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A powerhouse purveyor of global wines, Wally’s has a luxury reputation and star-studded client list. Five years ago – under the direction of new owners Christian Navarro and Guess Jeans Founders Paul and Maurice Marciano – Wally’s redefined its concept by opening a hybrid gourmet food shop, restaurant, wine bar, wine retailer in Beverly Hills. Wally’s second location near the chic Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica takes this successful retail-restaurant mashup to the next level.

Dark millwork, floor-to-rafters, displays the retail wine offerings; surrounding cool, Carrara marble tabletops that invite communal dining. A primary lighting challenge for lighting designer Ramona Pratt, principal of Pratt Lighting Design, was to show off the retail offerings while creating a romantic, intimate dining experience in the same space. A bar and gourmet cheese shop nestle right in, with an ultra–high-end private dining room upstairs overlooking the whole operation.

"It was almost like the opposite of finishes I wanted: it [should be] a little more warm and cozy at the tables, and a little brighter at the walls. But it actually ended up working out," Pratt said.

The concept of high-end retail as a backdrop for the dining experience is brought to 2.0 at Wally’s, where the wine list offers thousands of bottles at the retail price plus a $40 fee for sommelier service and glassware. The Wally’s experience for affluent consumers has turned heads among wine merchandisers, receiving several prestigious industry awards. During the first year of operation, Wally’s Santa Monica won a Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator as well as Best Urban Tasting Room from the luxury-minded Robb Report.

Photo of Wally's award-winning tasting room.

The hybrid concept also provided the answer to the lighting design dilemma. "It was causing me a lot of stress to figure out how I was going to do this. Then, really looking at the model, [I realized that] by highlighting this wood, we are creating a warm ambience in the whole space. It needed to be bright. (And luckily they didn’t decide to do it inwhite!)," Pratt explained.

Pratt previously worked with Wally’s architectural designer, Richard Altuna of Richy Works, on the Beverly Hills retail-restaurant location when she was with Sean O’Connor Lighting. The approximately 10,000-square-foot Wally’s Santa Monica location was Pratt Lighting’s first project when it opened for business three years ago. Her work there earned an IES Los Angeles Section Lumen West Award of Merit for Interior Lighting Design as well as a merit award at the international IES Illumination Awards.

Multiple display strategies

Track suspended from the 20-foot open ceiling highlights the vertical wine displays and the tabletops. All the track is 2700K, but the cool tabletops required warming filters, as warm-dim could not fit in the budget, according to Pratt. In addition, the track could not dim low enough, so Pratt went old school with her optical media. "This is something I use in my landscape projects as well – I used regular screen from window screens and in certain areas added a little bit more or a little less," Pratt said as she called out the Lightolier Omnispots for their sleek look, quality color and optical holder, stacking screens one on top of the other until she got the level she desired.

Photo of casework along the sides of Wally's

The casework along the sides of the restaurant employ three separate lighting strategies, including track. Certain lower sections of the displays, where the bottles’ labels are more prominent, contain LED tape light on each tier, in addition to recessed multiples in the hard ceiling above "to help the labels pop. That was very important to the client." Careful of overlighting, Pratt selected numerous fixtures for accuracy, but has them dimmed down to 30 to 50 percent of rated output (0–10V control system).

The casework behind the centrally located bar includes integrated, lensed striplighting – one run downlighting the fronts of the bottles and another uplighting the wood at the back of the casework. Track boosts light levels on the product and lends task light to the bar below. Custom pendants, plus linear lighting washing down the front of the bar, bring even more attention to this focal area.

Photo of Wally's centrally located bar with linear lighting.

On the reverse side of the bar, the cheese and charcuterie shop allows customers to take home gourmet menu items. At the rear, the shelves employ the same integrated up-down strategy. Above, the hard ceiling contains lensed, recessed accent lights for a clean food-service look, along with downlighting from track at the perimeter. The black Calvisius caviar mosaic by artist Monika Scharff glitters under the accent lights.

Custom pendants are based on industrial fixtures, with their spun aluminum shades, but finessed to fit the high-end ambiance: a gold fitting at the top and a slightly dropped lens. "There are all these little nuances that we did to make it a little more sophisticated than just some industrial fixture," Pratt said. Overall, the shop is not quite as bright as it appears in the photos and fits well with the wine and food displays alongside, as well as the dining experience in the rear of the space.

In the dining area, pipe-fitted armatures hold oversized G25 filament lamps, dimmed. "Those are custom fixtures made by Onel Orozco of Craftsman Lighting Designs. We wanted a simple design and Richie really wanted filament lamps," Pratt said. "Industrial with a twist… they’re sophisticated, I think. They’re not just hanging filament lamps over tables."

Upscale upstairs

The private dining room upstairs is a much different feel, with ceilings at about 8 ft. "It’s a much more intimate space," Pratt said. "The beams in the space are existing … but we were able to still use the same track fixtures." The display wall is framed on four sides, with a grazing linear fixture mounted behind at the bottom to light up the wall behind the bottles and track lighting at the front. The bar is on the back wall with integral shelf lighting: lensed striplighting integrated into the millwork front and back exalts some of the most expensive spirits in the collection.

Booked consistently for exclusive tastings and celebrity parties, the private dining room appears often on Instagram. It is open to the kitchen, directly below, and provides a view of the restaurant, "cheese side."

A small cold storage room is located on site but separated from diners. It offers chilled white and sparkling wines, plus very old vintage selections; access is restricted. Track lighting of the soaring wood displays enables accurate selection and highlights the marble island in the center. Wally’s President and Principal Christian Navarro may have put it best: "Retail isn’t dying; it’s changing. We need to evolve with the times."

Photo of Wally's cold storage room with track lighting.

Author’s note: Locals will remember that this hangout for surfers and celebrities was once a magnet for Los Angeles’ architecture and design community. The site once housed Hennessy + Ingalls, a large independent bookstore dedicated to art and architecture. Located in Santa Monica from 1963 to 2016, Hennessy + Ingalls remains an LA institution online and at its current home Downtown in the Arts District

Lois I. Hutchinson

About Lois I. Hutchinson

Lois I. Hutchinson is a freelance writer specializing in lighting and energy issues. She is also the content marketing mastermind behind Inverse Square LLC, a Los Angeles–based consultancy. Contact her via with your comments and any article ideas that concern the lighting community here in the Southwest.

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