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Lighting a local landmark: smart restaurant lighting design

The Catawba River winds a lazy path stretching more than 200 miles from the Appalachian Mountains to the heart of the Carolinas. And in Rock Hill, South Carolina, a World War II-era pump house watches over a landscape filled with river birches and towering pines that hug the water’s edge.

For 57 years, the pump house pumped millions of gallons of water daily from the river to the Celanese textile and chemical plant. But after the plant’s operations ceased in 2005, the structure fell into disrepair.

In 2014, local investors recognized a unique opportunity and snapped up the property. Restrictions prevented new waterfront construction, giving the old pump house the best views of the river and its wildlife. But how did the new owners turn a decrepit building into an upscale restaurant that puts a modern twist on rustic charm?

Eaton’s Lighting Division talked with Sales and Marketing Manager Alana Allen of The Pump House to learn how interior and exterior lighting design helped transform a crumbling concrete building into a dining destination.

Why is lighting such an important part of restaurant design?

The food and the space have to work together to create the right experience. We’re known for our Southern-inspired, American cuisine. From charcuterie to Cheerwine chocolate cake, people love the food. But even if the fare is first-class, restaurants have to provide the right atmosphere, or customers won’t return.

Lighting helps dictate how a certain space makes people feel. It establishes a style but also an ambiance and general vibe. We’ve all walked into places that are over-lit or too dim. Sometimes, the best lighting goes unnoticed, because it blends into the environment.

How does lighting design help establish the setting?

At The Pump House, we’re known for providing an intimate dining experience. So when it comes to lighting, color temperature is a primary concern. Warm lighting helps people relax and wind down, and it helps people get comfortable as they enjoy dinner or a glass of wine.

We also host professional events such as medical staff meetings. Warm lighting isn’t always the best choice for these gatherings; for example, they may call for cooler, brighter light that allows people to review pamphlets and other printed information.

The décor doesn’t change, but lighting is an easy way to control the vibe. Particularly when the sun is on the eastern side of the building, we can adjust lights to set a unique stage for everything from rehearsal dinners to customer appreciation nights.

Fixture selection is important as well. Our owners are traditional, while the restaurant management’s tastes are more modern. These two design aesthetics combine to create an atmosphere with a touch of something old and something new. For example, large chandeliers and seeded glass pendants lend a rustic feel to the main dining room, while recessed lighting helps round out the lighting in a way that’s subtle yet adequate. The layered approach is a perfect complement to the room’s exposed brick walls and locally handcrafted tables.

Our rooftop terrace overlooking the river includes LED string lights and LEDs on the outdoor fireplace. The yellow light is softer than some traditional white lights and attracts fewer bugs from the river, particularly in the summer months. Along with the fireplace, it’s just enough to allow people to enjoy their food and mingle without stealing attention from the natural landscape.

The building has a lot of windows. How does natural light factor into lighting design?

The windows give our guests unobstructed views, and they make the river the star.  In fact, the rooftop bar windows extend from the floor to the ceiling.

But windows are also an important part of our lighting design. During the daytime, sunlight helps establish a soothing, natural vibe. It enhances the interior décor, but it also brings the outdoors in.

We’re right on the water. Developers can’t build on the river in this area anymore, meaning no other restaurant will ever have these views. The Pump House will always feel secluded, because the trees that line the shore hide other structures in the area.

Here, food and nature will always be the stars of the show. And smart, imaginative lighting design helps us deliver on the promise our owners made when they bought the building.