Sculpted plaster walls and color-changing glass dividers set the scene at Morimoto, the popular Japanese-fusion eatery that opened last year in downtown Philadelphia. Winner of a 2002 IALD Award of Merit for its dramatic lighting design, Morimoto is the brainchild of Philadelphia's trend-setting restaurateur Stephen Starr and chef Masaharu Morimoto (of TV'sIron Chef and New York City's Nobu restaurant fame).

Karim Rashid designed the eye-catching interiors, working closely with Paul Gregory, principal of NYC-based Focus Lighting, and his team, including JR Krauza, senior designer, and project managers Jaie Bosse and Derek Wadlington. “We met and reviewed the project. It was a collaborative evolution,” says Gregory, who also designed the lighting for Starr's Alma de Cuba, and more recently for Jones, Starr's latest restaurant to open in Philadelphia.

The idea for the plaster walls at Morimoto came after some design revisions. “Rashid started with fabric walls, as he wanted to create a counterpoint to the sharp angles of glass as a design element,” says Gregory. The glass is used as panels that separate the booths at Morimoto. Each is a double wall with two pieces of 1/2"-thick glass placed 5" apart. The glass is frosted on the inside (for easy cleaning on the outside).

Color Kinetics® iColor® Cove LED fixtures (with red, green, and blue LEDs) were installed at the bottom of the space between the glass panels. “There is a dedicated Color Kinetics controller to run slow fades, from ambers, lavenders, violets, and light blues, to reds and lime greens,” says Gregory. “The transitions have to be attractive as well.”

Adding to the magic are RSA multiple-head MR-16 accents over each table. Each fixture has three MR-16 heads: two for the table, and one on the side plaster walls with their slight amber hue. “We did mock-ups of the wall,” says Gregory. “The first was in miniature, then the owner built a full-scale piece 8' wide and 18' tall, to see what finishes looked best.”

Also lighting the walls are rows of Litelab Socket Strip with PAR-30 lamps on 6" centers. These are on the floor, shooting up, and hidden by the edge of the riser that the tables are placed on. A second row of Socket Strip runs along the top of the walls and is hidden by the undulating ceiling. The front fill for the walls comes from the MR-16 downlights.

Custom glass candle lamps, made by Kurt Bonk in Philadelphia, sit on the tables. Their 20W clear bi-pin lamps light faces and help keep the colors from the LEDs off the food. “The overall look in the restaurant is how the glass panels and the sculpted walls relate to each other,” says Krauza. “The challenge in using the color-changing LEDs was to keep the whole space from turning green when the light turns green, or any other color.”

At Pod, Starr's sushi restaurant in West Philadelphia, the idea was that diners would sit in a brightly colored pod under hot neon light of the same color. “At Morimoto, we didn't want that to be the case,” Krauza explains. “The side walls make wonderful natural reflectors and bounce wash light back into the room. The MR-16s cut through for drama.”

The white exterior facade of Morimoto curves out toward the street and is punctuated by green glass that glows, with PAR-30 lamps between the door and the walls and Lumiere MR-16 uplights set 1' apart in the sidewalk in front of the 25'-wide storefront. A final touch is a milk-white Plexiglas sign with rapidly color-changing Color Kinetics LEDs spelling MORIMOTO. “Glare control was an important factor in the outdoor lighting,” says Krauza. “The sign is a nice way to bring the interior elements to the exterior.”