Wahaca Restaurant, UK

September 11, 2015

London based lighting designers Kate Wilkins and Sam Neuman have joined forces after years of collaboration to create a portfolio of varied projects using both well-established and cutting-edge lighting techniques.

Under the name Kate & Sam, much of their work is about lighting as a way to effectively bring out the materiality and detail in both architectural interiors and exteriors. They explore the narrative role of lighting in space, and the physical and psychological feel-good factor that is achievable through tactical lighting. Their interests follow lighting as an essential part of a business’ identity, with their work for Wahaca restaurant group exploring the notion of brand in the same way.

Most recently, Kate & Sam completed the lighting scheme for Wahaca Cardiff. This marks the first venue in Wales for the restaurant chain, situated on The Hayes in a corner plot of a new site, featuring large double height glazed frontage windows with three different eating levels built into the space.

Kate & Sam’s approach maintains the relaxed street lighting style they have built up over the last twelve Wahaca restaurants; very much a response to the more informal street food offered by the Wahaca chain. Kate & Sam opted for a sunny feel evoking natural light in their design, as they see it as important in generating positive emotions indoors. “In the Wahaca restaurants we like to use warm colours that relax the diners,” the designers commented. “We mix 2,700K with warmer tones for a more theatrical feel and hint at the sub conscious feeling of sunshine.”

At the Cardiff restaurant the large void in the middle of the room was made use of with a lighting installation using +Nacho Carbonell soft rubber pendants from manufacturer Booo – each supplied with a 2,700K, 650lm LED with mains dimming down to 10%. To tone in with the colour palette and react to the warmer tone light waves, the pendants were fitted with custom yellow and orange flexes. The Booo pendants help bring the room down to a more friendly scale for dining while keeping the impressive size.

The +Nacho Carbonell fixtures’ warm central glow is set against a two-metre diametre wall mounted indirect colour changing disc that is programmed throughout the day and evening in subtle sources: a cold cathode tube and DMX controlled LED colour changing Fresnel key spotlight. The colours are chosen for their uplifting and relaxing qualities, aiming to be felt but not seen. As well as an external focus of the window, “the installation of the pendants, cable and circle are designed to be viewed from all the different levels, designed to be more intense and immersive the higher you are,” said the designers. Elsewhere in the restaurant, H2o pendants from Italian manufacturer in-es.artdesign bring additional warmth to the dining space.

The use of LED lamps in projects is becoming more and more common, but by using a product that is still evolving, issues are inevitable from time to time, as the designers explained: “The LEDs we specified developed a stage too far during this project. We tested the lamps with dimmers, had written assurances, used a reputable manufacturer, but when it came to the programming stage, we had the dreaded flicker!”

The lamp manufacturer had changed its internal electronics after Kate & Sam had tested it with a specific dimmer, meaning all the lamps had to be swapped out. “As a result we’ve increased our LED lamp specifying check list to include colour temperature, CRI, and dimming is tested with the same dimmer and is the same confirmed batch that has been tested! Until binding standards are set and adhered to by the different lamp manufacturers, this is an issue that will continue.”

Despite any challenges there might have been concerning LED developments during the project, Wahaca restaurant founder and former Master Chef champion Thomasina Miers described the venue as, “possibly the most beautiful of our sites.” The venue can’t help but ooze the identity of Kate & Sam as creatives and lovers of light, with an unavoidable natural glow that helps brings the outside in.