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La Cave, Le Bon Marche, Paris, France

Issue 76 December / January 2014 : Retail :Department Store


The history of Le Bon Marché in Paris is the stuff of retail legend and the elegant food halls of the store’s La Grande Epicerie are just as luxurious. Currently undergoing a four year renovation, lighting design practice Lichtkompetenz was commissioned to light ‘La Cave’ a wine cellar of epic proportions and a bon vivant’s dream.

Le Bon Marché is a retail institution. The oldest department store in the world, it is Parisian through and through and is even comprised of a metal frame created by Mr Eiffel himself. The store has continued to bloom, despite the changing attitudes to retail, skilfully avoiding the fate of La Samaritaine, one of the other famed Parisian department stores, which closed in 2005, leaving its beautiful arc-deco skin to fall into disrepair on the banks of the Seine.

Currently undergoing a four-year reconstruction, the Swiss company Lichtkompetenz was invited to contribute the lighting design to the LVMH owned structure.

With its 30,000sqm of retail space and its legendary food hall La Grande Epicerie de Paris, the building sits amid the high end fashion boutiques of St. Germain, espousing a typically Parisian mixture of chaotically placed fittings amid beautifully run down retail architecture.

The four year renovation programme is envisaged to successively renovate the building complex from cellar to roof, developing new retail, restaurant and event spaces in the process, as well as a dramatic daylight atrium space and a new connection walk way between the LBM department store and the Grand Epicerie.

In March 2012 Lichtkompetenz was invited to create a master plan for the interior and exterior of the building, concentrating on a new retail space ‘Balthazar’ destined for the store’s basement and its connection to the food hall in the basement via ‘La Cave’ a new wine cellar and restaurant.

The brief was to retain the quintessentially Parisian flair of the traditional interior, while providing an appropriate lighting scheme, which served both setting and product.

‘La Cave’ opened just before Christmas in 2012, the 550sqm space containing 3000 carefully selected wines. The prestigious collection of wine, spirits and champagne is presented in a subdued and warm atmosphere created mainly through furniture integrated with a high colour rendering LED lighting design.

The bespoke manufactured shelving with integrated light was designed to illuminate every label of the bottles on display without creating glare, while a handfull of downlights and inground uplights were used to help emphasise the elegant, distinguished look and feel of the interior.

Three zones of light were designed to offer a transition from a warm white cavernous space, through a neutral white circulation zone in the rotunda, to a cool white ambient feature light in the central atrium space. These cool colours were chosen in response to the impressive glass dome-shaped skylight, which will span the centre core of the building and bring daylight to the containing food market, restaurant and event space at the end of the building’s rejuvination process.

A major feature of the design is the circular nature of the space, with the area climaxing in the glass dome above the escalators. This section was illuminated with 4000K KKDC linear LEDs to enhance the daylight effect and keep the space sprightly during the darker hours. On the ring around the escalators, the wine on display is lit with 3000K and a second ring further out is lit with 2700K. The gradual darkening is intended to summon the feeling of walking into a cave.

The direction of the light changes the further away from the centre core you get. In the core daylight illuminates the room, followed by pendants and vertical lighting until there is almost only vertical lighting in the outer circle, a reference to the torches often used in caves.

Integrated lighting forms the foundation of the subtle approach used, an approach that thrusts every bottle into the limelight. The customer’s attention is directed to concentrate on the presentation of the premium wine and spirit selection through warm white, adjustable miniature LEDs, while the bespoke shelving features integrated LED in each section in order to illuminate the bottles and their labels.

Decorative lighting was reduced to a minimum and spots from Zumtobel were placed strategically to structure the room and give guidance to the customer.

A careful selection of luminaires provides a high colour rendering to the wood, stone and concrete washed brick vaults found in the space, accentuating the high quality of building materials used on the project. Various changes in the integrated lighting details and the decorative lighting were developed during value engineering to ensure a punchy but glare free light quality in all of the curved displays.

LVMH liked the gradual dimming of the quality of light and the changing colour temperature the deeper customers got into La Cave, and acting on this, employed furniture manufacturer Schweitzer to integrate the lighting ideas into their designs. This followed a four month coordination and re- specification of the lighting equipment to meet what was required. To ensure rigorous coordination and development, Lichtkompetenz kept a regular presence on site.

The decorative lighting installed in the project ranged from fully bespoke crystalline chandeliers and wall appliqués to off the shelf chandeliers specified by the interior architects. There was also an additional request for ceiling recessed product lighting and the omission of a specified control system for final balancing and scene setting, which Lichtkompetenz was informed of on the commissioning day.

The overall aim of the project was to design a space that responds to and conveys the long tradition of Le Bon Marché, while presenting the prestigious department store as a retailer ahead of its time, a some what difficult balancing act to achieve. Nevertheless the scheme manages to show a good balance of both, creating a vibrant and classy shopping environment, while conveying the store’s traditions, thanks to the dedication to detail shown by all those who worked on the project.

The role of the lighting at Le Bon Marché is to fuse state of the art lighting equipment with a sophisticated site specific retail environment suitable for the very prestigious and oldest department store in the world. The scheme acts to calm a busy area and structure a space, while gently emphasising the elegance of a shopping icon.


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