Light the Way: Utilizing lighting to create ambiance for your business

Light fixtures are seen in the main dining room of Top of the Marq in Cape Girardeau. Finding the right color temperatures and brightness for the many light fixtures to create the right atmosphere involved quite a bit of experimentation, said restaurateur Keller Ford. (Tyler Graef ~ B Magazine)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019 ~ Updated 7:50 PM

Take a moment to consider the drummer. Like at a live show.

Their function is fundamental; necessary. And when it's good, it keeps everything working as planned. It helps tease out the nuances of the larger body of work and adds a sense of emotional heft to the experience. It might even be so good that nobody really notices.

Of course, when it's bad, it may be the only thing people notice.

The same can be said of architectural lighting.

As businesses seek to engage customers on a deeper level, the right lighting can elevate architecture and often be just as important as the architecture itself when it comes to leaving a lasting impression on guests.

That being said, lighting choices should be motivated by a clearly-defined vision, and that means lighting often varies as widely as the architecture itself.

Ebb & Flow in downtown Cape Girardeau utilizes ambient and accent lighting to create a cozy atmosphere.
Tyler Graef ~ B Magazine

Scott Starzinger, co-owner of HD Media Systems, says lighting can be a somewhat counter-intuitive process, but should always be motivated by the space itself and the end result. Some people, he says, assume symmetry is a cardinal virtue in lighting.

"What they teach you [in the American Lighting Association training course] is exactly the opposite, which makes a hell of a lot more sense when you think about it," he says.

Instead of symmetry, the goal is to have the light go where it's needed.

"You're not looking up at the ceiling when the lights are on," he points out. Customers are looking around the room, instead. "It's a completely different way of thinking," he says.

Broadly speaking, good lighting can be understood to have three foundational functions: task lighting, ambient lighting and accent lighting. These elements work together, respectively, to lead the eye around a given space, make it so that there is enough illumination to accomplish the necessary business and imbue the space with a little pizzazz and emotion.

Highlighting is utilized at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in downtown Cape Girardeau.
Tyler Graef ~ B Magazine

Sometimes these objectives cross-pollinate, and a light that draws the eye to, say, a stone archway also provides some degree of functional light, but every space should be lit according to its ultimate objective. Still, there are several techniques that are broadly applicable when it comes to lighting. "Wall washing" (i.e., lighting the wall itself) is an effective method of drawing out texture, helping to enhance the vertical borders of a space and offset the walls as their own distinct architectural element.

If, however, your space aspires to create a more social, relaxed atmosphere, it may be better served by emphasizing horizontal borders through lighting on the ceiling and floor. Using the ceiling and floor as diffusers can provide enough functional light while amplifying the moodiness of the space.

Keller Ford's rooftop restaurant Top of the Marq in Cape Girardeau takes a dynamic approach to lighting that shifts slowly over the course of an evening to make the most of both natural and artificial light.

"During the day when you walk in, your eye is drawn to our big windows and the view outside," he says. "That view was the whole reason we wanted to do anything up there at all, so we had those big windows designed. ... But as the evening goes along, we wanted to make it feel more cozy, so there are a few times every evening when we dim down the lights to change the feel. It's pretty bright in there when we open, but as the evening goes on, you start noticing the design elements and the bar, and it starts to take on a more lounge feel."

Task lighting

By focusing on highlighting the important aspects of their business, Hotshots in downtown Cape Girardeau utilizes task lighting.
Tyler Graef ~ B Magazine

Task lighting is primarily focused on highlighting the important aspects of a room, be it a bookcase, piece of art or other furniture. Scott Starzinger, co-owner of HD Media Systems, says the first step is figuring out the needs of the object in question. "What am I lighting? Eleven-by-fourteen portrait? A bookcase? That's going to help determine the placement of my light and angle of my light and beam spread of my light. ... You don't want the light to be twice as wide as what the artwork is."

Otherwise, he says, it's no different than putting a can light in the ceiling and calling it a day; technically lit, but leaving a lot of potential untapped.

Ambient lighting

Ambient lighting is all about function. It's the type of illumination used commonly in public spaces such as baseball stadiums, libraries or hospitals. Your need for ambient light may be static or change over the course of an evening, like Keller Ford's Top of the Marq.

Accent lighting

Accent lighting is utilized by the Isle Casino in Cape Girardeau.
Tyler Graef ~ B Magazine

Accent lighting is responsible for much of the tone-setting of a space. Keller Ford said that Top of the Marq has 11 light fixtures that are original to the building and were refurbished for use in the restaurant.

"Trying to get all those things to be cohesive was a bit of a challenge," he says. "And then you figure out which ones are too bright or too yellow or too white. That certainly took some time, but you get enough different things going on that we can create different moods, cool patterns above and below, stuff like that."