Layers of Light Add Ambience to a Restaurant Atmosphere

Layered lighting in this restaurant adds to the ambience and helps reduce noise as well.

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Randall Whitehead, layered lighting, lighting doctor, box lights
Luminous box-shaped pendants descend from the ceiling, creating a festive atmosphere. Photo by Randall Whitehead

As things are beginning to open up a little bit, we are venturing back to inside eating at 25 percent capacity. I was quite taken by this dim sum restaurant, called Palette Tea House, which we discovered in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square. Without the cacophony of people talking and dishes clattering, my focus went to the lighting. Most of the tables and chairs were pushed off to one side to allow enough space in between diners. Sections of the restaurant had these huge square and rectangular pendant fixtures, evenly illuminated from within. The warmer colors cast a pleasing glow onto the people below. They also helped create a more human scale by visually lowering the very high ceiling line. One other thing that they did was to help dampen the noise.

There is definitely a sculptural feel to the installation. I can’t pretend to know what the calligraphy says but I really liked the graphic quality of writing. It almost felt like I was flying above the tops of buildings. Or maybe it was just my excitement of being out of the house, near other people, after more than a year. 

Randall Whitehead, Lighting Doctor, Boxed Pendants
Look closely and you will see that there is a suspended track system tucked in between pendants. Their job is to add focal lighting on each of the tables below.
Photo by Randall Whitehead

These fixtures are made from plasticized lamp shade material, backed with translucent liners, in hues of cinnabar red, smoked gouda yellow and a pale buttery white. Groups of LEDs bulbs within each of fixtures create the glow. They have a color temperature of 2700K and a CRI of 90. Each color dims as a group to give added dimensionality.

We were seated in a private dining room, where bottles of wine climbed the walls. Above us, a series of clear glass pendants hung at different heights above our table. The dimmable LED filament bulbs were used, both G lamps and T lamps (globe and tubular). For me, when pendant fixtures are clustered together, they make more of a statement. It feels more like an art installation. The mixture of cylinders and spheres added even more visual interest. Of course, my first inclination was to stand on the table with a spray bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels to dust them off. 

randall whitehead, lighting doctor, staggered pendant lighting
A grouping of hanging fixtures can be a lot more interest than the single large pendant or chandelier.
Photo by Randall Whitehead


staggered pendant lights, randall whitehead, lighting doctor
This long shot shows how the various heights add a kinetic energy room.
Photo by Randall Whitehead

The recessed adjustable fixtures, using LED MR 16s, direct light toward the brick wall and the tall racks of wine bottles. The color temperature of the recessed fixtures is 3000K, while the pendant fixtures use a 2700K.

I was also extremely impressed by the all-gender bathroom. That is not wallpaper or a painted mural. It is in fact mosaic tiles. Really fantastic, and easy to maintain. The pendant fixtures, flanking the mirrors, provided even illumination on people’s faces. 

Randall Whitehead, bathroom lighting, bathroom pendants
Who says that public restrooms should be boring?
Photo by Randall Whitehead

All in all, it was a wonderful experience. A little taste of how life used to be before the pandemic.

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead is an educator and author on the subject of lighting design. His work has been featured in many magazines, including Architectural Digest, Home & Garden and Esquire. He has appeared as a guest expert on HGTV, Discovery, CNN and Martha Stewart Living Radio.

His Latest book Beautiful Light outlines how to create successful and subtly beautiful LED lighting designs for homes and gardens. Available through Amazon and Rutledge Books.

You can see his entertaining 1-minute instructional videos at And you can follow him on Instagram:  @randall.whitehead