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Archive for September, 2008

Lighting is so important. It affects the whole vibe of a restaurant. I am lucky to have Courtney, a perfectionist by nature and photographer by profession, design the lighting at Alison two. He’s been shooting restaurants for a long time and lighting is key to photography. But, this is his first venture into lighting design.

 

At one point, we had lights in the ceiling soffits that bounced off recessed areas to provide an indirect glow throughout the restaurant. The current lights were chosen to be accent lights. But, due to a couple unexpected curve balls, the ceiling lights were nixed and the accent lights became the main source of light. So, that created some extra challenges.

 

Courtney’s new plan for creating the restaurant’s warm glow, included a lighting system with more than 30 different zones. This set the mood and helped focus attention in the right spots – whether illuminating the soft folds in the lush velvet curtains or highlighting the detail work in the meticulously refinished mirrors from the Plaza Hotel. Plus, it had the added benefit of keeping our electrician, Augie, busy.

 

 

Courtney really gave a lot of thought to every detail. He chose tiny iridescent blue tiles for the fireplace in the living room, the bathrooms and in front of the bar. In the bar, he lit them with tiny rope lights, making them glow. Then he turned his attention to the window between the bar and the pastry kitchen. The cutout allows all the great baking smells to drift through into the bar. But, he wanted to make sure the fluorescent kitchen lighting didn’t bleed into the bar area too. So, he ordered special incandescent lighting for the pastry kitchen and saved the traditional fluorescent lights for deeper areas of the kitchen. The light peeking out the kitchen entrance presented a similar challenge – even with the incandescent lighting. Courtney skirted this issue by using dark blue paint on as much of the inner pastry kitchen walls as the health department would allow, as well as darker gray flooring.

 

 

The next challenge was finding sconces and light fixtures that coordinated with the metalwork of our metal garden gates. We love the gates. We sourced them from an architectural salvage yard and will use them to separate the bar from the restaurant. Their distinct look really established the design motif for the fixtures.

Courtney envisioned metal light fixtures and sconces that mirrored the shapes in the metalwork in the gates. When he couldn’t find anything quite right, he designed them himself. You’d think custom-made fixtures would be pricey – but he even figured out how to save money. He worked with Welder Michael Sedlacek. They made some sketches and even made a sample or two before settling on the right design. And in a cost-saving measure, Courtney even cut some of the metal himself.

Next, Courtney worked with an Indiana-based company to make the intense blue stained glass – choosing a particular hue and texture. Then, he worked hand-in-hand with the Abington-based Glass Artist John Gartner  to create the sconces. John helped solve a lot of the technical and logistical issues so that the sconces and pendants could work as intended.

 

It took some experimentation to get everything just right. The first time we hung the sconces, the light bulbs were too high a wattage and the heat cracked the glass.

 

We noticed that the sconces looked great from the front but not as good from the side – where the new, weaker, light bulb glowed annoyingly. So, we added additional stained glass on the sides. Interestingly in some spots, where the sconces were very close to corners and won’t catch anyone’s eye, the light from the exposed bulb actually throws an intriguing shadow that mirrors the shape from the metal gates.

We’re making minor adjustments as we install each fixture. The lighting fixtures over the bar were just mounted, although we still don’t have the right bar stools, and we’re waiting for the banquettes to arrive so we can install the rest of the lighting. I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

 

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One of the focal points of the private dining rooms will be a pair of mirrors that used to hang above a mantel in the Plaza Hotel. They’re each 5-1/2 feet tall by 5 feet wide. The style of the mirrors and the number of coats of paint and leafing leads us to believe they were probably part of the original décor of the grand dame hotel, which was built in 1907.

We stumbled across the mirrors in an architectural salvage shop on 24th Street in New York City. They were just leaning against a wall in between other mirrors and frames. Though the detail was clogged with nearly 100 years of paint and gold leaf. They were beautiful pieces that had been allowed to become junky – but they had such potential under the dozens of coats of paint.

 

We were lucky to find William Heller, a Horsham-based furniture restorer and refinisher. He had the special kind of architectural stripper needed and the skill to use it to strip away the layers of paint to reveal the original detail. 

 

 

The next stop on the journey was to Chuck O’Neill in Lafayette Hill for refinishing. First, he addressed the holes. At the Plaza, the mirrors were simply bolted to the wall above a mantel – leaving 6 or 7 holes in each frame. Chuck created molds of the frames and used them to create patches that replicated the detail. Then he painted the mirrors with homemade shellac, masked off the wood area, put primer on the detailed parts and applied sizing.

 

Next, the detailed parts are being covered in a thin gold leaf and the other parts are being painted with metallic gold paint. We found the ideal gold paint – called Aztec Gold. It has the right kind of glow. It has a real richness of color that works well against the bold blue of the walls and the lighting in the private dining rooms. Once the mirrors are finished we’ll post a photo. But you’ll really need to see them in person.

 

 

The meticulous restoration of these architectural gems is reflective of the care that has gone into every step of the process – from choosing plates to designing our own light fixtures. Guess that’s why it’s taking so long.

 

 

 

 

 

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