No longer the exclusive preserve of Hollywood celebrities and super-models, specially formulated skin creams and Botox injections have now moved into the hands—and foreheads—of ordinary people. As a result, the manufacturers of these skin-care products and cosmetics, as well as the retailers that sell them, are in a race to differentiate themselves in the competitive battle for the consumer's attention. Murale, a chic new skin-care retail venue in Ottawa, is no exception, as it promises to raise the bar and redefine the way in which beauty products are marketed and sold to the general public.

Designed by high-profile, Toronto-based interior design firm burdifilek, the Ottawa prototype is the first in a series of skin-care emporiums set to roll out across Canada in the next two years. A new retail concept developed by Canadian pharmacy chain Shoppers Drug Mart, Murale is Canada's answer to the growing popularity of specialized beauty stores. The sleek retail environment not only offers products from more than 200 cosmetic, fragrance, and skin-care lines, it also stocks dermatological skin-care products and provides personalized beauty services. Central to Murale's spa-inspired design is a sophisticated, finely honed, and multilayered illumination scheme by Toronto-based Lightbrigade. The design focuses light directly at the product displays, while quietly drawing customers into the ultraclean setting and enabling them to see themselves in their best light.

Located in a 7,140-square-foot corner retail space on a primary circulation path in Ottawa's Place d'Orléans shopping mall, the new skin-care shop is a pristine, gallery-like environment. Wares are presented in elegantly illuminated sculptural displays that catch the attention of passersby and invite them in to explore the space in a subtle but effective fashion. “Murale goes far beyond the proverbial drugstore,” says burdifilek principal and designer Diego Burdi. “It offers a global collection of products, so the idea was to create a spa-like space with a clean backdrop that would allow each group of products to have its own identity and stand out. The lighting was part and parcel to the design of the entire space.”

Not only does the lighting effectively accent the diverse selection of merchandise, as though the products are precious works of art showcased in the store's fluid-formed displays, it also interacts with the store's architectural elements, which are artworks in and of themselves. One of those elements is a ribbon-like series of translucent panels in the rear of the store—a contemporary interpretation of a cornice—that is animated by an ever-changing display of shimmering LED light. Designed to attract shoppers and to entice them into Murale, the panels help define what is known as the “derma” area, where dermatological products are sold and specialized beauty services are offered. “The goal, here, was to imitate the quality of a cascade of water,” says lighting designer and Lightbrigade senior associate Jesse Blonstein, who collaborated closely with Burdi and A/V consultant Forge Media + Design from Toronto. LED points in a cool color temperature—5000K—are mounted behind the sandblasted acrylic panels and programmed to turn on and off in a preset sequence to produce the subtle effect of rippling water.

Another sculptural feature is an undulating dividing wall, also in the derma area, that is energized with light to captivate customers. Adding mystery and shimmer to the space, this wall is made up of a series of molded fins made with clear glass and edge-lit with LEDs. “The glass adds a little bling to offset the mostly matte surfaces,” Burdi says.

Elsewhere, light seamlessly merges with architectural forms and plays off materials to perform the more perfunctory yet essential roles of generating shadow- and glare-free ambient and task illumination. In any retail setting color rendition also is important, but it is essential in an environment where cosmetics are applied and sold. Blonstein worked closely with Burdi to choose sources and integrate fixtures that would most effectively show off the merchandise while at the same time flatter the features of the customers—and the architecture.

The elegant lighting composition blends soft layers of ambient light, created primarily by 3500K T5 fluorescent lamps that are mounted in ceiling coves around the perimeter walls and above the Y-shaped vendor displays scattered throughout the store. “The design of these displays allows for a departure from the rigid aisles and linear paths that you usually associate with cosmetic sections of most drugstores,” Blonstein says. “The sweeping curves divide the space into pockets of products instead.”

To reinforce the design and supplement the ambient illumination, a series of adjustable pinhole downlights fitted with 20W halogen MR16 infrared narrow flood lamps are mounted 18 inches on center in the ceiling in lines that follow the circulation paths around the display areas. The miniature-scale luminaires also provide bright notes of sparkle to the uniformly lit merchandise. Blonstein opted for a 25-degree beam spread to enable the light to bounce off the mildly glossy terrazzo floor and blend easily with the other ambient light for a soft overall glow.

The ceiling downlights also supplement task illumination provided by T5 fluorescents built into the display units' shelves and inserted into vertical channels that flank full-length mirrors positioned throughout the store. Covered with acrylic lenses, these high color-rendering fluorescents provide glare- and shadow-free illumination for customers applying cosmetics. LEDs also were used as task illumination to highlight merchandise in the curved shelving units whose radii were too tight to accommodate even the shortest linear fluorescent run. The trick for Lightbrigade was getting all of the sources to render architectural surfaces, skin-care packaging, and human faces at a consistent 3500K. “It can really be a challenge to get LEDs to match the color temperature of other sources, or even to match other LEDs,” Blonstein says. “They might read as the same temperature on a light meter, but to the eye they may appear more pink or more green because of the balance of phosphors. Some manufacturers have become more selective in comparing LEDs individually and binning them with others whose color appearance is consistent.”

Since ease of maintenance, energy efficiency, and reasonable cost were the top concerns of the client, the lighting sources were limited to just three types: standard output T5s, 20W MR16s, and LEDs. The use of these sources, along with the white, reflective surfaces, enabled the lighting load—2.5W per square foot—to meet the ASHRAE 90.1-2007 allowance for high-end display lighting. It also makes the lighting scheme as easy on the client's pocketbook as it is on the customer's complexion—and eyes. Not a bad price for beauty.

DETAILS Project Murale, Ottawa
Client/Owner Shoppers Drug Mart, Toronto
Architect burdifilek, Toronto
Lighting Designer Lightbrigade Architectural Lighting Design, Toronto
Photographer Ben Rahn/A-Frame, Toronto
Project Size 7,140 square feet
Watts per Square Foot 2.5 (meets ASHRAE 90.1-2007 for high-end display lighting allowance)


RSA, Cooper Lighting: Adjustable pinhole ceiling downlights throughout the store with 20W MR16 lamps, an infrared coating, and a 25-degree beam spread

Foresight Lighting: T5 3500K fluorescent striplights at ceiling coves and vertical wall displays in vendor niches

Note: LEDs in curved display shelves and the animated cornice feature in the derma area, and the glass-fin dividing wall, were supplied by the millwork fabricator—Unique Store Fixtures—and built into casework and feature elements. The LEDs in these instances use a cooler 5000K color temperature. This was coordinated with the lighting designer, Toronto-based Lightbrigade, to provide a balance with the illumination throughout the rest of the store, which achieves a uniform 3500K.