With suppliers introducing such innovations as walls and ceilings of solid light and ‘light transmitting' concrete, Joannah Connolly and Sonia Soltani report on how retail specifiers are turning to showrooms rather than catalogues to check out the latest products.
The times when specifiers had only catalogues to choose their products from may soon be over. At least, they will if manufacturers follow the lead of creatively thinking suppliers such as Zumtobel Staff, Johnson Tiles and Twyford Bushboard. These firms have put together showrooms that offer specifiers a direct experience of just how well their products can perform in a retail or leisure setting.
Zumtobel Staff, an Austrian lighting manufacturer, is showcasing its offerings in the Light Forum, a permanent exhibition of products and applications at the company's headquarters in Dornbirn, western Austria. A walk through the lofty 1000 m2 space takes you through three zones, from conceptual lighting "art", to possible product applications, and a technical demonstration zone.
Featuring prominently in the exhibition is Zumtobel's "Active Light Wall". This is a light box system that uses the company's Light Fields technology to evenly diffuse light, creating walls, floors, ceilings or platforms of apparently solid light, the colour of which can be controlled by a simple touch pad.
The Active Light Wall is especially suited to retail displays - especially where adaptable colour-coding is required - and leisure uses such as bars, nightclubs, hotel rooms, spas and swimming pools. It is possible to programme the system to gradually change colour throughout the day, creating the illusion of an opaque external window. So, for example, a windowless basement pool can have walls of light that shine a pale, daylight blue in the morning, warm yellow in mid-afternoon and sunset colours in the evening.
And Zumtobel has puts its money where its mouth is by kitting out the staff bar at the entrance to the forum with its own customised system, which has everything from a blue sky with clouds to disco lighting for staff parties.
The Zumtobel Light Forum is open to visitors, on application.
Tile research centre
Ceramic tile maker H&R Johnson Tiles has opened a 409 m2 resource centre in central London called the Material Lab in which, besides its own collection, it displays tiles from more than 30 makers including Dulux, Burlington, Instacoustic and Shott Glass. Specifiers can peruse 650 materials including glass, wood, metal, laminates and fabrics. One section has been devoted to materials that are unusual, such as reflective "light-transmitting" concrete and textured fabrics. The latter are ideal for shops, restaurants and venues looking for a wow factor. Studio manager Ben Marshall says the purpose of the Material Lab is to act as an extension of architects' practices, and computer facilities are available in the showroom. Marshall says: "The Material Lab has an informal atmosphere. There aren't any sales people jumping on specifiers. It's not a sales-oriented place, but a fantastic resource for specifiers to keep up with everchanging design trends."
For specifiers wishing to have a first-hand experience of all the elements that make up the washroom area, Twyford Bushboard has opened a 92 m2 showroom at its Wellingborough office in Northamptonshire. The company says the space includes all 14 of its commercial washroom systems and healthcare modules so that specifiers can see, touch and feel the products. Forty-three colours are available to choose from. The maker also uses the showroom to demonstrate how some of its systems work, such as its ready-plumbed modules. Another advantage of the Wellingborough venue is that it can serve as a meeting point for specifiers and their clients. Noel Barrowclough, principal architect at Studio-G Architecture, says clients find it difficult to visualise from a drawn image exactly how a design will look in real life and a few small samples fitted to a display board don't really help. He says: "To allow clients to inspect the details and quality of the fittings is a real benefit when trying to finalise specifications."