—By: Lighting Design + Application – An Article for LD+A Magazine—
The Animart per store in Madison, Wisconsin is transformed into a kingdom of whim and intrigue thanks to Martin J. Peck’s creative lighting schemes.
Theme restaurant and store projects are very popular these days, with retailers trying new ways to attract customers. Most people have experienced a themed environment, with the theatrical like settings that establish the motif and offer a level of entertainment. It is a well known marketing principal that when people are having fun they are more willing to spend money. However, many of these same retailers don’t realize just how much more they have to spend to develop these projects.
The themed retail environments that are prevalent in Orlando and Las Vegas are relatively easy to create on their large budgets. The intricate scenes, organic shapes, and finer detail cost considerably more money to build. To build a themed space on a typical store construction budget is much more challenging. If the theme is underdeveloped, it simply doesn’t work.
The Lighting of a themed retail space in this tight budget situation is even more difficult. Lighting is a very important tool to create the drama of the theme and to hide the reality of the store construction. A stage lighting background is quite helpful to light these scenic elements using inexpensive thematical techniques of angle, color, and projected imagery This artistic and responsive background is also important because, as most readers know, lighting always comes last.
This was the case with Animart, an upscale pet store in Madison, WI, owned by a veterinary couple who wanted to differentiate their store from the typical pet store. They were moving their store and hired a retail design firm to develop a fun look that would relate to animals and provide an entertaining shopping experience. The retail designers had developed a wonderful indoor-outdoor concept with storefronts along one side of the space, and a gallery, aquarium, and reptile cave areas along the other side.
However, they recognized that the existing lighting design did not enhance the theme image and might actually ruin the effect. That design consisted of a grid layout of 250 W metal halide high-bay Fixtures against a white ceiling, which is typical of a low-end retail space. Perhaps even more Significant, although not unusual, was the fact that the budget was established using this basic lighting design. To make things even more challenging was that construction was well underway. The Door was to be poured in a few days when Creative Lighting Design and Engineering was brought in to join the design team.
In a classic example of teamwork and brainstorming, the design team got together and quickly meshed. The retail designer, the scenic artist, and the lighting designer revisited and refined the indoor-outdoor theme. The high-bay fixtures and white ceiling had to be eliminated, although that did make the lighting task more difficult. A courtyard look was developed with the romance and drama of a nighttime ambience along the storefronts. It was recommended that the ceiling be painted a dark blue-green to enhance the nighttime feeling, an idea which was readily accepted.
The addition of classic streetlights made the courtyard theme believable, adding warmth and romantic charm. The streetlight idea would also help solve another lighting problem by contributing a diffuse ambient downlight. Twin-arm streetlights with warm-colored 175 W MH lamps were quickly selected for aesthetics and economy The first priority was to quickly fit these into the store layout design in a pattern designed to contribute a general ambient illumination of 25 fc.
With literally hours to spare, a pole layout was provided to the electrical contractor so that conduit could be laid out. The slab pour was thickened at the pole locations, since a conventional pole embedment was not required. There would be no frost in this courtyard and the only pole loading turned out to be the occasional store cat that perched on the cross arms.
Now with a little more time, the lighting concept could be fully developed. The storefronts included shops for dogs, cats, birds, feed, training, and a unique living room for trying out the pets. Befitting the period storefront architecture, billboard-style RLM fixtures and wall arm brackets were used to give a brighter wall ambience and highlight the wall merchandise. This was accomplished using 100 WHIR PAR38 flood lamps instead of the A-lamp that is conventionally used with this fixture. At 12 ft. above the floor, these fixtures gave a surprisingly bright and uniform illumination along the slat wall.
The main lighting system for the merchandise was, of course, track lighting. An inexpensive commodity track and fixture was used. Although louvers were desired to keep the glare from ruining the nighttime effect, they didn’t fit within the budget. The track height was specified at a high 15.5 ft. to keep the track above the storefronts and trees, which helped to reduce the need for the louvers.
During the first site meeting it was noticed that the spiral HVAC ducts were being installed below the fixture track at about 12 ft. A contractor had noticed that the ductwork wouldn’t fit above the track in one spot, and decided to lower the entire duct system rather than asking if the track could be lowered by 3 ft. Both communications and the spiral ducts were raised to a higher level.
Although the track was inexpensive, lamps using the latest quartz technology (the 100 PAR38W/HIRs) were selected for the track lighting fixtures for the highest light levels and efficiency. Narrow 25-degree flood lamps were cross aimed to fill shadows in the few areas not benefitting from the streetlights. Even at the 15 ft. track height, the 10 spot lamps provided well over 100 fc on the merchandise.
To complete the courtyard theme, a realistic and natural lighting effect was needed. Shadows from sunlight or moonlight passing through the stylized trees would nicely complete the scene, even though only the bottom of the trees existed. Four theatrical projectors with 2000 hour, 575 W quartz lamps were equipped with templates of tree branches, providing an inexpensive solution. These were mounted to the track unistrut and plugged into track adapters. They were aimed onto a path winding around the 1100r near the trees, projecting a pleasing effect of branch shadows on the path and the bridge. A slight yellow filter was used to suggest sunlight and to maximize the effect, which worked fine since the time or day was not defined.
A few extra touches to the courtyard included landscape and underwater lighting in the pond and around its bridge. To take the eye upward, a row of simple mini-lights was used to define and highlight the tops of the storefronts, adding a festive note.
In an opposite comer of the store is the art gall el)’ area, which was to be characterized by the use of bright colors Neon in the signage helped establish that colorful theme. In addition to lighting the merchandise from the track fixtures, a series of track pendants with RLM shades helped to bring down the ceiling and scale of the area. These were painted in three bright colors and hung at different heights to create greater visual interest at no additional cost.
The reptile cave in another comer evolved into one of the most interesting areas of the store. Since it would have been difficult to light a cave with realistically dark light levels and still provide any significant merchandise illumination, the lighting designer suggested a fundamental change. A rocky southwestern crevasse would be a natural space for reptiles to hang out. This greatly simplified the construction and opened up the ceiling. This offered several exciting possibilities from a lighting design perspective.
A sunset at the end of the crevasse added a focal point, warm colors, and motivation for the lighting, as well as the snakes! The warm rays of light from the setting sun brought interesting color and texture to the organic rock shapes. Some of the [rack fixtures in the ceiling were equipped with amber color filters and aimed away from the sunset, while fixtures with blue filters were aimed toward the sunset. Some amber and pink filtered track fixtures were installed on the ledge just above the reptile cages and aimed onto hanging fabric above and the walls to intensify the effects of the sun’s rays.
To create the glowing orb of the sun setting below the horizon, another stage light without a template was located overhead, in sharp focus with the bottom half shuttered off. Three additional stage projectors wi.th cloud patterns and warm, rich colors are used to paint realistic clouds onto the horizon. One of these has a rotating ripple wheel to add a subtle animation to the cloud.
The aiming of the track fixtures was important, not only to emphasize the merchandise, but to model the detail and depth of the intricate rock and tree shapes and artistic wall displays. Generally, the fixtures were aimed to graze light onto the theme elements at a 45-60 degree range for the best balance of texture and visibility. A simple theatrical lighting technique was used throughout the space, where the sun was used as the practical motivation for the stronger key lighting when aiming the direction of the track and stage lighting fixtures.
The “Wet &’ Wild” aquarium area was enclosed so that the full-spectrum grow-light fixture’s from the tanks could high light the fish and plants. Two wave-ripple projectors added a subtle underwater ambience to the room. These were by far the most expensive lighting elements in the store.
Overall, there were about 125 PAR38 track lighting fixtures used for the project, along with eight stage lights and rive twin streetlights. Although the project used about 2.5 W/ft, it probably would have to be modified to fit into Wisconsin’s new energy code version of ASHRAE/IESNA 90.1 due to the length of track used. The store fixture budget had to be increased by about 55000 to cover the added lighting costs. The lighting remained an inexpensive component of the project, however, while providing a big contribution to the theme environment and atmosphere. The store has been a tremendous hit, a popular retail and family attraction that the local newspaper compared to a zoo.
This project demonstrated the creative application of standard lighting equipment and a few inexpensive theatrical lighting ideas that make a strong thematic statement work. It shows that a retail theme can be accomplished on a small budget, and still get that big budget look.