house the AC ducting, we took advantage of the unused ceiling void to create recessed ceiling troughs which provide the main overall lighting. Then there are metal halide wall-washers with Philips’ DSX lamps which direct customers’ gaze to the perimeters, where many of the clothes are hanging. These can be switched to produce a change of mood: warm in winter, cool in summer.”

All this is given piquancy by decorative fittings made of parchment with red leather edging which are suspended over showcases and have GLS bulbs to give a warm and flattering light. And there are recessed miniature dichroic fittings which pinpoint details and such architectural features as the strong ribbed limestone finish on the columns.

An impressive black marble lined staircase with a nickel and black lacquer handrail links the two floors of the palazzo, its drama enhanced by the signature red Valentino carpet. At its top, customers can turn either right to the men’s collection, or left to women’s, and in this beautiful space with its pale Spanish limestone flooring and gold leaf wall panel hangs a spun aluminium chandelier, 1.8 metres in diameter. Gold leaf on its inner curves casts a soft, warm glow on to the lofty barrel-vaulted ceiling.

Foundation at Harvey Nichols

Steer clear of most department store restaurants. Ranging from the squalid to the comically prim, with their malodorous emissions drifting inexorably into adjacent fashion departments, they are not places of delight, a fact which seems to weigh heavily on the demeanour of those they have actually managed to entrap.

This emphatically does not apply to the restaurants at Harvey Nichols in London’s Knightsbridge. Like most other areas of this store, they have been conceived with an eye to the higher echelons of contemporary design. Since they also serve deliciously light food, they inevitably attract the beautiful people, who give an added gloss by their felicitous presence.

Most recently, Foundation opened in what cannot have been a very salubrious or inspiring basement space, with low ceilings and a complete absence of daylight. All credit then to designer Mark Landini, who has managed to bring it back from the brink of calamity to create a restaurant and bar which are perfectly in accord with Harvey Nichols’ glittering image. And this is due in no small part to the imaginative way in which he has dealt with the lighting.

As Landini says, Foundation must respond to two different requirements. During the day it is a restaurant catering largely for those who shop – sharp, elegant people who are used to a background of similar sophistication; a place with plenty of light so that there is no danger they will be reminded they are in a sunless cavern far below the ground.

Landini used Kreon mini uplights recessed into both floor and bar to raise the apparent ceiling height and because, as he says, “reflected light is a lot kinder to the face”, a fact which will give subconscious pleasure to those discerning customers. There are more Kreon uplights set into the walls, while low-voltage recessed spots above the bar and over tables provide a psychologically essential sparkle.

At night, Foundation changes gear completely. Furniture is stored away and the space is transformed into a bar, becoming, as Landini intended, “darker and more powerful”. Low lighting achieves a soft glow across the floor, and the great wall of water behind the bar comes into its own. Lit with neon which changes colour from green to a deep blue, it is a fascinating and dominant feature, with reflections and shadows from its shimmering cascade creating tiny movements on various surfaces around the room.

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