Challenge: Reinventing the Image of the Steakhouse While Honoring a Historic Building Through Light and Design

SOLUTION The name of the restaurant ties together two of Red Prime's most important elements: red meat and red neon. Architect Rand Elliott of Elliott + Associates Architects in Oklahoma City says his goal was to make dining at Red Prime a sensory experience. “We developed what we call ‘the procession,'” Elliott says of the corridor that runs through the center of the restaurant. “In order to get to your table you go through the procession, which is lined with tubes of red neon.” While LEDs were considered, Elliott says he selected neon for its warm color. Designed by artist Kathy Reynolds, the lighting concept, dubbed “Red Wind,” uses 8-foot-long ruby red neon tubes suspended from a ceiling cable grid. It's the design element that draws one's eye upon entering the space.

Red neon lighting, the signature feature of restaurant Red Prime Steak, strikes a bold note along the streetscape of downtown Oklahoma City. The red neon emits a soft glow and helps distinguish the wine wall—with a capacity to hold 7,150 bottles—that separates the main dining room from the bar area.

The lighting design is integrated throughout the entire project. The soft red glow of the neon is visible from the street and permeates through the wine wall. The bar features a translucent top made of a resin that is uplit by T8 fluorescents covered with a red gel. Even in the restrooms, the neon lighting runs along the back wall of the toilets. But the red hue throughout isn't overpowering. “Once you get into it, you don't feel like it's thick,” Elliott says. “It's a very warm space.” However, to ensure that the lighting concept didn't appear to turn the food red, 4000K white LED fixtures are used at each table.

Red Prime is housed in Oklahoma City's historic Buick Building, built in 1911 as part of an area known as Automobile Alley. Elliott points out that he was keen on maintaining some of the building's original elements. One example is a series of small 25W incandescent lamps placed on the ceiling grid. These bare bulbs represent the original light fixture locations, and in addition to the LED table lamps, are only the second instance where white light is employed. “The rawness adds a certain informality and brings comfort to the space,” Elliott notes.

The building's high ceilings also presented a challenge. “How do you take 18-foot-tall ceilings and make the space feel intimate?” he asks. The solution was to handle the dining room's scale, employing elements such as 8-foot-tall booths and washing the restaurant in red neon.

To light the interior and play off the culinary focus—red meat—Elliott + Associates Architects hired artist Kathy Reynolds to design the red neon lighting concept. Eight-foot-long suspended neon tubes run through the dining room and the bar, but the tables are equipped with 4000K LEDs so that the food does not appear red.

Starting with the idea of kitchen as stage and food as art, Elliott and his team worked to create a sensual, memorable atmosphere with all of the design and lighting elements contributing to the diners' experience. Preserving the historic components and mixing them with what Elliott refers to as “modern insertions” provides the restaurant with its desired atmospheric conditions. “We all know that the color red gives a person's complexion and outlook a certain romance,” he explains. “It makes for an exciting, warm experience, and that was our intention from the beginning.”

Project Red Prime Steak, Oklahoma City
Design Team Elliott + Associates Architects, Oklahoma City (architect and lighting designer); Kathy Reynolds and Womack Electric, Oklahoma City (custom neon)
Photographer Scott McDonald/Hedrich Blessing, Chicago
Project Size 20,174 square feet
Manufacturers Lightech, Lithonia Lighting, Lumascape, Paramount, Starled, Swivelier, Tech Lighting, Winona Lighting