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Lighting's Role in the Perception of a Space

In the Citizen M hotel in NYC, the thoughtful lighting casts warmth and comfort for visitors.

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The Lighting Doctor, Randall Whitehead, Artistic Lighting
The Citizen M hotel in New York is a good example of how lighting creates the ambience of a space.

The Lighting Doctor, Citizen M Hotel, Lighting Fixtures

After more than two years I finally got to return to New York City.  Everyone was smiling and acknowledging each other on the street. That may be due to the fact that people were finally able to see glimpses of each other’s faces for the first time in a long time. A friend had recommended a hotel that was reasonably priced and centrally located called Citizen M. Upon arriving, I was floored by how fantastic and thoughtful the lighting was done. The lobby felt instantly comfortable and surprisingly intimate for such a large venue.

Lighting plays a key role in how the space is perceived. Often, hotel lobbies tend to feel a little bit sterile. This was not the case here. The challenge for the design team was to make a vast interior space with 30 foot ceilings feel welcoming. Clusters of pendant fixtures and six enormous floor lamps create a secondary ceiling line to provide a more human scale to this voluminous room. If you look closely you can also see that the seating has a run of LED toe-kick lighting which illuminates the star-studded floor covering, creating a warm and alluring island of illumination.

The Lighting Doctor, Citizen M Hotel, Lighting Fixtures

Once you have entered enter and look back toward the front door, you will notice these enormous ceiling fixtures that have a glowing red-orange interior and are nested into the ceiling through glowing amber apertures. More of these fixtures can be seen through the wall of glass, installed on the exterior overhang as well. This visually connects the outer space to the interior space. Notice too, that the shelving which is filled with fun and irreverent bric-a-brac at continues through the glass wall as well. The objects are illuminated with LED puck lights. The casework also has a continuous run of LED linear lighting. 

Lighting Doctor, Citizen M Hotel, Eating Area

These fixtures enthralled me. I feel like there was so much thought put into them. They have a retro-futuristic look that is part mid-century modern and part George Jetson. They feel like repurposed jets from a moon rocket.

Citizen M Hotel, Lighting Doctor, Randall Whitehead


At the reception desk, which is really just a big round table with six monitors where guests can check themselves in, you will see a chandelier which is made from 16 Luxo lamps hovering above. It's like a guardian spider from a galaxy far, far away.

The Lighting Doctor, Citizen M Hotel, Lighting Fixtures

A glorious galaxy of George Nelson pendant fixtures in all sizes and shapes is a visual treat, serving to define one of the seating areas. These are true mid-century classics that have stood the test of time since they were first introduced in 1947. This is a view of them when seen from the mezzanine level. You can also catch a glimpse of the tchotchke wall which is illuminated with the LED puck lights as well as a row of wall washer installed in the ceiling.

The Lighting Doctor, Citizen M Hotel, Lighting Fixtures

It is particularly fun to look up at them when lounging on the sofas below while contemplating your next cocktail. They are fitted with A lamp LEDs in a 2400K color temperature and a 90 CRI to look like dimmed incandescent.

The Lighting Doctor, Citizen M Hotel, Lighting Fixtures

Even the dining area has been given some thoughtful lighting consideration. The lensed pendant fixtures provide an even illumination for the dining surface as wall as a flattering light for people’s faces. These lenses also shied the light source which could be glary.

You have no idea how big they are until you have a person in the shot for scale. Here, on the mezzanine level there is a business center that overlooks the lobby through glass railings. This guy looks like he is just about to be sucked up into the hold of an alien spaceship for probing and then ultimately released into a corn field somewhere with only a vague memory of his experience.

Randall Whitehead, Citizen M Hotel, lighting

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 furniturelightingdecor.com. And you can follow him on Instagram:  @randall.whitehead


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