Hotels have long been utilising furnishings, art and lighting to evoke emotion and create mood and ambiance for guests.

Now, lighting is emerging as the most important of the three and is being called on to “work the room” in more ways than simply providing practical illumination.

Lobbies are home to striking lighting installations, controlled in-room lighting gives guests a little star power and coloured lights in key spaces offer a touch of colour therapy.

Lighting for hotels generally comes in three categories:

  1. Accent – also known as highlighting for visual interest (illuminating artwork, architecture, etc.)
  2. Ambient – the mood maker, designed to influence and evoke emotion
  3. Task – lighting for a specific function, such as a lamp on an office desk or lighting in a hotel restaurant

A new strategy moves beyond decorative placement or spotlighting to influence guest behavior.

Light Colour

This firstly comes in the form of shades and bulbs or directing light near colour furnishings.

“Shades are best in white or off-white because too dark a colour will significantly reduce brightness,” Amy Locke, director of Hatchett Hospitality told Hotel Executive.

The Roosevelt Hotel in Seattle actually chose LED lighting to perfect the colourful mood in its lobby. A case study by electrical firm Leviton showed that LED lamps transformed the lobby areas with colours and aesthetics that couldn’t be achieved with standard incandescent lighting.

Beyond the general bright by day (using natural light where possible) and the dark light by night rule, designers are experimenting with the rise of colourful lighting bulbs, be they red, blue or green.

Recent research conducted at Ohio State University has found that exposure to blue light at night can lower people’s moods and encourage depressive symptoms. The research also revealed that white light had a less depressive effect than blue light on mood and performance. Red light fared even better, while absolute darkness fared the best.

The real benefit here is for hotel employees during their shift work. Ohio State researchers believe hospitals and workplaces that operate 24 hours should be lit with red light in the evening.

“Our findings suggest that if we could use red light when appropriate for night-shift workers, it may not have some of the negative effects on their health that white light does,” said lead researcher, professor Randy Nelson.

Radisson Hotel Lobby Utilises Red Lighting

This Radisson Hotel lobby utilises red lighting

For daytime, blue light is considered the most productive. A Université de Liège study found the the colour of light influences the way the brain processes emotional stimuli.

“Blue light not only increased responses to emotional stimuli in the ‘voice area’ of the brain and in the hippocampus, which is important for memory processes, but also led to a tighter interaction between the voice area, the amygdala, which is a key area in emotion regulation, and the hypothalamus, which is essential for biological rhythms regulation by light. This demonstrates that the functional organisation of the brain was affected by blue light,” the study read.

The soft lighting at Milan's Straf Hotel appears gold and warm as it reflects of it's natural material surroundings

The soft lighting at Milan’s Straf Hotel appears gold and warm as it reflects off its natural material surroundings

The Concorde Hotel in Frankfurt has installed a variable coloured lighting system in its hotel rooms to allow guests to choose which colour they wish to immerse their room in.

“A red-green-blue colour-mixing panel allows guests to create mood lighting combinations, which also indirectly illuminates the entire curtain area,” the hotel’s website states.

The hotel lobby is one of the biggest opportunities for hotels to make a lighting statement, particularly as lobbies are offering space for guests to rest, work or enjoy food and beverage (F&B).

In fact a 2014 report titled Influence of Physical Environment of a Hotel Lobby on Brand Prestige, Social Value, Brand Attachment, and Brand Loyalty found that “…the physical environment of a hotel lobby (e.g., style, layout, colours, and lighting) significantly affects brand prestige, which leads social value, brand attachment, and brand loyalty.”

Coloured light is most commonly seen in F&B hotel areas where colour is used to support a space.

“There are a lot of challenges and drawbacks in the way colour can be used in a space, and how it affects human interaction with the space and one another,” Nick Albert, director at lighting designer Illuminate told Hotel Design Magazine. “Studies have show that the colour of light can affect the taste of food, and designers must be careful with lighting to not aversely affect the experience.”

Kay Lang, principal in charge of interior design firm Kay Lang + Associates, said designing for F&B depends on the food being served.

“In a gastro pub, Edison lighting can be used to give a warm air of sophistication while remaining casual, while five-star dining should have small, hidden light sources,” she said.

User-Controlled Lighting

User-controlled lighting is becoming a growing expectation in hotels, whether for the benefit of staff or guests.

At eco-hotel The Scarlet in Cornwall, England, the lighting brief called for both energy efficiency and dramatic opulence.

The design saw the installation of universal sensors that ensured lighting was only activated when areas such as the library are occupied and when ambient light levels fall below a set threshold level. Touchscreen control panels give hotel staff the ability to set lighting moods in public areas.

Each guest room has two engraved and backlit control panels that allow guests to match their mood from a choice of seven lighting scenes – ambient, bright, relax, bath, night, balcony, and ‘all off .’

The Establishment Hotel in Sydney offers guests touch-screen control and a bedside iPad to control lights and music while accessing the internet to stream newspapers and movies.

Articulation and Art 

The recent MAISON&OBJET show featured an array of lighting articulation, including lights with parts that move according to Michelle Lamb, editorial director of The Trend Curve.

“It was the 1980s and everyone had a swing-arm lamp,” she said. “Standing or wall mounted, we are now seeing lighting products with elbow articulation so you can direct light more specifically. Similar to a television remote control, the shade is placed back and a colour selected for illumination.”

Agatha Ozhylovski, creative director of house of design has also seen hospitality industry designers incorporating “digital art.”

“Placed in guest rooms an or public spaces, it can be customised endlessly to provide an actively changing source of interest,” she said. “It can be changed seasonally and or altered to match the mood any time of day or night. It can also be customised for special events and catch guests interest again and again.”

Lighting has demonstrated that it has the power to perform in more ways than simple illumination, offering visual stimulation and subconsciously helping hotel guests’ moods.