When I was first approached about designing Ménage Ultra Lounge in Charlotte, NC, I was both thrilled and terrified. It would be my first lighting install to break six figures, increasing the prestige and potential client base for my small company. As with all new jobs, Ménage became a breeding ground for knowledge and hard knocks.

Immediately, the owner had expressed interest in LED designs he had seen in Miami and Vegas. Although he did not mention any names, he showed some pictures I recognized from the Color Kinetics website. Recognizing the lights was just the edge I needed to start the process of Charlotte's largest LED installation.

Starting at around $150K, the budget was cut several times before the contract was signed at $85K. Renegotiated the next week, the final contract allotted me $70K to design an 11,000 sq. ft., three-story club. Immediately, I had to reevaluate product lines in hopes of finding less expensive alternatives.

Color Kinetics seemed to be the leader in LED development since I was first introduced to LEDs. The newest lines are all water resistant and some are completely submersible. However, some areas of my design did not call for these features. After cutting the budget in half, I turned my attention to the Alkalite series, distributed by Elation Professional.

The space was full of many small areas, forcing a more intimate design turning away from the typical big dance club. Three VIP platforms look down on the main dance floor. That seemed easy: downlight the three sections. The VIP platforms look dark when no one is there and explode with color reflecting off clothing when club goers are present. I was careful to position the LED pods inside the platforms' perimeters to darken the faces of the VIP's as they look onto the main floor, creating the required mystique.

The main floor has a tiny dance floor with a DJ booth in the corner. I used a quarter truss over the booth with four Elation Active Scans and an 8' circle truss with four Robe 160 XT moving heads and two Elation Proton Stars. I had just designed several disco events, and mirror balls kept coming to mind, so I hung seven large disco balls in a tight cluster inside the circle.

Both bars on the main floor use back lit Plexiglas. A dance platform divides the main bar in the middle, with both an up wash and a down wash on a 4'×8' stage with two Color Kinetics ColorBlast® 12s. The lip of the 32' bar is lit with two rows (4'×16' strings) of Color Kinetics iColor® Flex, creating subtle hints of color on the wood-carved bar front. Six ColorBlast 12s climb 10' of Plexiglas shelving, providing an amazing display of color and bringing attention to the most important items in every bar: liquor.

Under the VIP platforms on the main floor, the interior designer created a room all in red. The bar in this room is lit with seven Elation Octopod 30s. Two red-gelled pin spots on two separate mirror balls cause the red room to shimmer and move across the windows to entice onlookers. The outer wall is made of beautifully aged brick, perfect for the downlight from three ColorBlast 12s between the three pairs of windows.

Even though the designer wanted only the color red, I opted to use full color LEDs, painting the room a strong red light with flickers of dim green light for a fire light effect, occasionally dipping into blue to create a nighttime ambience.

I used two controllers — a Martin Light Jockey for the club lights and VIP areas and a Color Kinetics ColorPlay® for the bar areas — to give control of the bar lights to the managers and the bartenders who need the light for work. I set up a touch screen to control the club lights and VIP areas for the guest DJs and lighting director, whose primary concern is the dance floor.

The next challenge was integrating the Octopods in the second bar into ColorPlay. First, I had to create a pair of 3-pin-to-Ethernet connectors. Next, I had to integrate a six-channel LED into ColorPlay that only uses three-channel fixtures. The solution is simple yet difficult to explain. Octopods use six channels: rainbow effect, red, green, blue, strobe, sound. To use the ColorPlay, I had to alternate a dummy fixture with each Octopod fixture to absorb channel 1, so that fixture 2 would contain channels 2, 3, and 4. The first fixture in ColorPlay is a dummy fixture with two dead channels, and the third is the rainbow channel 1. The next fixture is the standard RGB. After that, a dummy fixture is placed in ColorPlay with the last two channels of the first fixture (strobe and sound) and the rainbow setting of the second.

Here's an example: the ninth fixture in the design is the first of eight Octopods. In ColorPlay, fixture 9 has DMX channel 25. Address the Octopods starting with DMX channel 27 (not 28). Now odd fixtures 9 through 25 are dummy channels. Do not use them in a group. Even channels 10 through 24 are the Octopod group, making them completely compatible with the ColorPlay system. Finally, for the VIP areas, I used background cues in Light Jockey to run the Octopods.

Just a side note: using the macro function in the cue list of Light Jockey is an easy way to incorporate LED delay effects that sweep across a line of lights. Using the background cues is another great way to control functional lights separate from dance floor lights (for more on this, you can visit the Light Jockey Forum on line at www.martin.com/forum/). However, for a system containing only LEDs, Color Kinetics makes great controllers.

The middle floor is a massive island bar lined with metallic mountainous landscape. A single row of iColor Flex lines the lip of the bar, highlighting the roughed metal sky. The bar island has another island within, with a stepped Plexiglas tower of liquor lit with 20 Color Kinetics iColor Coves®. The lights are controlled with ColorPlay and a keypad under the center island.

When they decided not to use projector screens against the only brick wall in the room, I jumped at the chance. I love brick. Stone is a great medium for light because of the naturally random shadows a sharp downlight or uplight will cast. I stretched my budget to include eight more Elation Octopod 80s to downlight the aged brick wall. However, the most interesting object in the middle floor is the slide, which spirals through the room, traveling from the top floor to the basement. The designer envisioned a slide completely covered with cement mesh, sculpted and painted to look like a massive stalagmite. I bought eight Elation Opti-Pars to light this large sculpted stalagmite coming from the floor in the basement to the ceiling of the second floor.

However, after going through several metamorphoses, the slide was painted with metallic paint, giving it a futuristic feel. Seven Opti-Pars were used to downlight the slide. Six Opti-Pars were gelled with six slightly different colors of blue, and for the center of the slide, the Opti-Par was gelled blood red. The slowly chasing PARs cast light on the enormous spiraling slide down into the basement area.

The basement has three rooms. I wanted it to be dark, primarily to contrast the other two floors, yet continue the theme. The bar is well lit with eight Octopod 80s behind Plexiglas, and the lip of the bar is lit with two rows of iColor Flex, as with the bar on the main floor.

All the rooms have exposed rafters, providing plenty of locations to hide fixtures. In the room containing the bar, I used one set of Octopod 30s to downlight the furniture to give the room a brighter conversational tone, echoing the VIP areas of the main floor. Instead of lighting the floor of the DJ room, I shot the two sets of Octopod 30s across the ceiling. This created a dance of color overhead but a dark floor to welcome even the most timid dancer. Finally, the third room is top secret. If you want to see it, you have to rent it. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

Jack Kelly is president of Eye Dialogue based in Charlotte, NC. For more information, visit www.eyedialogue.com.

Menage Lounge Gear:

20 Color Kinetics iColor Coves®
13 CK iColor® Flex (up to 50 node runs)
14 CK ColorBlast® 12
6 CK ColorBurst® 6
2 CK Touch Pads
2 CK iPlayer® 2s
2 CK ColorPlays®
4 Elation Active Scans
2 Elation Octopod 80 (Sets of 8)
10 Elation Octopod 30 (Sets of 8)
2 Elation Proton Star
2 Elation UV Wash
7 Elation Opti-Pars and Dimmers
9 American DJ Mirror Balls and Motors
4 Robe 160 XT
1 Applied 8' Circle Square Truss
1 Applied 1/4 20' Circle Square Truss
1 Le Maitre Neutron XS
1 Martin Light Jockey