Elegant downlighting elevates fine dining experience at iconic Italian restaurant

December 12, 2023 Joseph Bonasera

Originally opened as a family spaghetti factory and café in 1946, Tony’s has become one of the finest Italian restaurants in St. Louis. The iconic establishment has won many awards, including the AAA 4 Diamond Award, Mobil 5 Star Award, and the Levee Stone Award.

When healthcare company Centene Corporation specifically sought out Tony’s to move into its new headquarters building in Clayton, Missouri, the primary objective was to maintain the same high-level dining experience as the original Tony's. Bentel & Bentel Architects were hired to transform the new tenant space, and KGM Architectural Lighting was invited to develop the interior lighting design.

While the new space is much more modern compared to the original Tony’s, one commonality is the continued focus on art. Artwork played a central theme in the St. Louis location, and many of the original paintings and sculptures were transferred to the Clayton space, along with the addition of some newer pieces.

“You’ll notice there is no decorative lighting,” said Dan Weinreber, partner at KGM Architectural Lighting. “Our primary objective was to integrate light into the space. It was about illuminating the art and interior surfaces while enhancing the richness of the warm wood finishes.”

The KGM design team selected luminaires from the Aculux® AX3 series for ambient illumination throughout the restaurant. Recessed 3” downlights illuminate the main pedestrian areas between dining spaces and the stairwell to the upper level. Three-inch AX3 wall washers showcase the fine millwork and various works of art. And adjustable 3” downlights serve multiple roles, including illuminating specific sculptures and paintings and providing ambient light to individual dining tables.

Weinreber noted that this adjustability was appreciated as the restaurant neared completion. The lighting team easily made adjustments during its final aiming session to adapt to artwork and sculpture locations and table floor plans. The use of 12-degree beams also contributed to design flexibility. For each fixture, the team would start with the narrow beam, with the option to add a slightly wider filter to accommodate table placement.

Apart from a hint of daylight visible from the front windows, there is no natural light in the restaurant. Weinreber selected 1200 lumens for all fixtures to ensure it was bright and cheerful enough for a lunch setting but flexible so the luminaires could be dimmed down to a much lower level for evening diners. The warm 2700K color temperature complements the surrounding wood ceilings and walls to enrich the ambiance at any time of day.

All fixture finishes are black specular.

“From a glare standpoint, black specular is ideal,” Weinreber said. “The trim helps to hide the light source and reduce brightness, therefore contributing to a quiet ceiling.”

A private dining room presented a unique challenge for the lighting team. Weinreber sought to create a wall wash for temporary panels that close off the space, but there was only a very narrow ceiling area to hide fixtures. The Lini™ 1” linear luminaire from Aculux was selected. It provides sufficient illumination for the wall wash but can be dimmed or turned off when the wall panel is open. And equally important, its petite aperture does not draw attention to itself when unlit.

All luminaires in the restaurant are managed with Fresco™ lighting controls system from Acuity Brands Lighting and Controls. The Tony's team can access a touchscreen to configure pre-set lighting scenes appropriate for specific situations.

“We’re extremely pleased with the outcome of this lighting design,” Weinreber said. “The AX3 luminaires offer fantastic optics with a high level of refinement in the elegant surroundings. And we really appreciated the adjustability during installation. I had the opportunity to visit the restaurant when diners were onsite, and the Aculux lighting creates the environment we were seeking."

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Project Name: Tony’s

Location: Clayton, Missouri, USA

Lighting Design: KGM Architectural Lighting

Agent: Illuminations Inc.

Completed: May 2021

Photographer: Sam Fentress

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