Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I'm in the Mood for Love...err...Light

Tom says:
The electrical crew has finished the rough installation and the materials stacked in the dining room are slowly being moved to the areas where they'll be put to use. Our designer Ariel and I are finally able to identify see places where we can add the extra details needed to pull the full look-and-feel of Z together.

These details are the kinds of things I never noticed in restaurants until I began thinking about opening my one of my own. Over the last few years I've paid less attention to the food (terrible, I know) and focused instead on dining room configuration. It used to be that when I went out to eat that the only details I absorbed were related to the food I'd eaten. I could go on for hours about ingredients, flavor profiles, technique and presentation, but not so much about how the restaurant actually looked. That's all changed.

But even though I've been taking mental snapshots of restaurant interiors for a while now, it wasn't until I went to work for Bill Lee in California that I learned how critical lighting is in creating the mood you want to evoke for the customer. Bill was always tinkering with the lights, adjusting the positions of the floods and the table spots, trying different wattage, and seeing what effects colored bulbs, twinkle lights or rope lighting achieved in relation to his concept. I'm not talking about the obvious impact too-bright or too-dim lighting has on mood. It's more about the subtlety--something the owner will notice that you might not, but that you'll respond to naturally and unconsciously.

One of our largest renovation expenses, of course, has been our lighting and its installation. The lights that were in the space when we bought it were nice--in fact, we'll probably use some of them at home where overhead light is needed--and anyone who visited the space seemed to comment on them. Size, shape, color, the way they cast light in relation to bulb size? Not in line with our concept. So we've taken them down and replaced them with track lighting.

Track lighting fulfills several mood-enhancing objectives: they allow us to spot light each individual table in a way that's not stage bright, but on-a-pedestal bright; it also allows us to flood areas of the ceiling to showcase the craftsmanship of the tin panels; lastly, its positioning can be set to draw your eye to various design features and make them stand out.

One of the design features we'll enhance with lighting are the Pittsburgh Corning glass blocks we're using in the build out of partial walls and the bar as illustrated by this sample application photo from the company's Web site.

Back light these babies with low-voltage lighting and the effect is pretty dramatic. Between this and the other lighting schema Ariel and I designed we've achieved what I almost thought couldn't be done: ambiance that's smoldering and yet doesn't stray from the whimsy of our overall concept. We accomplished the goal of getting the most bang for our buck by spending wisely on atmospheric elements rather than being seduced by high-priced furniture and fixtures.

Maureen and I wish you all a smoldering, mood-lit Valentine's Day, Nor'easter blowing through town and all.

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