Paul Gregory, principal of Focus Lighting in New York City, is a man with multiple projects on his plate at all times. Representing the scope of the firm's work are four recent projects, ranging from a Knoll furniture showroom in Chicago, IL and The Mall at Millenia in Orlando, FL, to Karim Rachid's traveling exhibit for Muzak and a rice pudding restaurant, Rice To Riches, in New York City. "The important thing in each is to create a special environment with light," says Gregory. "You want to provide spaces where people are comfortable spending time."

RICE TO RICHES

Anyone who likes rice pudding would certainly be comfortable in the tasty little Rice To Riches, a small restaurant on Spring Street in New York City, where (no surprise) various flavors of rice pudding are featured on the menu. Gregory collaborated with Focus LD Jeff Nathan on the project, creating a welcoming environment that draws people's attention from the street. “The first look is coming in from the outside to the first taste of the product,” says Gregory, noting that the rice pudding is great (and better for you than ice cream). “The exterior look is a beautiful beginning to an experience.”

The design of the restaurant plays with ovals, or lozenge-shaped icons, echoing the shape of a rice kernel. This shape is repeated in various ways, from a large oval window in the facade to brightly-lit signs and decorative elements. Rice icons hanging from the ceiling are made of clear Plexiglas with 2" white frames and lit from above with round Halo MR16 fixtures recessed in a central ceiling cove. To add sparkle to bowls of rice pudding set into a gleaming white countertop, the LDs recessed RSA rectangular MR16 fixtures above the bar. “The bowls are under-lit with fluorescents to make them glow,” notes Gregory. In front of each bowl is a small sign identifying the flavors of the day. Each sign is lit using solid color LEDs from LED Effects.

THE MALL AT MILLENNIA

On a larger scale is Mall at Millenia, a high-end retail project that opened in Orlando last October (located between the airport and Walt Disney World) with lighting by Gregory, along with Brett Anderson, project designer, and JR Krauza, project manager. Two visual focus points, the Water Garden, or main entrance, and the Winter Garden, a secondary entrance, are designed as paintings, with light shaping the composition of the objects. “If Rice To Riches is an intimate Renoir bedroom scene, then the mall is like Paris at night with the Eiffel Tower,” says Gregory,

Two palm trees frame the Water Garden entrance, and stand out against the soaring circular blue ceiling and 30' tall amber LED-lit fountain (LEDs provided by the fountain company). Two elevator cabs are lit with blue neon, creating a kinetic light sculpture that moves up and down. “The colors are the colors of nature,” Gregory notes. “The amber of a sunset, the blue of the sky. It's a wonderful natural environment all about water.” Kim metal halide fixtures recessed into the stone and brick walkway uplight the palms, with two Kim bollards next to each tree.

Metal halide fixtures by LSI uplight the ceiling, and are hung on a supporting ring 15' from the ceiling itself. Also on this ring are two ETC Source Fours with Rosco palm tree gobos that add a tropical pattern to the floor. “At night the lighting is also nature-driven,” says Gregory. “We worked to balance the drama of a sunset with enough light to make the space feel comfortable.”

In contrast, the Winter Garden evokes an orangerie, with leafy orange trees in yellow planters. Adjustable MR16 accent lights in the planters add sparkle to the trees, while compact white fluorescent floods make the planters look as if they hover off the floor. The ceiling is uplit using Kim 150W metal halide floods with Special F/X blue glass filters, and the icing on the cake is a star-filled sky created by 107 fiber-optic points.

Candela Controls of Winter Park, FL, engineered and installed the fiber-optic system by Visual Lighting Technologies. Each of four illuminators has harnessed bundles of 4.5 millimeter fiber running to the individual downlights which have small clear glass balls. “The light defracts off the glass balls to split the beam and create sparkle,” says Bill Ellis of Candela Controls.”

“It looks like an orange grove at night, with the blue sky, yellow planters, and the trees,” Gregory adds. “Each look is studied like a painting with a foreground, background, frame, and focus. The first look is a tableau as you come around the corner. That is what you remember.”

KNOLL SHOWROOM

Gregory has collaborated with Knoll, the international furniture company, for the past 17 years, with the latest project its showroom at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. “The environment has to be balanced — not too dark and not too bright,” says Gregory. “This also has to be a place where people want to be. You can't put product in a space you can't look at.” Focus lighting designer Diane Aides took the lead on this project.

The real eye-catcher here is in the signage. First is an LED sign (with LEDs from LED Effects) that spells KNOLL in a 5' × 8' glass panel that sits inside the glass wall of the showroom. “This is what you see at the end of a 1,000' hallway when you get off the elevator,” Gregory explains. “It is really bright and the letters come together from a distance. As you approach they are more diffuse.” This new entry wall, and the new interior signage, debuted during the trade show NeoCon in June 2003.

Inside the showroom, the signage continues with three striking 8' tall by 18' wide panels spelling Knoll in overlapping letters and backlit with fluorescents. Each panel is made of layers of Plexiglas® coated with dichroic film in different colors. “The dichroic film reacts as the colors are layered,” Gregory notes, adding that the lettering changes color as you walk past the panels. Some of the colors are taken from the furniture colors (the famous Knoll red, for example). In the showroom, Litelab track fixtures with Par38 lamps light the products, the walls, and the columns, with bold new items by Hari Rachid of Aymptote, a New York City-based design and architecture practice.

SENSORIUM

Also pretty exciting is the traveling trade show exhibit, The Sensorium, designed for Muzak (the South Carolina-based “audio architecture” company) by architect Karim Rachid (yes, he's Hari's brother). The Sensorium is an egg-shaped chamber with a soft interior that provides a place for attendees to escape the noise of the trade show floor and enjoy a sensory experience with music and light. Gregory and Krauza spearheaded this project that made its debut at the trade show GlobalShop in March 2003.

“There is a scrim at the top of the egg's interior,” explains Gregory. Above the scrim are four Color Kinetics ColorBlast® LED fixtures programmed to replicate light as it changes throughout a single day, from sunrise to sunset, with colors inspired once again by nature. “This may prove that a calming visual environment helps you hear better,” says Gregory. “The interior of the egg is soft foam, angle-cut in pyramids that take the light beautifully, creating depth rather than flat color.”

Gregory points out that the LEDs allow the use of just four fixtures rather than 40. “We wanted the light to be directional, so that ruled out fluorescent or neon,” he says. “The LEDs were perfect. There was not a lot of heat generated and there is no lamp burn-out.”

For Gregory, each project is an opportunity to design, to learn, to make a difference. “It's about how to take someplace like Rice to Riches, a store in a complex urban environment and capture someone's attention with one view and draw them in,” he says. “The challenge is not to be garish. The Mall at Millenia represents a totally different problem. There's nothing within 1,000' of it. You have their attention, so it's a whole different opportunity: a big expansive countryside, not a little jewel.”