"The first look," says lighting designer Paul Gregory, "is the image the viewer will most remember." As president of New York City-based Focus Lighting, Gregory maintains this "first-look" theory almost as a mantra which defines his approach to architectural lighting in a variety of applications.

The project list at Focus Lighting reads like a what's what in the design world, ranging from such tony watering holes as Lidia's in Kansas City, to Vong, Nobu, and the new Tribeca Grand Hotel, all in Manhattan. Other stylish hotels, casinos, upscale residences, movie theatres, and furniture showrooms round out the company's client base. "If the architect, lighting designer, and interior designer are all working together from different design platforms to create the same mood," says Gregory, "the resulting project will elicit a beautiful emotion in the viewer."

Many of these projects are the result of several long-term collaborations that have helped shape Gregory's career. One of these is with architect David Rockwell, principal of Rockwell Group in New York City. "I met David back in the 70s doing nightclubs," Gregory explains. "Our companies have formed a close working relationship based on the desire to create a memorable design, integrating lighting and architecture."

In recent years they have collaborated on numerous high-profile projects including the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT; Samba, a new Brazilian restaurant at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas; the new 56th Street Hotel opening in Manhattan in 2000; and a myriad of restaurants, including Michael Jordan's Steak House, which opened earlier this year in Manhattan's refurbished Grand Central Terminal.

"We wanted to create the warmth of an old-fashioned private train car with a big living room feel," says Gregory, who designed the restaurant with Kim Donahue of Focus Lighting and Sam Trimble of Rockwell Group. "The idea was to simulate candlelight flickering through cut-crystal shades to create a colorful wall that sparkles." Rosco Colorizer patterns with bits of red and amber with stainless steel gobos were used to create the flickering effect.

This candle effect accents the warm woods and backlit reddish mica combined in the room's decor. Six 100W household-style lightbulbs placed 12" from the curved surface of a mica column make it glow "like the embers of a fire," according to Gregory, who also embedded fresnel lenses with 25W A-lamps into the top of the bar "to make people's faces look great at night."

A wall of photographs of old trains is topped with four 17" fresnel lenses and MR-16 lamps to create the light on the front of a train engine, in keeping with the theme of the room. "The walls are landmarked, so we had to negotiate carefully," Gregory explains.

At Lidia's, a new restaurant in Kansas City, Gregory collaborated with Niels Guldager of Rockwell Group and Focus Lighting project designer Brett Anderson to transform a 1920s freight house into a wine cellar with a beamed ceiling and exposed brick walls. "This is the all-important first look of the restaurant," says Gregory.

Other eye-catching design elements include the neon-illuminated wine rack at the end of the room and the chandeliers, which are made from brightly-colored, hand-blown glass shaped like grappa bottles and hung to look like bunches of grapes. Clear 25W lamps inside the clusters give them sparkle, while truss-mounted MR-16s project the colors of the bottles onto the walls.

There are also vertical wine racks built to display eight rows of bottles. To accent these, Gregory used an ETC Source Four framing projector to silhouette the bottles and create a two-dimensional shadow against a scrim backing.

Similar touches appear in many of Focus Lighting's design schemes. At Ruby Foo's, a pan-Asian restaurant in New York City, pale parchment panels are backlit with white neon to contrast with red-lacquered walls lit by MR-16 lamps with red filters. Spinning mah-jongg tiles are lit with low-voltage incandescent lamps for extra sparkle.

In another collaboration with Rockwell Group, Focus Lighting worked on the new Loews cinema complex at E-Walk on the north side of 42nd Street near 8th Avenue in Manhattan. Chances are the most memorable effect here will be the exterior of the building. A large marquee sign--60' tall by 8' wide (18x2.4m)--that spells out LOEWS is made up of almost a quarter-million red, blue, and green LEDs. "The LED is very specific in the way it emits light," notes Gregory, who has aimed the light of this sign toward Times Square.

The LEDs and their three-pixel circuitry boards come from Color Kinetics in Boston, with almost 3,000 channels of control via a Strand console and an AMX touch panel. "This allows the box office manager to change the color as needed for a film shoot or a special event," explains Brett Anderson, Focus Lighting's designer and project manager for E-Walk.

"You can program color sweeps that can be seen from six blocks away," he says. The programming allows the LEDs to be seen as a solid block of color, or take advantage of Color Kinetics' infinite color-changing capabilities.

The facade also has a moving galaxy of stars created by eight Clay Paky Golden Scans with star gobos perched atop the marquee. Four of the automated luminaires are pointed to the left and the other four to the right, with their gobo patterns overlapping to create two very bright stars on the facade. "They start to spin, and explode out to cover the facade with a thousand stars," says Gregory, who added an additional eight Golden Scans to create star patterns on the sidewalk.

The Loews building itself, designed by Rockwell senior associate Carmen Aguilar, is shaped like a large proscenium arch in pre-cast concrete and glass framing a grand, five-story-high red drape. For a theatrical touch, Gregory uplit the drape with 400W metal-halide fixtures and Lumiere PAR-56 lamps. Inside the theatre, large ceiling murals are uplit from the concession area by both PAR-38s and MR-16s with dichroic lenses.

This sense of the dramatic that Gregory brings to Focus Lighting's projects stems from his early days as a theatrical lighting designer. "We are equally grounded in theatre and architecture," he says, indicating that half of his staff members also have roots in the theatre.

Gregory studied art, physics, and optics at the University of Massachusetts, not far from his hometown of West Springfield in western Massachusetts, where he designed lighting for Stage West and several area colleges. He also took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Goodman Theatre School in Chicago.

"Looking at the light the way it is communicated in paintings was a great way to learn. The highlights and the shadows the painter uses to create mood and location are exactly the same as what we do with real space," Gregory asserts. "It's all there in nature. Even deep dichroic colors are no more intense than the blue of a blueberry or the red of an orchid. I see lighting everywhere I go. I look at the amber of the sunset against the silhouette of a tree and see the contrast."

Gregory moved to New York City in 1975, at just 22 years old. "I had lit over 100 shows by that time," he claims. "I may have been the youngest person to join Scenic Artists Local 829, which I joined when I lit One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in Chicago."

Once in New York, Gregory founded Litelab, a company that specialized in nightclub design, including Xenon and some of the effects for the original Studio 54 in Manhattan. With Gregory and his partner Rick Spaulding, Litelab expanded to have offices in New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and a factory in Buffalo (Spaulding still runs Litelab there). "It was too much management and not enough to do with lighting design," maintains Gregory, who left Litelab in 1985 and founded Focus Lighting, of which he is the sole proprietor.

Of a more manageable size, Focus Lighting is located in a townhouse on the upper reaches of Manhattan's West Side. Gregory acquired the property in the early 1990s and lives upstairs from the "store."

He cannot say enough to praise his 20-member staff. "They are young and creative and the best in the field, just a great group to work with." This group is divided into five teams of designers, with one lead designer and one assistant per team. The office also has two floating assistants, and a seven-member support staff, with Gregory at the helm as part-time rainmaker and part-time design guru. "I work with the designers on every project, but each one is a true collaboration, and they have a big part in the design process."

Another of Gregory's long-standing professional friendships is with UK-based lighting designer Jonathan Speirs, with whom he worked on the lighting for the Chicago Beach Resort & Towers Hotel in Dubai. "We work as associates, and share office space informally, representing each other internationally," Gregory says of his relationship with Speirs. This past summer, they pooled their techniques to teach a six-day course on "guerrilla lighting" in Germany.

"This is where you go in and do it right just once, without permission," Gregory says, explaining how they would go into a city and "attack"a building with light, unbeknownst to the owners. One of these buildings was a World War II bunker that they illuminated with brilliant colors and patterns from ETC Irideon AR500s and Clay Paky Golden Scans.

Gregory also collaborates frequently with architect and designer Adam Tihany, most notably on the Le Cirque 2000 restaurant in Manhattan, where peach dichroic filters added to MR-16 lamps assure warm, rosy skin tones. Gregory and Tihany carefully juxtaposed contemporary lighting within the landmarked classical interior (see "Circus circuits," LD November 1997, page 76). Their joint projects also include the Dan Hotel in Israel, which has a 20,000-point fiber-optic star field, and Neyla, a new Mediterranean restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.

"The central core of this restaurant has vaulted white plaster ceilings with glass and metal antique lighting fixtures," says Gregory, who worked with Focus Lighting designer Kim Donahue on this project. MR-16 uplights by Lumiere of Westlake Village, CA, and Exterieur-Vert of Montaurox, France, are placed around the bases of the columns that support the central vault. Their amber filters add warmth to the white space.

This interior leads to an "exterior" terrace with 14 dining bays. The exterior look is created by fabric canopies with leaves sewn onto opera netting, or wide-tooth scrim, lit from above with PAR-38 lamps. ETC Source Fours add leafy patterns to the decor. The trees are also sidelit with RSA modular MR-16 fixtures. Additional Source Fours, hung in slots above the stretched fabric canopies, project leaves onto the floor.

The dining tables are lit with MR-16 fixtures by RSA, of Chatsworth, CA, recessed into slots in the ceiling. A wall of falling water, front- and backlit by PAR-36 lamps in metal brackets, surrounds the dining room. "There is contrast between the interior which has a warmer atmosphere, and the terrace with its canopies of leaves and the cool water falling around it," says Gregory.

Focus Lighting has also moved into product development and the custom design of fixtures. "This grows out of a project-by-project need," Gregory explains. For example, in designing the lighting for the Emporio Armani boutique, Gregory worked with Tech Lighting on the low-voltage MR-16 Aero fixture for display lighting. "It looks like an old photographer's lamp, with a traditionally shaped metal shade, but longer. Customers might get an eyeful of glare with a regular fixture hung at a 40-degree angle. The Aero's longer shade shields the light better and is less disturbing."

At the newest Knoll furniture showroom in Chicago (Focus Lighting has designed the lighting for 14 different Knoll showrooms to date), Gregory and Focus Lighting designer Diana Ades were faced with a space filled with natural light. "The goal here was to deal with the sun," he says. "It is difficult to make the product be more important then the sunlight." The solution was to use the sun to silhouette the furniture, and add 75W PAR-30 and metal-halide fixtures by Litelab to help "pop" the furniture.

To show the client what to expect, Focus Lighting offers a sneak preview by way of hand-drawn renderings of each project. "The way we do this came from Jonathan Speirs," says Gregory, who invited Speirs to come teach a class in how to render. "The drawings are a good visual approximation of what we actually achieve."

To best meet the client's needs, Gregory is a believer in getting involved in each project as early as possible. "I like to come up with ideas of what can make a space exciting," he says, hinting that he'd enjoy lighting an art museum.

An example of making a space exciting can be seen at the Playdium, another Rockwell Group project designed by Aguilar. For this indoor game arcade, currently under construction in Toronto, Gregory proposed the idea of a moving blue-lit cove, like a long horizon. "You could twist it, rotate it, move it with a motor so it looks like an undulating blue sky," he says. "This could be the visual image that will make people remember the Playdium and want to go there."

Getting in on the project early helps Gregory and his team in his collaboration with the architects and interior designers, and helps ensure proper lighting positions. "They understand they have to think about lighting. They understand this instinctively, but what we have to decide is what picture we are trying to paint, what visual image we are trying to convey," he says. "We have a background, a focus, and a frame."

In keeping with Frank Lloyd Wright's statement that "lighting is the form-giver," Gregory looks at a building as a visual canvas which both reveals and is revealed by the light put on it. "What is it that you remember when you enter a building?" Gregory asks. "The interior or the exterior, the grand vista or the tiny details? It's different on each project, but we try to provide everything: We want the light in a building to be an immersive tableau.

"The important thing is to integrate the lighting into the architecture, and not just apply it to the skin. If you don't decide everything up front, it's hard to be in sync design-wise," says Gregory, who sees the LD as the visual artist who pulls it all together, giving each project its proper focus.