Focus: Trends


DPA’s Nick Hoggett examines current trends and technology enabling seamless and sophisticated results


The lighting of hotels and restaurants is both intriguing and all-encompassing because of their huge diversity in terms of style, branding and cultural context, as well as the widely varying nature of the spaces they incorporate. Hotels and restaurants also embrace every design style from classical historic buildings with sensitive listed interiors to cutting-edge contemporary structures.

They obviously differ greatly in terms of the guest they seek to attract and it is, therefore, crucial that the lighting designer understands the ethos of the hotel brand and personality, so that this can be reflected throughout the property using both natural and artificial light. A hotel is a building where first impressions and a sense of arrival are key, so that the role of light must begin with the exterior and the external environment. Not only should the first impression confirm that the visitor has made a good choice, but it’s also important to consider how the building sits in the cityscape or rural environment, ensuring it has an appropriate presence at night.

If the lighting for a hotel or restaurant is to be truly successful, it is not just down to the lighting designer, but must involve a whole team working closely together. The architect, landscape architect and interior designer are every bit as instrumental as the lighting specialist in the successful implementation of an appropriate scheme.

The Hilton Hotel Schiphol shows how lighting can paint a space and ramp up the dramaThe Hilton Hotel Schiphol shows how lighting can paint a space and ramp up the drama

Apart from consistency and cohesion, one reason that the lighting scheme must be a team effort is the importance of detailing and integration in a hotel or restaurant environment. Lighting technology, and its transformation over the past decade or so, has also been enormously helpful in this respect. The development of LEDs into highly useable and versatile packages, both linear systems and point sources of differing configurations, has enabled greater discretion and flexibility. The usable life is vastly superior to that of tungsten sources, the energy consumption is a fraction of what was used for a hotel 10 years ago and the size of lighting equipment is greatly reduced making the integration of lighting equipment potentially so much more elegant. The technology continues to evolve with more options, better colour consistency, higher efficacies, physically smaller light fittings and so on.

With a sense of arrival and first impressions key for hotels, the role of light must begin with the exterior. Here is the Four Seasons, LondonWith a sense of arrival and first impressions key for hotels, the role of light must begin with the exterior. Here is the Four Seasons, London

In particular, the miniaturisation of linear LED systems as opposed to the lighting tools of the past such as cold cathode, linear fluorescents and, the most energy intensive of all, xenon festoon systems, enables the integration of light into much smaller details such as the frame of a display case or shelf. Where, in the past, colour mixing might have involved three different rows of cold cathode, this can now be achieved with one tiny linear LED system.

Point sources have also become far smaller with little recessed downlights as small as 20mm in diameter but still with a punchy light output. These provide opportunities to locate fixtures where previously limited space would prevent such use. The fact that the visual impact is far more discreet is also often a great advantage.

Four Seasons, CasablancaFour Seasons, Casablanca

However, there remain significant challenges with LEDs. First of all the capital cost, although reducing, is still greater than tungsten halogen, which was extensively used from the 1980s until recent times. Cost consultants tend to use historical information which means that quite often the budgets for lighting equipment do not reflect the cost of good quality LED products in today’s market. Unfortunately, there are a lot of poor quality LED fittings available with inferior colour qualities, colour consistency, light output and dimability.

Of course, they tend to be at a lower price point and, hence, may at first appear attractive, particularly when those selling such products proclaim that they are every bit as good as more expensive versions when often in practice they are not. It is now more essential than ever when specifying LEDs to see working samples illuminating the materials that are being proposed for a project. I am sure every lighting consultant has experienced the situation where technical data claims that 10 different products have very similar colour qualities, but when they are viewed first-hand they reveal a disturbing variation.

At the Waldorf Astoria in Amsterdam, staircase and guest room (far left) lighting responds to a whole gamut of design styles, from classical to cutting-edge contemporaryAt the Waldorf Astoria in Amsterdam, staircase and guest room (far left) lighting responds to a whole gamut of design styles, from classical to cutting-edge contemporary

Dimmability of light sources is critical to the success of a hotel or restaurant as many spaces need the lighting to vary in intensity throughout the day and into the evening to create an appropriate ambience for that moment. But again, the low end dimming of LEDs is often extremely challenging and problematic. It is essential that compatibility between the LED, its driver and the control system/dimmer is carefully considered and tested.

Once more it is inadvisable to rely on suppliers to confirm compatibility – products need to be tested live and the tests observed first-hand.

At the Waldorf Astoria in Amsterdam, staircase and guest room (far left) lighting responds to a whole gamut of design styles, from classical to cutting-edge contemporaryAt the Waldorf Astoria in Amsterdam, staircase and guest room (far left) lighting responds to a whole gamut of design styles, from classical to cutting-edge contemporary

The benchmark in terms of lighting quality has always been the tungsten filament lamp. A relatively recent development has been the ability to reflect the wonderful warming of the colour temperature that the traditional source exhibits when it is dimmed to lower levels. The latest warm dim and tunable white products enable us to go some way to replicating that effect. Unfortunately, this again comes with a higher price tag and we need the cost consultants and clients to understand the asset of such technology and to support it with appropriate budgets.

There are far too many aspects to the lighting of hotels and restaurants to cover everything here, but another significant development in recent times is the technology now being considered for guest rooms and suites. As lighting designers we want to use technology to enable the simple variation of lighting scenes within a guest room, and it is now becoming more affordable than ever to have lighting that can be dimmed and scene set. Even the bathroom should have the facility for the guest to vary the light levels.

If a full dimming arrangement cannot be accommodated in the budget, it is important to have two different circuits so that the guest has three lighting options – it makes an enormous difference. Guests have different requirements, and while some want very low-level soft lighting, others cannot have enough light. Without going to the extremes of these variants, giving guests options should always be part of the design.

Guest room at the Mandarin Oriental London, where scene setting and dimmable lighting is offeredGuest room at the Mandarin Oriental London, where scene setting and dimmable lighting is offered

But there is a careful balance to be struck between ensuring a simple, straightforward usability for the guest who is just staying for a night or two and the more sophisticated options that technology can potentially bring to guest accommodation. If tablet/touch screen devices are used the lighting component should be extremely instinctive to operate and we would always suggest lighting control plates are also provided in appropriate locations.

One of the biggest trends we have seen in recent years is the way that restaurants and bars are increasingly becoming the signature of a hotel. Operators are positioning their F&B outlets as standalone entities that can attract as many people from outside of the hotel as hotel guests themselves. Hotel lounges and reception areas serviced with food and beverages are becoming much more catholic in their purpose, thriving as day and night-time venues for dining, socialising and for business meetings.

This undoubtedly energises and enlivens the property (as well as bringing in significant additional revenue) and the lighting needs to respond accordingly. Each space must have an appropriate atmosphere and personality, so that they are signature spaces in their own right, a brand within a brand. While a more discreet, integrated approach to the lighting may form the backcloth, this is where overt, statement, often customised lighting can play a major role in creating a characterful, even idiosyncratic style.

In fact the decorative lighting elements within a restaurant, bar or lobby lounge are more considered than they have been in the past in many properties. Instead of a few matching wall lights with a coordinating pendant, many spaces have a much wider and more eclectic range of decorative fixtures. This has to be far more thought through than using the matching approach, both from an aesthetic and practical point of view. For one thing eclecticism still has to add up to a cohesive whole to avoid visual confusion.

Practically, the lamping of decorative lights is crucial to the success as, again, the colour quality and consistency, and dimmability challenges of LEDs will come into play.

Carefully coordinating lamp bases and dimmable LEDs into the decorative lighting package requires a great deal of attention to detail, experience and more first-hand testing than it ever did in the past. The good news for designers is that there are more and more aesthetically acceptable options for us to use. We now specify lamps with colour temperatures as low (warm) as 2200K quite regularly and warm, dim, retrofit lamps are also becoming more readily available for use with our decorative lighting elements.

Having said everything above, however, I still believe most passionately that quite often the most important single light source in a restaurant or bar is a real candle on the table.





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