A few years ago, when Michelin star chefs Sergio Herman and Nick Bril decided to open The Jane restaurant in a 19th century chapel that was once part of a military hospital in Antwerp, Belgium, they immediately knew that the majestic space required an assured hand with interior design. The chapel had been shuttered in 1993 and had remained vacant, but it sat in a neighborhood called the “T Groen Kwartier” (the Green Quarter), which was experiencing a revitalization with new housing and shops aimed at attracting young couples and families. Herman and Bril were struck by the 4,350-square-foot space, which included a main sanctuary with a mezzanine and a ceiling that rose to a height of 38 feet in places.
“We wanted to create a timeless and international feeling,” Herman says, as well as create a dramatic “rock-and-roll vibe” that would contrast the historic structure. This meant highlighting the soaring interior while also making the room warm enough for a dining experience. “It was important that you would feel enclosed, secure, and intimate, but that you still would be able to feel the enormous space and to see the amazing ceiling,” he says. “The room needed a big, powerful element, without a doubt.”
Herman and Bril, in collaboration with Dutch design practice Piet Boon, found that powerful element in a jaw-dropping chandelier—which measures 30 feet wide by 40 feet tall and hangs 9 feet from the floor—designed and fabricated by Beirut-based lighting workshop PSLAB.
Weighing in at 1,763 pounds with 150 black-lacquered steel rods bursting with light at the ends, the installation explodes out of the barrel-vaulted ceiling like a physical manifestation of the Big Bang. Coupled with 500 new stained glass panels by Antwerp-based design group Studio Job, where religious iconography is replaced by images of apple cores, ice cream cones, and croissants, and an interior of considered materials—natural stone, leather, and oak—the chandelier adds to the cosmic sensation that you’re dining in a contemporary church ministering to the fine art of haute cuisine. Herman is known for re-interpreting traditional dishes using molecular gastronomy and this playful juxtaposition of historic sanctuary and sexy, secular design suggests that here food is the religion.
The dramatic luminaire is the result of a rigorous creative process from a design/build firm known for bespoke lighting. “PSLAB creates something in the market that is not already available and that’s what we were looking for,” says Rienk Wiersma, Piet Boon lead designer. “We challenged PSLAB to fill the space with something that would work as a kind of a ceiling, but that would not hide the actual ceiling above.”
No matter where you are in the restaurant, the chandelier takes center stage, yet it does not overpower the space. This was particularly important on the mezzanine level with its 30-person marble-clad bar. PSLAB had to make sure that the chandelier did not obstruct the view of bar patrons looking down onto the restaurant below. Dimitri Saddi, founder of PSLAB, says they weren’t specifically tasked with designing a chandelier, rather they were charged with figuring out the best solution for the interior. “We thought that the only way was to create something that would live in the space in a 360-degree manor, but it was important for this object to work whether looked at from the bar above, or the restaurant below,” Saddi says.
It wasn’t immediately clear that the lighting strategy should take the form of a chandelier, but by simultaneously conceptualizing and prototyping their design ideas, the final form of steel rods interplaying at varying heights, and affixed by one point to the ceiling, quickly emerged. The prototyping process confirmed that the light source needed to be positioned at the rod tips. “If the ends didn’t have a reflective point, it would miss that magic,” Saddi says. “It had to break out into a sparkle.”
That “sparkle” required experimentation and more prototyping. Saddi says they wanted to use an LED source for low maintenance, but that they also needed the light to have the warmth of an incandescent. Hand-blown glass globes were the solution. “The globe had to be really well thought out in order to bring the [desired effect] out,” he says.
The solution for the glass globes meant that the rods had to be sturdy enough to hold the globes’ weight at the tips. They considered using solid metal, but the weight of the rods coupled with the weight of the glass would have made the entire installation far too heavy. The end solution employs a hollow rod fitted with a stainless cable inside. So while the 150 arms of the chandelier look like solid steel to the casual observer, in truth, the arms are hollow and “the cables are what’s holding it all together,” Saddi says.
Mock-ups play a pivotal part in PSLAB’s design and fabrication process. As a design/build firm with more than 100 employees across five ateliers (Beirut; Stuttgart, Germany; Bologna, Italy; Helsinki; and Singapore), designers are tasked with drawing concepts that can be made on site. “When you are a design/build company, your team must not only draw something, they have to take responsibility for the drawing to make sure it can be executed,” Saddi says. “It’s not like you’re passing the task on to another company. You have to sit in the office and ask your colleagues, ‘Is this feasible?’ ”
For the final mock-up, PSLAB always designs a one-to-one scale version, “because you cannot understand what you are doing until you experience it fully,” says Saddi. PSLAB fabricated one quarter of the chandelier and affixed it to the side of their building in the Mar Mikhael neighborhood of Beirut. Wiersma then flew to see it. “It was just after sunset; standing outside and looking up at that chandelier felt like a thousand candles on a table,” he says.
Because of the way PSLAB designed the final piece, installation took just a single weekend on site in Antwerp. “Every five arms were designed, labeled, and packed together so it became a kit, which is much easier to install,” Saddi says.
The chandelier may be the most dramatic, but it’s not the only lighting element PSLAB designed for The Jane. The lighting experience starts at the entrance, where the original 19th century wooden chapel doors open onto custom ceiling-mounted downlights. Here, white corrugated steel drums have been lined with brass to reflect the 35W halogen lamps. The warmth of the light immediately sets the tone for The Jane.
Brass is used again in custom table lamps in the dining room and picked up in other elegant touches throughout the restaurant, including the cocktail jiggers lining the bar. Located on the mezzanine, the designers had to create lighting for the bar area that would be distinctive, but that wouldn’t compete with the chandelier. The solution is a series of thin, black steel beams that run the width of the room and are outfitted with low-voltage halogen trackheads, which create a simple but dramatic effect consistent with the material vocabulary articulated in the chandelier.
On the main floor, the restaurant needed additional lighting to help illuminate the dining room. Here, PSLAB kept it discrete. Vertical projectors mounted to the walls are painted white to camouflage against the walls. These halogen luminaires are outfitted with a narrow beam to directly highlight the dining tables and gently illuminate the food. Maintenance is also a major consideration within a restaurant setting, so PSLAB designed the projectors to lock into place so that the aiming position would not be disturbed when a lamp is changed.
Herman says the effect of the lighting is pure magic. “The first time that you walk into The Jane is something you don’t forget,” he says. “The site of the chandelier brought tears to my eyes. I recognize the same look on [our guests’] faces.”
VIDEO: A behind the scenes look at PSLAB's design process for the chandelier at The Jane.
Project The Jane, Antwerp, Belgium
Clients Sergio Herman and Nick Bril
Interior Designer Piet Boon, Oostzaan, Amsterdam area, The Netherlands
Lighting Designer/Lighting Manufacturer PSLAB, Beirut
Additional Designers Studio Job, Antwerp, Belgium (stained glass window panels)
Project Size 4,350 square feet
Project Cost Withheld
Code Compliance Not Applicable
Watts per Square Foot 41W per square meter (ground floor and mezzanine); 34W per square meter (basement)