Seeing the Light

May 8, 2018

Tony Matters, Creative Director at design agency, Faber Design & Architecture, discusses the public’s evolving design consciousness, the power of well-executed lighting, and how he and his team are becoming increasingly involved in bespoke lighting design.

There has been a palpable shift in the design consciousness in recent years. The general public (and our clients) are becoming more design aware. They now place more importance than ever before, not just on what things look like, but on how well they function as a result of their design.

Long gone are the days when design teams could get away with rolling out a generic, aesthetically pleasing concept to simply smarten-up a space. Clients are now more discerning; they understand the importance of differentiating between local target markets – and can see the part design plays in that process. Eating and drinking out is such a competitive business that you can no longer just do an OK job. The industry is responding to this shift by choosing to invest more in restaurant and bar design. They’re stepping up to the plate.

Sculpting a space

It goes without saying that lighting is integral to any successful restaurant or bar project – but it also inspires great design. Our clients are often motivated to refurbish their bar or restaurant because of a lighting installation that’s captured their attention and imagination.

We’ve also learned over the years that lighting is one area of a project which can’t be compromised on. This is because light has a kind of power that no other element of design has. You could do almost nothing to a space, but if you light it well, it comes to life; it can be sculpted from a characterless box into something else altogether, adding warmth/drama/ambience/space, as needed. For me, light has two fundamental roles: one is functional and the other is emotional, and it’s that emotional component of lighting design I think is most powerful.

Form and Function

The challenge for many of our bar and restaurant clients is being able to create ambient, dramatic mood lighting, while still maintaining a workable space. This is where lighting design expertise really comes into its own – and a DIY restaurant refit is often betrayed by the absence of this key element. While most of our clients have a good understanding of the importance of lighting design, there is sometimes a danger they have only a superficial understanding of lighting strategy.

At Faber, we tend to look at light as a series of layers. We begin with a ‘base’ layer of background and concealed lighting, and then build on this with other layers of task and feature lighting, allowing us to carve out a space in a particular way.

A good example of this type of lighting strategy in action is Buffalo & Rye, a restaurant on Bennett’s Hill in Birmingham, and one of our recent projects. Here, we purposely created the darkest restaurant we could, but with deliberately placed lighting to make the space both functional and atmospheric. When you walk in, even in the middle of the day, it maintains this effect. Another example of how lighting has worked to sculpt and unite a disjointed space is in our design for No.26 Aston Marina; a rural, canal-side restaurant in Staffordshire, based in a large, featureless steel unit. Here, we selected a variety of characterful light installations to cultivate shape and personality, and to celebrate the history of the restaurant’s surroundings.

A New Light

Trends in interiors, like any other element of design, are often fleeting. But when it comes to refitting a bar or restaurant, the design needs to have a degree of longevity and durability; both to withstand the pummelling of thousands of customers, and to maintain its visual appeal and cultural relevance. Lighting is something that can – and should – be designed to last. If a restaurant is going to be commercially sustainable, it will inevitably need to evolve. But a well thought-out, effective lighting scheme can remain a constant, if it’s done in the right way.

Developments in lighting technology have now made exceptional lighting design accessible for all. LED technology has given us more to play with, whether that’s linear LED, concealed LED, or exposed filament bulbs. It used to be the case that if you wanted to cultivate a warm, classic glow with your lighting, you had to pay a fortune for halogen that would only last a couple of weeks. LED now allows us to mimic the ambience created by old-fashioned lighting methods, but in an efficient product.

Finding the right supplier, someone who understands your ethos and approach, and can work with your creative process, can be what makes or breaks a project. We like Astro, because we feel they have a similar ethos to us; British-design, built on elegant simplicity that speaks for itself. Just as lighting design itself should never be undervalued in a project, neither should the importance of a like-minded supplier.

Lighting The Way

We believe it’s important to understand how things are made, so that when we communicate our design to the manufacturer, we know we are building something that is sustainable and intelligently designed, rather than simply leaving it to the person making it to interpret our ideas. That, to us, is simply not good enough.

With this in mind, our relationship with light and lighting design has grown over the years and is evolving still. As a designer, I’ve always had a passion for making things and, alongside our project work, we are becoming increasingly involved in the design of bespoke light installations. This is something we have always done to a degree; using our in-house lighting expertise to create unique, stylised solutions to a client’s lighting conundrum. Sometimes it’s happened by accident, like when someone spotted a chandelier we designed for the lobby of our Leicester office and asked us to recreate it (but enlarged by a factor of ten) At other times, it has been what’s differentiated us from competing design agencies and has helped steer the direction of an entire design.

We are excited to see how this area of our business will develop. Lighting has always been so integral to what we do and will continue to inspire and shape the way we approach design for years to come.