There are many ways to light a store interior, as John Ryan finds out when he meets the Building Research
Establishment’s lighting supremo Cosmin Ticleanu.

How bright should a shop be? What sort of lighting should be used, and how will it affect customers and the bottom line?

Take a walk with Cosmin Ticleanu, a researcher and expert in lighting at the Buildings Research Establishment (BRE) and he will point to the different strategies and lighting schemes on high streets, and describe how they are all designed to help shoppers and retailers.

There are a series of opposing impulses at work as far as lighting a shop is concerned, and Ticleanu is quick to point them out: “43% of a retailer’s energy costs are used on lighting.” That would make you think it would be a good idea if a store could be equipped with low-energy bulbs. The fly in the ointment is that low(er)-energy bulbs, particularly LEDs, have traditionally been more expensive than older, more energy-demanding fixtures. Therefore, attention turns to the likely lifespan of a bulb.

Ticleanu points out that depending on which fixtures are selected, the newer store lighting sources can last from three to seven years.

This sounds good, providing a retailer can be sure that a store fit-out and visual merchandising scheme will be relevant for some years after the date of installation. The chances are good that this will not be the case, especially for those operating in the world of high street fashion.

A decision therefore has to be taken that can reconcile operating costs with the likely longevity of the lighting sources used. And just to add a further element to the mix, Ticleanu notes that older lighting sources tend to generate more heat - meaning that demands are made on retailers to expend further energy in an effort to keep their store interiors cool enough for shoppers to want to visit.

It seems then that almost irreconcilable demands are made of the lighting designer charged with making a store interesting, cost-effective and, naturally, more eco-friendly than might have been the case a few years back.

Retail Week Interiors joined Ticleanu, who is the author of the newly published The Essential Guide to Retail Lighting, on London’s Oxford Street to assess the ways in which three retailers are dealing with lighting.

Urban Outfitters, Park House, Oxford Street

“As an interior, this looks attractive as far as customers are concerned and the [lighting] focus is firmly on the displays,” says Ticleanu.

“On the ground floor the level of ambient light is actually quite low, which is a good technique as far as keeping you looking at specific merchandise areas is concerned.”

He observes that the retailer has made the most of the natural daylight on this level and points to the use of compact metal halide bulbs that have been used generally across this floor, in concert with the judicious use of white neon tubes that have been turned into Gatling gun-like fixtures overhead.

Downstairs, Ticleanu notes that the pendant lights and generally lower ambient level of light (thanks to the absence of windows) mean that there is a “cosy, warm feel to the interior”.

Remarking on the fact that the colour rendition is warm, he says this is “typical of a high-end shop”. This is, to an extent, somewhat counter-intuitive, as you might imagine that better-end retailers would have higher lux levels. As a rule, they do not, according to Ticleanu, who says that a lighting level of between 100 and 200 lux is likely to be found in upper-echelon retailers, while this could be as high as 1,000 lux in a discount environment. Less, it would appear, is more.

Zara, Park House, Oxford Street

Ticleanu walks into Zara’s Oxford Street flagship and immediately points to the use of LED fixtures that seem almost ubiquitous across the store’s three floors. As in Urban Outfitters, the overall lighting level is quite low, but it is more evenly distributed across the space.

This is due to the fact that tracks have been installed into the ceiling of each floor that allow LEDs to be positioned to provide discreetly uniform levels of light. It also gives flexibility - the store can be remerchandised and the lighting can be moved around with relative ease.

Ticleanu also notes the lighting that is used to highlight the stock in each of the open-fronted perimeter wardrobes.

This is hidden behind the stock and the effect is of diffused, rather than direct, light.

“Light is used to good effect here to make the space feel larger,” he says. “What we’ve actually got is an environment that looks high-end, without the merchandise being high-end. It’s about making the shopper feel special.”

When this store opened, it was flagged as one of the retailer’s greenest. Nine months later, it is in the vanguard of those seeking to ensure they are among the high street’s most energy efficient.

Selfridges, Oxford Street

Wandering through Selfridges’ Wonder Room, Ticleanu points out the use of LEDs in the many glass display cases that are home to expensive luxury watches. “They provide clear definition and keep everything cool,” he says, noting also the mix of pendant lighting circles overhead and compact metal halides on tracks.

Overall, as in Zara and Urban Outfitters, the level of ambient lighting is relatively low, and the Wonder Room gets a thumbs-up from Ticleanu.

His demeanour shifts when he walks into the adjacent jewellery room, however, where he notes that there is a mix of old and new lighting sources in the ceiling fixtures that provide the ambient light. “It looks a bit odd, particularly with the very grand high ceilings. My feeling is that more should be made of the columns in this store using light. There are very few shops that have architecture like this and perhaps some thought should be given to this.”

In the relatively new men’s shoe department, Ticleanu is impressed with the extensive use of LEDs. This continues in the Shoe Galleries on the store’s second floor. Here lighting installations mix with LED lighting in darkened rooms, giving a real sense of drama.

Ticleanu concludes that this is a store of strengths and weaknesses in terms of lighting.