Good lighting doesn’t only contribute to space. Sometimes it becomes the defining element. Such is the case with these West Coast restaurants and bars, blessed with good architecture, but really distinguished by lighting schemes that achieve an artistry all their own. LA firm FreelandBuck was inspired by the work of James Turrell in creating large artificial light scoops, while Gulla Jonsdottir created what she called a pyramid of light from over 500 old-fashioned Edison lightbulbs that dominate her Hollywood nightclub My Studio. The combination of artificial and natural light is another mainstay of these projects, blurring the line between inside and out to create a sense of intricacy and ambiguity, playing a vital role in the “layering” of light that architect Peter Bentel, designer of Craft restaurant in Century City, said differentiates a flat surface from one with dimensionality and texture.
Earl's Gourmet Grub
Architects David Freeland and Brennan Buck were faced with the dilemma of how to create a space for a gourmet deli that had a contemporary architectural identity but also evoked the rustic appeal of the food. They were commissioned to carry this out inside a 1,000-square-foot storefront in Mar Vista.
Earl’s Gourmet Grub, opened in May, had only a single overhead source of natural light, its skylight. Freeland and Buck set out to devise a way to reproduce that sense of natural light throughout the market, as well as add color and warmth. Inspired by the work of artist James Turrell, they designed two additional light “scoops” with 5-foot by 3-foot apertures alongside the real one, providing both artificial light and greater spatial definition.
Along the wall are secondary light sources, 18 linear fluorescent tubes divided into three sequences mounted against a colorful and intricate wall. “We wanted to bring warmer light into the space. That can be hard to do with fluorescents,” said Freeland. “We wanted to paint the adjacent surfaces to reflect the light and create color.” They also created an undulating corridor of plywood “baffles” to further modulate the light and cast an ambient glow through the shop. The rhythmic baffles also produce a spatial continuity from the front to the back of the space. The firm was able to work within a fairly constrained budget, as well. According to Freeland, Earl’s spent about $4,000 total on lighting.
Mark Horton Design, Bentel and Bentel
Lighting plays the lead role in defining the textured and varied architectural elements of this restaurant, an outpost of chef Tom Colicchio’s fast-growing empire of eateries. The 300-seat space was built into a small pavilion in Century City, just adjacent to the CAA Building and the Century Plaza hotel. A floor-to-ceiling storefront allows natural light to flood the area during the day, supplemented with warm artificial light. At night, the lighting takes over, creating a dazzling interplay of surfaces, patterns, and baffling through the storefront.
While San Francisco architect Mark Horton worked with Bentel and Bentel on the design—based largely on craft expressions—he deferred to Bentel on the lighting. The latter devised a strategy that highlights the restaurant’s surfaces, creates an intimate atmosphere and, of course, accentuates the presentation. “It’s dimmed, but it’s very important that you see the food on your plate. It’s one of the reasons you’re eating there,” said Peter Bentel.
Warm strips of blended incandescent and LED backlighting accentuate the restaurant’s large curving fabric walls, which extend to the ceiling; perpendicular strips of recessed lighting offset these walls, creating a textured grid that extends to the ends of the restaurant and adds depth, drawing your eye upward. “We want to create layers of light,” said Bentel. “You can’t just light everything from above or below.” Thin glowing Tesla exposed-filament chandeliers hanging from the ceiling bring added depth and a bit of orange sparkle to the composition. The intimate interaction between lighting, craftsmanship, and architecture is exhibited as well in the large coiled-wire curtains that are dramatically uplit by incandescents, differentiating spaces and changing the mood. Even more atmospheric are the glass wine storage units and a bar back; both are lit from behind by LEDs to reveal glowing colors and textures.
G Plus Design
SCI-Arc grad Gulla Jonsdottir spent years as the deputy to well-known LA interior designer Dodd Mitchell. She’s also worked for Richard Meier and Disney Imagineering, where she was a set designer for Euro and Tokyo Disneyland. Now with her own firm, G Plus Design, she designed My Studio nightclub in Los Angeles. With her penchant for dramatic scene-setting and a knack for the strategic use of unusual lighting, the pairing was a natural.
Jonsdottir’s inspiration, she said, was the idea of an artists’ studio open for a party where the mood is retro, bohemian, and sexy. The key lighting move was the use of large old Edison light bulbs with their exposed filaments. Their orange light casts a warm glow on the models and hipsters who check out the club and provides more old-school character than the usual Hollywood hotspot. As a centerpiece, a pyramid-like cluster of over 500 of these bulbs forms an appealing and flattering light sculpture. Elsewhere, two lines of the bulbs create a “runway of light.”
This being a nightclub, the light plays coy here; its presence is subtle behind columns and perforated metal. The effect is a knowing glamour evocative of a boudoir or somewhere else you’re not supposed to be. Jonsdottir went to flea markets to find old photographers’ lamps—that still work—to mix in with other found items, from antique fans to fabric-strewn columns. In a good way, it feels like a party gone really wild.