Store Lighting Is Part Of Impressive Design

May 29, 2009

Any other company might simply install a light switch on the wall of its retail stores–on or off. Not Apple. Inside each Apple store, a sophisticated system of lighting controls are linked to custom-designed fixtures, located and arranged to play light according to an interior designer’s plan. According to those who have seen a typical store lighting plan, Apple has spent thousands of dollars on lighting designs, specifies only the best lighting gear and uses an expensive control system to present a bright and attractive interior space for customers. A typical mall-sized store might have 100 separate fixtures in the retail area, including soft diffused fluorescents and spot incandescents, and another 75 fixtures in the back-of-house area.

The store’s original lighting design was conceived by Sylvia Bistrong, president of ISP Design Inc. (Florida), in collaboration with Apple’s architect, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, and interior design firms Gensler and Eight Inc. Bistrong reportedly spent two years fine-tuning the original lighting lay-out and fixture specifications before the first store opened. With a few tweaks, that same plan is in use today, and Bistrong continues to oversee her rigorous design requirements for new stores under construction.

In general, the retail space is lit by fluorescent lamps in lightboxes located above ceiling diffusers. Between these lights are spot-focused incandescent bulbs acting as “downlights.” The front window area has a similar series of downlights installed overhead. A second set of spot-focused downlights provide lighting for the wall-mounted graphic panels.

Many of the fixtures were custom-designed and are now manufactured specially for Apple, both to provide the light quality the company requires, and to fit into the structural ceiling system of the store. Reportedly, some fixture manufacturing is done by a tiny firm in Texas. To meet safety codes, some of the fixtures throughout the store include a battery back-up for emergency lighting.

Almost all lamps used inside the store are fluorescent, and most are rated at 20,000 hours, or over 2-½ years of routine use. Incandescent bulbs are used provide accent lighting on the retail floor, and operate at 12-volts. All the bulbs inside the store are rated at an energy-saving 54 watts or less.

The fluorescent lamps are four-feet long, while the incandescent lamps are very small, bi-pin types, with a narrowly-focused beam. A typical store has about 120 fluorescent lamps on the retail floor, and about 60 incandescent lamps.

As an example of Apple’s well-known attention to detail, all the fluorescent lamps have a rated color temperature of 4100K, equivalent to full moonlight, and just “warmer” than daylight at 5500K. Incredibly, Apple requires that its fluorescent bulbs be color-matched by manufacturer Osram. If any bulbs in a batch arrive at a new store broken, the entire batch must be re-ordered, and no lamps are installed until the new shipment arrives, so there is no difference in lighting color.

Overall, a typical 30-foot wide store consumes about 12,000 watts of electricity for lighting, considered to be within the limits imposed by many local energy conservation codes. The cost of electricity in the U.S. varies greatly depending upon location, ranging from 6.5 cents to 23 cents per kilowatt hour. Based on the current U.S. average of 10.3 cents for commercial customers, lighting at an Apple store would cost about $4,800 a year.

All the lighting circuits lead to a Lutron LCP128 control panel in the back-of-house space. After local contractors install the lighting and wiring at a new store, a Lutron technician arrives to set up and program the control panel according to pre-set, Apple-designed configurations. The controller is capable of setting complex lighting plans based on day-of-week, time-of-day, holidays, and daylight savings time.

All the lighting is connected to circuits, which are arranged into zones on the Lutron controller, allowing for individual or collective control. According to those who have seen the plans, a typical mall store has eight lighting zones. Not surprisingly, the back-lit Apple logo is always designated as Zone 1.

The Lutron control panel includes a master clock, which allows complex programming of lighting “scenes” by zone. For Apple’s stores, scene programming is fairly simple: all-full from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., reduced lighting from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., and then Genius Bar logo-only lighting from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. Larger stores, street-level stores, and those with an exterior Apple logo are programmed differently. Most stores also have a slightly modified lighting schedule on Sundays, when the stores have shorter hours, and a scene for events that turns off the overhead lighting.

The Lutron panel connects to several remote control keypads mounted in the walls of the store, allowing local and remote control of the lighting. The number and placement of the keypads varies depending upon the size of the store and number of levels.

In the end, the technical details are only important to Apple insofar as they contribute to the overall customer experience. In this case, lighting provides an inviting environment for passersby, and high-visibility for product displays.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Patrick May 30, 2009 at 0110

Fascinating level of detail Gary – where does this insider information come from? Have you been working on this post for literally _years_ adding bits of information as you learn more?

I think the most interesting detail is that of the color matching you mention for their flourescent bulbs – I wouldn’t have considered that to be an issue, but when you mention it, one realises that in a way the return of the batch and waiting for another is, in a way, simply common sense!


Neil Anderson May 30, 2009 at 1800

Amazing attention to detail, as usual.


Jocca May 31, 2009 at 0743

They don’t do things in a half ass way at Apple. Any wonder why many people are willing to pay a little more for their fruity offerings.


loquitur May 31, 2009 at 1219

Although Apple’s store lighting strategy indicates good sense with taste, I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t spec LED for the downlighting. There are both new designs and retrofits from manufacturers like Cree (e.g. models LR6 and LR24) whose technology has improved so as not to require color matching. About the latter, when one lamp burns out, do they batch-replace everything just as for the initial order? Meanwhile, at 1 Infinite Loop, I can vouch that at least in the public conference room used for shareholder overflows, there are still rows of dozens of old-fashioned inefficient halogen flood lights. Perhaps this workplace location doesn’t matter if is just transitional to their new campus.


Constable Odo May 31, 2009 at 1826

That’s amazing. I’ve never even paid attention to the lighting at the 59th St. store in Manhattan. I’ve always just focused on the electronic devices. I’ll try to remember to take a look at all these lights the next time I’m in the store.


Dmitry Shishlov June 2, 2009 at 0755

Control panel is Lutron LCP128, not FCP128. [IFO — Thanks…corrected!]

Great article, thank you!


Cedric Brown June 3, 2009 at 0345

The electrical system in an Apple Store is pretty impressive, particularly for a place that doesn’t have any large loads other than the HVAC units. I’ve had a couple of minutes to look at the sub panels in the Beverly Center Store. Having been first in line at the Grand Opening and being remembered gets me the occasional favor. One day I will have to hit them up to be able to take some pictures.

The lighting controllers are pretty interesting. I haven’t had the occasion to install one as of yet. Think of them as a breaker panel with switching relays and/or dimmers added. You bring in say a 100 amp 3 phase/4 wire feed (3 hot wire and one neutral) and you have up 42 circuit breakers (legal max). Each breaker will feed one or more relays/dimmers. You then have, usually in back of house (BOH), control pads that have been preprogramed for different “scenes” that can be controlled manually. Or they can be programed to change as the day progresses. Of course these things have astronomic time clocks in them so they adjust themselves as the days lengthen and shorten. Obviously the street front stores like SOHO, The Grove, N. Michigan Ave. will have more sophisticated scenes set up as opposed to a mall store where natural light changes less, it at all, throughout the business day. I have had the opportunity to attend a training session at what Lutron calls Experience and Training Centers. They are located in Coopersburg, PA; Plantation, FL; Irvine, CA, NYC, NY; and Ashland, VA; I know that as an electrical contractor, I can give a call and get a personal tour and training session anytime, usually with a days notice. I don’t remember if everyone has the same access. Go the Lutron website look up the phone number and pretend like you’re going to spend a boatload of money, and I’m sure you’ll get an appointment. Just don’t use my name. The popular systems that Lutron recommends for retail establishments are the Softswitch 128 for on/off switching and LCP 128 if dimming is required. Other Lutron systems are GRAFIK Eye and Spacer. Lutron systems are used in such places as the White House and of course Oprah Winfrey’s houses. I have this straight from the Lutron guys.

The fluorescents that Apple uses are a F54-T5/HO the F54 refers to the wattage (54) the T5 is the thickness of the tube in this case 5/8ths of an inch and the HO refers to High Output. In the early stores I have never bothered to look up the type of incandescent lamp I see used. Since 5th Ave Store (or design 2.0) the incandescent lights you see are the far more standard MR-16 lamps that are very popular over the display counters in Jewelry stores and the common wattages are 20, 35, and 50 and you can specify beam spread from 9 to 40 degress.

With regard to the color matching. Like buying fabric, if you buy the same thing six months apart there can be differences. The biggest is if you spot replace lamps, because there is color shift and loss of brightness as the lamp ages. We in the business tell our clients to figure how many hours a day the lights are burned and replace all the lamps in one shot at about the 80% point. It really saves the ballasts and it is cheaper from a labor point of view. I have never been able to convince any of my clients to do it that way. Even when I used my college degree and worked at the national headquarters of Toyota, they had a guy who’s job was to spot replace fluorescent lamps and ballasts on as needed basis. So even for companies that have the money it’s hard to get it through to them.


Alastair August 10, 2010 at 0501

The lights in UK stores are always dimmer, because if they were bright then the glossy displays on the Macs would all reflect the light and you wouldn’t be able to see anything on them… I don’t know if it’s the same dimmer, softer lighting in the US stores…?


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