Creative overhead lighting allows retailers to take advantage of the sun without investing in solar panels.

“We are seeing more glass in total on locations, and that’s to encourage visual connection to the interior but also bring in natural daylight,” says Tom Henken, vice president and director of design for api(+), Tampa, Fla.

A fitting place to take advantage of natural light is the ceiling. Henken says Solatubes, skylights that incorporate reflective surfaces to maximize the amount of daylight captured, are both functional and subtle. “Frankly, most people wouldn’t know that they were skylights,” he says.

To most observers, Solatubes look like standard fluorescent ceiling lights. In reality, mirrors inside the tube can capture sunlight from the roof and reflect it into the store. The system still delivers light to the interior of the store even if the point where the light is captured is not directly above the interior light.

Meanwhile, the use of LEDs—or light-emitting diodes—has “exploded” in retail lighting, and operators are getting more creative with their use and placement, Henken says. For instance, he suggests retailers light only the store perimeter with LEDs after the sun sets. “It doesn’t cause a huge amount of intensity in the general space, and it gives the appearance of a much brighter store without the harshness of lighting the whole store to that same level,” he says.

These trends reflect an overall shift in lighting stores, says Joseph Bona, president and owner of Bona Design Lab, New York. “The days of bright, uniform light levels are behind us, and a mix of high-contrast and warm lighting is the new norm,” he says.


LEDs light the store’s exterior to catch the eyes of passing drivers at night.