It was a high-stakes gamble. Could the lighting for the Brookstone store in the Venetian Hotel's Grand Hall of Shops beat the odds and be the big drawing card to stimulate traffic? Brookstone exemplifies good taste, high performance, and contemporary design. How could this image reach out and attract shoppers, surrounded as it is by a Las Vegas-ized version of the Pearl of the Adriatic?
James Mansour of Mansour Design, New York City-based store planners and designers, hit on the idea of making its lighting a primary attraction so different from the store interiors that visitors were used to seeing back home that they would have to come in and check it out. Mansour laid odds that Color Kinetics' new iColor Cove strips and C-200 lamps could produce a shimmering color-changing apparition that would boost store traffic. "Color Kinetics engineers guided us on the technical aspects of the installation," says Mansour, who has designed other Brookstone units in New York and Puerto Rico; the Las Vegas store design is the first in a new series that will be rolled out.
"Given the larger-than-life location, we were looking to create big excitement," says Scott Swaebe, Brookstone's director of visual merchandising. "I've worked with neon and fluorescent before, but Color Kinetics' LED-based lighting has inherent energy and movement, creating an immediate competitive edge for us that is absolutely essential in the Las Vegas retail market."
Brookstone's 6,000-sq.-ft. (557 sq. m) store at the Venetian has three distinct layers: the store's layout and fixturing by Mansour; the ambient and merchandise feature lighting; and accent and decorative lighting from Color Kinetics. Josh Feinstein, LC, of the Lighting Design Group, in Allston, MA, detailed the basic illumination program for the store and the product displays (Lighting Design Group is the design division of product supplier Standard Electric, in Wilmington, MA).
"Mansour was responsible for the conceptual lighting plan," notes Feinstein, who was the lighting consultant for the Brookstone store in the Plaza Las Americas Mall in Puerto Rico. The Las Vegas store was scheduled to open in September 1999. "We had just about a week to devise the ambient and merchandise illumination systems and submit a budget," he recalls. Conference calls to Mansour in New York and Brookstone in Nashua, NH, accelerated the process. Refinements were worked out with Hanna Design Group in Rolling Meadows, IL, the project's architect and the contractor.
Feinstein wanted fixtures that support the Brookstone product image of high-quality construction, dependable performance, and function. "For fixtures that are visible from the selling floor, we selected solid, streamlined silhouettes and a brushed aluminum finish," he points out. Feinstein reports that the ambient footcandle light level is in the 30-40 range; it reaches 100-120 on the merchandise. "This achieves a three-to-one ratio that makes the merchandise pop but is not overly dramatic, and will draw shoppers' eyes to the displays."
"It was important to crosslight every bit of the merchandise to avoid deep shadows produced by a one-directional source," Feinstein says. He utilized AR-111 lamps in four-light fixtures from RSA Lighting Inc. in a grid that he describes as "clean and symmetrical. It works with the store's design and at the same time directs light onto the merchandise."
Perimeter recessed fixtures in the soffits are positioned to light the vertical walls while others are beamed at the merchandise on the selling floor. The underside of the soffits is 13' (4m) from the floor. In the middle of the store the ceiling jumps to 16' (5m). To emphasize the open, blue-painted ceiling area, Feinstein placed 40 linear feet of 9W blue fluorescent lamps to enrich Brookstone's signature deep blue color overhead. Mansour chose to keep the ceiling open to its full height, 16' from the slab. "The decision to expose the ceiling and paint it blue was important to achieve an integrated, total store look," Mansour explains.
He and his team collaborated with Color Kinetics technicians to integrate the firm's LED technology to deliver the store's visual punch. The selling floor is organized around Brookstone's four merchandise categories: Home/Office, Health/Fitness, Travel/Auto, and Lawn/Garden. Mansour and Swaebe agreed on installing about 150 of Color Kinetics' color-changing lights--140 iColor Cove 12" strips and eight C-200 lamps. "They supply a futuristic impact to the entrance area and to key product displays," Mansour indicates.
Chromacore is Color Kinetics' patented technology that generates colored light with red, green, and blue LEDs. A built-in microprocessor mixes up to 16.7 million colors and controls lighting effects such as color washes, crossfades, random color changes, and fixed colors that can be varied by speed, brightness, and saturation. Predicted source life is rated at 100,000 elapsed time hours (11.4 years) under normal operating conditions.
iColor Cove strips add a colorful dimension to the external marquee; inside, they project a rainbow wash across a wall of shelving. Just inside the front entrance is a faux column with a top portion that appears to be peeling back from its core. The center is actually a tower uplit by four C-200 Color Kinetics fixtures integrated with a sculptural product display pyramid below.
Color Kinetics technology is shown to its best advantage here. A stepped-back series of freestanding display fixtures framed with color-changing bands of light artfully draw attention to the merchandise. Custom-designed by Mansour, as are the store's other display fixtures, these sculptural units provide a value-added setting for products.
Brookstone's blue corporate color appears prominently throughout the store. Two large Bs are visible from the entrance from the shopping center walkway. The opaque B occupies the left side window with products displayed on its horizontal surfaces. Two ceiling-mounted fixtures from RSA Lighting fitted with three 50W MR-16 flood lamps each provide visual emphasis.
Inside, a glowing central translucent B is both an effective graphic locator and functional display unit. Cold cathode neon bends to fit the B's curves and planes. The B is poised above a circular blue terrazzo inset in the polished concrete floor. Aluminum Bs placed in a scatter pattern were ground down until flush with the terrazzo surface.
Brookstone is flush with success over its Vegas store. Swaebe feels that the Color Kinetics' reprogramming flexibility will adapt to the store's shifting merchandise presentation techniques. "It's a win-win situation," he says.
Vilma Barr is a New York-based writer specializing in design and merchandising.
OWNER Brookstone Inc. Steve Strickland; vice president, marketing/creative services; Scott Swaebe, director of visual merchandising
DESIGN TEAM Mansour Design James Mansour, president; William Koo, vice president, creative services; Jerome Schmider, project designer
LIGHTING CONSULTANT Lighting Design Group (a division of Standard Electric) Josh Feinstein, LC
ARCHITECT/GENERAL CONTRACTOR Hanna Design Group
DISPLAY FIXTURES Carlson Company
SIGNAGE Ruggles Sign Company
LIGHTING SUPPLIERS Color Kinetics RSA Lighting Inc. Lightolier Inc. Celestial Lighting Inc. Osram Sylvania
Since it pitched its first trade show booth at LDI97, Boston-based Color Kinetics has brought a new hue to the illumination field. Its technological savvy, as it continuously uplifts the previously unsexy light emitting diode into a full-fledged digital light source, instantly casts a spell over designers looking to differentiate their projects.
Its marketing know-how has also helped win it a place at the drafting table, as its iColor and C-series products rack up awards (including, right off the bat, the architectural accolade of the year at LDI97) and find new applications. At a trade show, the firm's sharp-looking exhibits stand out, manned as they are by crisply-clad staffmembers--a relief from the "bad blue suits," says company co-founder George Mueller, who occasionally dresses up in a "top banana" outfit to punch up a presentation. Vice president of marketing Kathy Pattison hails from Apple Computer and the electronic media field, so the company's Silicon Valley approach in spreading the word about its merger of lights and microprocessors is no accident.
Both stopped by Lighting Dimensions in February, as they met with financiers and checked out a few of its New York City projects. These include the Nine West showroom and Focus Lighting's design of the Sony Loews marquee at E-Walk on 42nd Street, which uses 400 custom-built color-changing boards. They were joined by Color Kinetics co-founder Ihor Lys, who met his partner at Carnegie Mellon University and whose thesis for his PhD in electrical and computer engineering concentrated on low-power digital circuits; both were in their 20s when they launched the firm. They laid the groundwork for their brainchild on the same kitchen table where Mueller and his brother started Internet Securities Inc., a market information provider that racks up annual sales of $7 million.
The Internet is where you expect to find under-30 entrepreneurs, not the lighting field, which largely concentrates on staid "brass, glass, and gas" technologies, Mueller says. Which is exactly why Color Kinetics is seeking to become a fixture on the scene. "We are a high-tech company," he says. "We're not sitting around all day trying to dissipate heat from an arc light or a halogen lamp. We saw LEDs increasing in intensity, noted that blue and green were on the market, and put in microprocessor network control to provide something useful to this industry.
"The bulb makers are not rocket science companies, and there is a huge, $11 billion market for replacement lamps, which our iColor MR lamps fit into," he continues. "The moving lights market has a lot of competition in a small field, and because of the cost and the way they look you aren't going to find many in the retail, restaurant, or residential markets, which are key for us. I wouldn't want a big, expensive, robotic unit hanging over my head in the entryway to my house."
Mueller says that Color Kinetics' digital devices represent "a disruptive technology--it's something no one else was thinking about before." But after its debut, the company began to note products that it felt had latched onto their cutting edge. At LDI99, Color Kinetics served Avolites and Artistic Licence of the UK, which have LED lines, with cease and desist orders.
"The legal terminology means they are under official notice that we have intellectual property that we feel they are violating, and our patent attorneys have told them that they are liable for damages," Mueller explains. "There were no other companies displaying LED illumination before LDI97, nor for quite some time after. It's quite obvious if you look through our first few patent claims that a lot of our property was being violated."
[Artistic Licence managing director Wayne Howell says, "We have suspended shipment of the Colour-Fill 250 to the US pending a product redesign. I would like to point out that the CF250 is only one of the eight products in the Colour-Fill range. The LED digital lighting products Colour-Pipe (CP300, CP600, CP1000), Water-Fill (WF250), Colour-Ball (CB60), and the Terra-Fill (TF250 & TF60) use technology which does not conflict with the CK patent and are available for sale worldwide." Rob Steel at Avolites said in a statement, "The engineers working on the Borealis project are currently analyzing the claims in the patent to establish whether there are any infringements. They do not intend to make a product that infringes, and if infringements are found the product will be reengineered accordingly."]
Color Kinetics' Chromacore technology was awarded a first-in-its-field patent in late January, covering standalone and network control of multiple LEDs in illumination and
display. Around the same time, the company announced a new round of financing that will in part be used to maintain its property portfolio.
"There's a bad taste in people's mouths over legal actions in this industry, but we see this as very positive," Pattison says. We obviously have an interest in protecting what we've brought to the market, but we're also interested in advancing it." OEM and licensing pacts are in the works as the firm expands its distribution in Europe and a particularly receptive market, Japan, via Tokyo's ALS Inc.
Color Kinetics, which was Mueller and Lys in 1997, will likely have 100 employees by summer and is looking for new digs in Boston, close to the collegiate talent pool it draws staff from. Pattison says its upcoming products, integrated with other digital tools, will allow users who have no programming skills to "author" designs. "What you've seen so far has barely scratched the surface," she promises.