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Of preservation and restoration: Boston's former history museum now houses a 'lifestyle' retailer, but the building's historic facade lives on.

In the late 1970s, counselor-turned-bartender Stephen Gordon set out to preserve his California home's Queen Annestyle architecture. During the restoration process, Gordon hit a big roadblock: he couldn't find adequate period hardware. Undaunted, he founded home-furnishing store Restoration Hardware to fill the void. It seems fitting then that after decades of success, growth and expansion, the birth of the retailer's first (and flagship) East Coast location relied heavily on ideals of preservation and restoration as well.

Restoration Hardware Boston is located in the city's Back Bay neighborhood, in the former Museum of Natural History (ca. 1863)--a landmark neoclassical redbrick and brownstone building on a park-like block of Berkeley Street. The building was designed by architect William Gibbons Preston and features original Corinthian columns, Romanesque arches and a large interior atrium. Restoration Hardware's new location is part of a company-wide rebranding. The new "RH" is positioned as a "lifestyle brand" instead of simply a home-furnishing store. Thus, the space features various extravagant lifestyle amenities such as a floral boutique, wine bar, sculpture garden and cinema.


Inside RH, sales were the driving force behind the design and lighting choices. The building's facade, however, was treated with reverence and illuminated accordingly. "Gary Friedman, the owner, insisted on maintaining the building's monumental status," Ross De Alessi, principal of Ross De Alessi Lighting Design (Seattle), explains. "This is a 150-year-plus old building that is a big part of Boston's history." De Alessi, who led the design team for both interior and exterior lighting, is known for his work lighting historic monuments such as the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. For this project, the lighting designers were involved early on, which De Alessi describes as a pleasure, especially for such a large project. "We saw the demo and restoration and actually were allowed to contribute ideas," he adds.

De Alessi, alongside co-designers Norm Spencer and Neil Reeder, began with a rendering that was approved by four jurisdictional agencies before the lighting design could move forward. "With historic properties, there are often other organizations besides permitting and developing agencies that issue permits," De Alessi says. "These can be architectural review boards, historic registries, astronomers--the list goes on. Of most import here was the Back Bay Architectural District, which commands much authority."

For the facade, the designers' goals were to honor the building's history and anchor the structure to the foot of the upscale Newbury Street retail district. To do so, the team focused on showcasing the building's true color and concealing light sources, which was difficult because of the structure's fragile mounting conditions. In addition, the design needed to adhere to the stringent Massachusetts energy code. To save energy, 95 percent of the facade installation utilizes LED sources, which should also help offset the price of the many costly luminaires that were used. According to De Alessi, owner's representatives were unsure about specifying expensive downlights during one of the project's early meetings, but "upon seeing the quality and performance, not a one was cut, and the spec was held." Though that spec remained, budget cuts during the remodel did prompt the team to perform two VE exercises, and many planned uplight luminaire locations were eliminated.


Starting at the base, the building is illuminated by 70-W CMH asymmetric wall-wash uplights that ground the brownstone among hard and soft sections of the surrounding landscape. Nearby foliage is lighted by CMH and LED sources at a slightly cooler temperature to contrast with the warm facade. Aside from the base uplights, specimen landscaping and some decorative lanterns, the rest of the lighting fixtures use high-CRI LEDs at 3,000K. For example, columns and cornices are illuminated by high-output LED striplights from Eaton's Cooper Lighting.

Depending on the location, concealing the striplights required some creativity. On the second floor's new copper-clad ledge, for example, designers used a continuous color-matching valance to hide the fixtures. This main ledge was also a fragile section of the facade that required special attention. "We actually cantilevered a bracket off the building and put rubber feet on this continuous row of uplights," De Alessi says. "For even more fragile old brownstone, more adhesives were used instead of fasteners." Window detailing, also on the building's second floor, is highlighted by the same symmetric luminaires in a medium-output version. For both areas, fixtures with very narrow distribution and careful aiming ensure that the lights avoid interference with the surrounding dark sky.

Similar low and medium-output uplight wall-wash and ministrip fixtures--in asymmetric versions--were chosen to light the second and third floor balconies, as well as columns, arches and signage on these levels. Finally, the RH sign, located above the building's front door, is illuminated by concealed mini LED strip uplights. The facade lighting can be controlled smoothly via three separate dimming channels, and fixtures can be maintained from the ground level as well as a 70-ft construction boom. The final product--which won the commercial Cooper SOURCE Award, an IES Illumination Award of Merit and a GE Edison Award citation--evokes a "light from nowhere" look with only the architecture highlighted, just as intended.


RH Boston Facade Fixtures Types: Facade = 3; Landscape = 2 95% LED Sources


Ross De Alessi, IALD, Member IES (1985), is owner and principal of the Seattle-based lighting design firm that bears his name. He has more than 40 years of experience and over 800 worldwide projects to his credit.

Neil Reeder and Norm Spencer served as collaborators on the project.

RELATED ARTICLE: The ceiling's the limit.

By referencing old photographs and architectural drawings of the Restoration Hardware building, designers endeavored to approximate the original interior during a 15-month, near-gut renovation. Within the four-story, 40,000-sq ft space, mezzanines and elevator banks, added during prior renovations, were removed, historical details were refurbished, and the building's original atrium was opened up to expose a 70-ft view spanning from the first floor all the way up to the gilded, coffered ceiling. A glass elevator was built within the newly open space. Like the facade lighting, 95 percent of the interior sources are LED, but multiple color temperatures were used to draw the customer's eye inside, and to illuminate diverse merchandise displays and architectural finishes. The base of the interior is washed with 24-W recessed, adjustable LED downlights at 2,700K, with interchangeable beam spreads. Elsewhere, merchandise and features are illuminated by 3,200 and 3,500K sources. Halogen MR16 lamps provide focal lighting for specific merchandise, and track and surface-mounted fixtures were specified where monthly re-merchandising and roll-outs occur.

Architectural features such as third-floor, 32-ft ceilings are illuminated by 35-W AR111 lamps, as well as wash fixtures that are top-accessible so they can be aimed and re-lamped without disrupting activity on the sales floor. To light false clerestory windows and columns, designers opted for low-profile linear wall washers, while real clerestory arcades are illuminated by miniature strip lights in regressed slots. Finally, T5 linear fluorescent strips provide warm and even illumination of the ceiling, during both day and night. Via 11 lamp types and 40 fixture types, RH's interior meets state energy requirements with an LPD of 0.8 watts per sq ft.

--Samantha Schwirck
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Author:Schwirck, Samantha
Publication:LD+A Magazine
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Dec 1, 2014
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