When is a furniture store not just a furniture store? When it's El Dorado, Pedro Cápo's furniture emporium in Miami, FL, where the decor has a neoclassical theme that transforms a giant warehouse into a unique shopping experience. Miami-based LD Michael O'Brien opted for a mix of theatrical and architectural lighting to add a sense of fun and pizzazz to this themed interior. The Miami office of Barbizon Lighting supplied the lighting equipment and coordinated the systems integration.

“Pedro Cápo was born in Cuba and now runs one of the largest Latin-owned businesses in Florida,” says O'Brien, adding that Cápo presently owns nine stores and has plans for more. “The family was in the furniture business in Cuba and Pedro is following in the family tradition. His father brought his seven sons and his know-how to Miami. The business grew from one storefront on Calle Ocho.”

In remodeling the El Dorado store in the Miami Gardens area (which is also corporate headquarters), Cápo went for a decidedly different approach to selling furniture. The center of the store is now a 20'-wide (6m) by almost 1,000'-long (300m) city street that winds though the 115,000-sq.-ft. (10,350 sq. m) mega-warehouse. The eight other stores have similar design layouts that O'Brien is yet to light.

“It's built like a film set,” notes O'Brien, about the main street at El Dorado. “It is very theatrical, with Georgian and Greek-inspired facades. You walk through the facades into 15 different furniture shops.” The scenic elements were built by Elio Serra, a Cuban-born architect, using Styrofoam, muslin, and fiberglass with bas-relief brick, stonework, and stucco topped with barrel-tile roofs. “He used old-school theatrical techniques,” says O'Brien. “You can pick furniture in keeping with the architectural details of your house.”

The decor also includes The Woodmups, a series of elfish characters (fashioned on the seven Cápo brothers) that serve as scenic objects. “They could eventually become animatronics,” muses O'Brien. The Woodmups are placed predominantly in the cafe area of the store where they are lit with Juno MR-16 monopoint track head pendants aimed at their faces. The pendants drop down through a false ceiling with a leafy effect made of fabric and netting. Throughout the store there are also unusual display items (all for sale), including an authentic Cuban “pedi-cab,” not to mention almost life-size stuffed leather animals, including elephants and monkeys, that hang from trees. The elephant is covered with a textural wash from an ETC Source Four ellipsoidal, with an amber glow from a Source Four PAR and purple glow from a Coemar ProWash fixture.

To light the facades on the main street, O'Brien used various breakup patterns from GAM Products, Lee, and Rosco in more than 100 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals. “I wanted to make it look more realistic and as if the buildings were actually outdoors, giving them a textured effect,” he says, referring to light filtering onto the faux facades as dappled sunlight might filter through leafy trees. GAM TwinSpins add the effect of shimmering water reflected on the facades. A Crestron show control system and Audio Box matrix enhances the feeling created by the lighting. “You hear the sound of fountains as you see the reflections of water on the walls,” O'Brien adds. “This creates a very tranquil mood and reinforces the idea of a real water feature.”

Architectural accents on the facades, such as a row of columns, are given an exterior treatment with Color Kinetics C-30 color-changing LED spotlights recessed into the base of the columns as uplights. There is also an overhead bridge (as if another street crosses overhead) with a gatehouse. “The bridge is Woodmup size, and very Old World-looking,” says O'Brien, who used linear Color Kinetics iColor Cove to liven up the gatehouse with splashes of color.

When he began the project, O'Brien found that the existing lighting was primarily PAR-38 track lighting blasting onto the facades. “Along the main street, this lighting was too bright and too harsh,” he comments. “They made the facades look as fake as possible. It really didn't make sense. My goal was to make the facades look more natural and organic. I wanted to treat all that nice architecture with kindness.” Some of the PARs were re-allocated and used to light the tops of the facades, and to blend with the more theatrical layer of lighting that includes the use of clear rope light behind latticework on balconies and for backlit windows.

O'Brien added even more color in light shows that take place on the center part of the street (an area approximately 100' long). These events take place every half hour and are accompanied by one of four pieces of recorded music ranging from a Spanish birthday song to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. “SMPTE triggers an ETC Expression III Lighting Playback Controller that is part of an overall ETC control system, using Unison dimmer racks,” says the LD, whose favorite of the four shows is set to New Age music.

Automated luminaires create colorful lighting for these shows. The automated rig includes three Coemar ProWash MSD250 automated yoke wash luminaires, two Coemar CF7 HE HMI effects luminaires, seven High End Systems Dataflash® AF1000 indoor strobe lights, and six High End Systems Technobeams®. The fixtures are hung overhead on truss, and blend into a black ceiling. “They pretty much disappear,” says O'Brien. Le Maitre water-based haze machines with DMX interface are also hung overhead with trays to collect any drips.

“The light dances, creating a party-like atmosphere,” says O'Brien, who has theatrical lighting training and firmly believes that “the lighting should be the unsung hero that makes everything else look good.” The challenge here was designing shows without actors. “It's tricky,” he says. “There is no real focus or motivation so I had to try and find things to center on, such as swirling colorful patterns around the large trees on Main Street.”

There are also three High End Systems Emulators®, used with a custom DMX interface provided by Interactive Technologies. “The Emulators have now been discontinued; they were made to run with High End protocol. In order to use them with a DMX controller we had to translate the High End protocol to DMX,” explains O'Brien.

“The Emulators were used, as real lasers are not only expensive and require a great deal of maintenance, but are inherently dangerous — you have to be very careful where you aim them,” he continues. “In this kind of environment they would not have been practical.” As the client wanted laser tendrils coming from the sky down into the space, O'Brien found that simulated effects work well. “The Emulators can also be used to spell out letters and could be used to say SALE or EL DORADO, for example,” he adds.

Garden-style pole fixtures serve as streetlights to add to the Main Street theme. “These were also too bright, so I dimmed them to create a more muted environment,” says O'Brien. He also relamped the fixtures in the central show area, taking out the original incandescent source and replacing the lamps with homemade LED units. “I tied together four 6" pieces of Color Kinetics iColor Cove, tying them back to back to create a multidirectional lamp.”

When placed in the frosted globes of the streetlights, the LEDs make the entire globe glow a solid amber color (the same hue as an incandescent lamp). “As you walk down the boulevard you can't really tell the difference from the original lamps that were not changed,” says O'Brien. “The LEDs change color during the musical numbers and add to the fun.

“The street is a non-selling area,” notes O'Brien, pointing out that it is almost unheard of in retail to take that much space out of a furniture store where sales per square foot is what counts. Yet the numbers here are still great. “The store is very successful and a popular family destination,” he says. “And when all the color-changing fixtures are on it's very bright and saturated. They stepped in this direction with the Woodmups so I pushed it a little more and helped lighten up the atmosphere and make it fun. This must be one of the most colorful furniture stores in the world.”

Contact the author at elgreaux@primediabusiness.com.