Three ways to light a boutique hotel

First impressions count and the lobby is the first place you see as you make your way to the reception desk. The lobby sets the tone for the rest of the hotel and so it requires extra-special attention.

If you are asked to design the lighting for a hospitality area such as this and you are unsure how to do it, ask the architect and interior designer for help. Agreeing to what the finished result should look like is almost the hardest part of the design! This Design Clinic show what can be achieved with good quality, easily obtainable light fittings.

If you can’t get a designer involved, check whether the hotel has some company guidelines. If not, this Design Clinic should give you some ideas.

The watchwords are care and attention. It’s the little details that, overall, make a big impression. The three images are clearly quite different but it takes a moment to register exactly what they are. They all use similar equipment and it would almost be possible to create all three just by using different scene sets. There are some exceptions inasmuch as one scene has wall lights on pillars whereas the other two scenes do not.

Nonetheless, this approach means you can subtly change the appearance by day and night and through the seasons of the year. Dimming and scene setting are pretty much essential elements in getting the design right.

Finally, you do need to take care of the basics. Make sure that steps, ramps and the corners of low tables can be clearly seen. There also needs to be enough light in the seating areas to read and have meetings.

This scene has a lot of indirect lighting so that much of the space is lit by reflection. For example, the shelving uses backlighting so that the objects on display are almost silhouetted. Translucent objects such as bottles and Lalique glassware, respond particularly well to this technique. Contour LED tape is a useful tool where there is little space for a conventional linear luminaire.

There are some downlights in the ceiling to provide some overall background lighting but these are dimmed to a fairly low level.

The lit fire with small Lucca spotlights either side provides a focal point for the seating area and also reflects some light back into the space.  

We have drawn attention to the reception area on the right by using Skinny up/downlights with a narrow beam lamp. There are also Lucca spotlights at ground level under the reception desk to “lift” the solidity of the wood face.

Tech spec
  • Luminaires:  Polespring, Luccini steplight, Lucca uplight
  • Optical control:Various
  • Arrangement:
  • Surface, recessed and free-standing
  • Pros: This works well where you want a calm, “soft” atmosphere


This option has the most visual contrast of the three options. It is achieved by using intense directional lighting in a few selected areas.  For example, we have highlighted the pictures on the walls with the LED picture light.

Similarly, the objects on display in the cabinets have small downlights directly overhead. The tables and pillars are again lit using narrow angle spotlights such as the Polespring. There is another spotlight over the large vase of flowers. Putting a narrow angle spotlight over tables (with darker surroundings) is a simple and effective way to draw people in and make the space look more intimate.

The exception to the spotlights is under the reception desk where we have used the linear Contour light. This is dimmed to provide a soft glow at floor level. If you wished, you could use colour change here, but use it with discretion.

Tech spec
  • Luminaires: LED picture light, Polespring, Luccini steplight, Lucca uplight, Skinny, linear Contour LED
  • Optical control: Various
  • Arrangement:
  • Predominantly recessed
  • Pros:
  • This is great where you want a cosy, inviting atmosphere


In warmer evenings there is no need for a lit fire. So instead, we have used a small intense spotlight in the recess. There is also a small linear light under the mantle.

We have treated the cabinets slightly differently in that alternate recesses use one of my favourite John Cullen lights, the Footlight. This is a free-standing 1W spotlight just 55mm high. It is located just in front of the object to be displayed. It’s brilliant for lighting glass.
This “alternate recess” style provides extra interest but you do need to take some care to provide some spill light on the other recesses otherwise they just look “unlit”.

Another subtle difference from the other options is that the pictures are illuminated using adjustable Polestar downlights. These can be angled to direct the light just where you want and there is a choice of beam widths.

The overall illumination in the space is a lot higher than the other options and we have also increased the CCT of the light sources to make the area look cooler and lighter. 

Tech spec
  • Luminaires:Footlight spot, Polespring downlight, linear Contour LED, Skinny up/downlight
  • Optical control:Various
  • Arrangement:
  • Mainly surface mounted
  • Pros:
  • Plenty of light for meeting, greeting and reading