Lighting Focus: Paul Nulty on hospitality lighting post-covid

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The purpose of lighting in hospitality spaces is set to take on a whole new importance post-Covid, says Paul Nulty, founder of Nulty+, and the industry has to be ready to take those challenges on


Words by Paul Nulty

Too often we see the lighting requirements of our hospitality spaces reduced to pretty light fittings. It can often become a style-over-substance decision, with almost no importance placed on the quality of the light that these fixtures emit. And, ultimately, it is this quality of light and how it interacts with the surfaces that interior designers painstakingly obsess over, that makes or breaks the ambience of a hotel or restaurant and allows us to have an emotional connection with that space.

Only through the interplay of illuminated surfaces and the careful balancing of light levels can we start to engage a guest and elicit an emotional response that contributes to their overall experience. If we get this right, it translates into a better outcome, a happier guest and greater spend. The hospitality industry is facing real change in this so-called ‘new normal’ environment, and lighting schemes will need to adapt in order to create the type of ambiences that will not only attract guests back but make them feel comfortable.

One of the key drivers of this change will be personalisation. With technology and connectivity becoming increasingly present in our lives, the options for a personalised guest experience are expanding. Bespoke guest experiences in the hospitality sector are becoming more common, with technology allowing hotel guests to check in and access their rooms via a mobile device. It’s now also possible, with the right technology, to preset the lighting for a guest before they even enter their hotel room.

As we ease out of the restrictions of Covid-19, tangible experiences will perhaps be less desired, at least initially, making a shift to technology even more important. Personalised preferences are going to become the norm. It’s no longer just about the chairs you’re sitting on or the tables you’re eating at – it’s about the whole package and what a brand can offer you to feel comfortable.

With increased adoption of technology comes a shift in face-to-face service. We might find that interpersonal relationships will be reserved for high-end hospitality brands as 24-hour automated concierge services become more popular. Those going down the techy route will have a greater pressure to retain brand visibility if there is a reduction in staff who would formerly have embodied it. Instead, guests will want a building or space to greet and serve them in the same way that a member of staff would have done previously. A dialogue between guest and space will be crucial so the visual aesthetics and branding will become more important.

Hakkasan Terrace’s distinctive blue lighting, by Nulty+, is housed in a small, vertical reveal at the back of The Cabanas Hotel in Abu Dhabi, adding to the ambience while reinforcing Hakkasan’s identity. Image Credit: Alex JeffriesHakkasan Terrace’s distinctive blue lighting, by Nulty+, is housed in a small, vertical reveal at the back of The Cabanas Hotel in Abu Dhabi, adding to the ambience while reinforcing Hakkasan’s identity. Image Credit: Alex Jeffries

Lighting can provoke and evoke emotion, and it can manipulate consumer behaviour. This makes it a very influential tool for hospitality spaces as it can both tempt and serve a guest by deciphering their emotional response to the brand. This means that we need to create different moods and ambiences, and also design-flexible schemes that allow spaces to be reconfigured as needs change.

Lighting and lighting control play a key role in achieving this functional transition, making what might have been an intimate, low-uniformity, high-contrast restaurant into a bright and comfortable location to work or relax in during the day.

Furniture is also often repositioned, requiring greater flexibility and versatility from the lighting scheme to reflect temporary remodelling. Considered use of lighting controls and using layers of light can optimise the mood and energy within a space for its various roles throughout the day.

Reigniting the flame of social interaction could be a hard sell for the hospitality industry. When lockdowns are eased, what’s the likelihood that we will all rush back into hotel bars and bustling restaurants? Many of us will desperately seek human interaction, while others may be more apprehensive. This will naturally affect the industry, with measures required to ensure that guests feel safe and are more comfortable. But enticing people back into hospitality spaces will go far beyond a feeling of safety.

Hotel and restaurant brands will feel an increasing sense of pressure to boost sales, but they will also need to adapt to a post-pandemic world. After a year of setting up shop at home, the need to rely on flexible working spaces is paramount. Pulling out the laptop in a cafe and connecting to the Wi-Fi was once a pastime for trendy 30-somethings, but now that we’ve all had a taste of the remote working life, seeking new places to accommodate it is what we are keen to find. Much of the population has been subjected to the same method of working and, as a result of this, the need for working lounges, semi-private meeting rooms or break out areas – all within hospitality spaces – will be big business.

There has been a total shift in how we respond to individual environments. Video conferencing is leading the way, and the background on a person’s zoom call is now a window into who they are as an individual. Many of us are now more aware of this and, moving forward, we will want to communicate our backgrounds with whoever we are having a conversation with. It’s now part of our own brand package as meeting rooms and formal workspaces have been irrelevant for a year. Working remotely but having a window into an environment will push brands harder to create spaces that are synonymous with their identity.

Hospitality brands will start to focus on these backdrops and the individual will want others to know that they’re working from a high-end space, whether it’s the Four Seasons hotel lobby or the bar at The Ivy. The lighting industry is going to have a greater responsibility in bringing the aesthetic out of these spaces.

London’s The Ned restaurant boasts a lighting scheme by Nulty+ that focuses on surface-mounted, decorative and ornate fixtures rather than contemporary and recessed lighting techniques – but still provides a balanced level of light and colour temperature to suit all times of day.Image Credit: Simon Brown
London’s The Ned restaurant boasts a lighting scheme by Nulty+ that focuses on surface-mounted, decorative and ornate fixtures rather than contemporary and recessed lighting techniques – but still provides a balanced level of light and colour temperature to suit all times of day. Image Credit: Simon Brown

Considered holistic lighting will be key, and we will need to implement different levels of light to create a professional backdrop for the guest. Diffused light and front-facing lighting will be key in illuminating the backgrounds, while cylindrical lighting will enable good facial recognition. A base layer of light from pendants or downlights will be needed, but the backbone of lighting will need to be subdued and pared back to provide the right layer of light to communicate the brand.

We don’t want to prescribe light fittings for the sake of it; instead, we want to define, for the user, what their brand is and what they’re trying to say. How will the space be used? Who do they want to cater for? As lighting designers, we will need to listen more to the needs of the client post- Covid as they push for a more flexible environment. But, ultimately, if people can tell where you are just from your video conferencing background then that’s all brands will want to hear.

It has always been our mission as lighting designers to connect people with places, but as the hospitality industry seeks to bring people back into their environments, the way these spaces look and interact with the public is what will determine their success. Working, social and relaxation experiences are no longer separate entities. This rigidity has fallen away with the pandemic as we now want to be able to pull out a laptop in the same space where we might be having a beer with friends or colleagues.

It’s all about options and accessibility moving forward, and so flexibility is key. Lighting is a beautiful solution in creating adaptable spaces, and the hospitality sector is going to depend on it like never before.

nultylighting.co.uk



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