January 20, 1995 in Seven

Lighting Designs In Restaurants As Important As Food

Timothy Jack Ward New York Times

On Jan. 11 a Wednesday night a shoulder-toshoulder crowd of 400 celebrated the opening of Zut!, a French bistro-style restaurant in New York City.

The focal point of the packed dining room was a pair of 6-feet-wide chandeliers by Marta Baumiller, each fitted with 13 foppish hats that concealed incandescent light bulbs and were trimmed with wide black grosgrain ribbon. The walls were covered with 1940s paper found in France, depicting little animals doing things like wearing hats and sipping martinis.

Baumiller, 36, a milliner-turnedlighting artist, described her wall sconces for the restaurant as “abstract wiggles made of straw.”

In Washington, a town not known for nuttiness, at least not when it comes to design, the hippest restaurant of the moment is called Coco Loco, after the Spanish slang phrase for “crazy coconut.”

Coco Loco’s cosmopolitan evening crowd eats, drinks and dances in a 7,300-square-foot space that is lit with custom light fixtures as exotic as the fixed-price Brazilian churrascaria, a sort of all-you-can-eat mixed grill. Last week, while patrons munched tikin xic pescado (grilled fish) and shimmied to salsa music, they also rubbernecked, open-jawed, at the 10-foot-long woven bamboo ceiling lamps that hovered overhead and looked like levitating canoes.

The complex, evocative lighting at Coco Loco and at Zut! typifies the heightened emphasis placed on creative restaurant lighting by restaurateurs and designers.

“Lighting is the single most important key to our design success, like in a painting,” Ian Schrager, the pop-design impresario, said.

If the 1980s icon was a halogenspotlighted plate of nouvelle cuisine arranged like ikebana, the new wave of lighting design is as different as, well, night and day.

“The whole question is, who is the star - the plate, the people or the space?” said lighting designer Paul Marantz. “It’s probably more about rooms today, the space you’re in rather than you or the plate.”

The owner of Zut!, Christopher Chestnut, 42, is a former partner in Sugar Reef in the East Village.

Today’s lighting design is also, it seems, about crafted funkiness. And lighting artists may be the new celebrity designers.

The 37 custom lamps at Coco Loco were hand-made in Miami by Robert Lewis, 35, a New York lighting designer who was looking for new materials and fresh inspiration when he set up shop in South Beach two years ago.

At the Zut! opening, the straw hats and platinum-blond synthetic-hair lampshades, designed by Gaston Marticorena, made for lots of cheerful grins of recognition, as well as thematically correct headscratching, but also gave the space a glow as if candlelit.

At Gramercy, she adapated Arts and Crafts designs.Alice Waters said she was contemplating changes in the perforated copper wall sconces in her restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif.

“I’m obsessed with lighting - you have to cook awfully good food to make it with bad lighting,” she said.

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