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Recovery act: a New Orleans hotel and restaurant bounce back from Katrina with a little help from some bold lighting.

After surviving one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, New Orleans, it seems, is in the midst of a comeback. Between a Super Bowl victory by the underdog Saints and what were reportedly the largest Mardi Gras crowds in nearly two decades, 2010 has been a banner year for the city. However, the real recovery began right after the storm hit nearly five years ago, when local businesses like the Renaissance New Orleans Pere Marquette Hotel surveyed the damage, cleaned up the debris and reopened their shuttered doors.



Just a block away from Bourbon Street, the Pere Marquette is located in one of New Orleans' most lively locales. But in August 2005, the neighborhood went silent, and the hotel was left submerged in 4 ft of storm water. Renovation was imperative. To help rejuvenate its lobby and bar, hotel management hired interior design practice Leo A. Daly and lighting design firm Scott Oldner Lighting Design, both located in Dallas. The team also designed the renovation of MiLa, a restaurant owned by husband-and-wife chefs Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing, which is located in the hotel lobby. Both projects won Illumination Awards of Merit.

As it turns out, Scott Oldner was no stranger to the Pere Marquette. Oldner had stayed there while working on another New Orleans hotel, the Renaissance Arts Hotel, years before. He found himself drawn to the space, but disappointed in the lighting. "At the time, there was little decorative lighting. It was all inexpensive, un-aimed recessed adjustable downlights," he recalls. "I had really wanted to do the renovation then."

So when the post-Katrina opportunity presented itself, Oldner was ready. Along with colleague Michael Dawson and an interior design team led by Barbara Carlson, Oldner took a cue from the surrounding French Quarter and sought to cultivate an "Old World, Big Easy" design aesthetic, which he describes as "full of pizzazz, but also soft and sexy." For the lighting, this translated into rich-toned sources, dramatic decorative fixtures and lights in saturated, contrasting colors--hot reds and cool blues--that complement the rich finishes and add energy to the space.



To create an eye-catching entrance, Carlson outfitted the elevator bank across from the entryway with theatrical elements that fit with the "Old World, Big Easy" theme--like bold red drapes and a ceiling to match. "We wanted to pull your eye in, so a guest can see the entrance when they pull up in a taxi outside," explains Oldner.

The dramatic decoration required equally theatrical lighting, so the team selected halogen sources to light the drapes and chocolate relief that define the elevator bank's front and back perimeters, respectively. Halogen curtain grazers heighten the drama of the drapes, while PAR 20 cove lamps illuminate the relief. "We lighted them like art to get that sort of Hollywood, stage-like feel," says Oldner. "Halogen PAR lamps are a big energy consumer, but you just can't achieve the same look with anything else. So we chose to spend energy there and conserve it in other places, like the bar." Energy-saving sources were also specified for the black-and-white drum pendants in the elevator bank, which use dimmable 29-W CFLs.



While shadow is incorporated into the elevator bank, in the rest of the lobby light levels are bright to illuminate the light-colored Carrara marble floor. As dictated by the client, Oldner kept the existing MR16 downlights for budget reasons, but added several other elements to the space. Decorative 10-W halogen fixtures add sparkle to a mahogany marquee wall created by Michael Griffin, Leo A. Daly. Across from the wall, long-stemmed, polished-chrome halogen sconces illuminate the stairs and complement the chrome accents in the stairwells.


If the lobby entrance sets the stage for the "Old World, Big Easy" concept, then the lobby bar delivers the performance. According to Oldner, "the concept has a lot to do with using controls to create different personalities." Nowhere is this more apparent than in the bar, where the lighting is organized into three schemes that create distinct moods.

During the day, the space serves as a waiting and lounge area. Oldner wanted to emphasize the interior materials and finishes, yet keep the lighting clean and "business-like," so only white sources are turned on. These include halogen peanut lamps (Bruck) that are stem-mounted inside the ceiling cove. "They were designed to float among the crystal balls to maximize the reflectance. Halogen was used for sparkle," says Oldner.

At night, the bar is transformed by colored light. Oldner wanted two distinct looks: a full-color scheme for earlier in the night and an all-blue scheme for late-night. In the first scheme, contrasting colored light is added to the white sources. "To make the space sing, we used saturated, red-colored directional LEDs that graze the red beaded ceiling," he explains. "Using red on red added richness. It's like eye candy." The LED strips (io Lighting 2.0) are mounted to the bulkheads in the recessed ceiling cove for an "edgy, direct view," as well as light on the ceiling.



Contrasting the red LEDs are ice-blue LED elements along the periphery. Oldner used the LED strips in 5,000K to uplight the back of the "bottle-box" wall niches behind the bar; edge-light the backside of the 2-in.-thick glass bar top; and backlight the clear acrylic lines in the slatted wood wall. "With the red in the middle, the center is warm," he notes. "It's kind of like a camp fire, like fire and ice. Our minds respond to color contrasts we see in nature. It's physiological." The contrasting red-and-blue color scheme is intensified by the white halogen sources in the cove. "The thing I love most about color is that you don't get a sense of how wonderful it is until you have white light next to it. It's like the spicy-sweet taste of Thai food. The color is the spice and the white is the sweet. And the mix of the different flavors really brings both out."

Later in the night, the scheme switches to all-blues, and only the wood wall, bar top and wall boxes are illuminated. The scheme channels some of New Orleans' most notable spots: its jazz clubs. "It's not overlighted and it has this kind of smoky feel," says Oldner. "It's like you could go in there to have a glass of wine and be totally anonymous."


The design for the hotel's restaurant, MiLa, was also inspired by contrasting color schemes. Here, the team wanted the restaurant's interior to be as vibrant as the upscale Southern cuisine whipped up in its kitchen. "The owners are fine-dining chefs but they also incorporate local, Southern ingredients. So the design needed to be sophisticated, but with a down-home feel. We didn't want it to be too stuffy or dramatic," says Oldner.

In the dining room, this translated to balancing artful table illumination with playful, decorative elements like drum pendants suspended from the recessed ceiling cove. "Different sized pendants are hung at varying heights to play to the New Orleans style, while MR16 pin-spotted tables and integrated lighting keeps it chic," explains Oldner. The pendants are fitted with shielded, self-ballasted 29-W CFLs that "give the space a glow and lift the energy."



Colored cove lighting also acts as a mood-elevator. Using techniques borrowed from the hotel bar, Oldner created a saturated colored ceiling cove by layering blue colored light on a blue painted surface. Because budget restrictions prohibited the use of LEDs, Oldner specified cold cathode to achieve the look. "It ties back to the food because a lot of MiLa's menu is seafood-based," says Oldner. To contrast the vibrant blue hue, 2,800K warm-colored cold cathode was used to light art in a nearby wall niche. The color contrast refers back to the red-and-blue combination used in the hotel bar.

A similar amber-colored cold cathode was also used to light Mi-La's bar, which is made of honeycolored onyx. The cold cathode was placed underneath the onyx to make it appear illuminated from within. It was also used to backlight bottle risers behind the bar. The warm-toned bar and bottle risers contrast with cool-temperature sources like 3,500K fluorescent in the vertical bottle storage shelves behind the bar and 4,000K cold cathode in the wine cooler across from it. "These sources give the illusion of being cool--visually as well as temperature-wise. It also gives a good balance to the blue light from the TV at the other end of the bar."

Contrasting visions, it turns out, can be a good thing.

About the Designer: Scott Oldner, Member IES (1997), PE, IALD, is the founder and managing designer of Scott Oldner Lighting Design, LLC. The firm provides architectural lighting design for commercial, retail, hospitality, religious, public and residential projects. Mr. Oldner was awarded the Craig Roeder Memorial Award in 1999 and 2000, and his work has received IIDA Awards and Illumination Awards of Merit.



Pere Marquette Hotel and MiLa Restaurant

Watts per sq ft:1.9 (complies with ASHRAE/IESNA 90.1-2004)

Illuminance Levels:5-200 fc (200 fc on art)
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Title Annotation:PROJECT
Author:Hall, Elizabeth
Publication:LD+A Magazine
Geographic Code:1U7LA
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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