Neon lights present a beautiful juxtaposition within interior and exterior design, especially in the context of modern bars and restaurants.
We’ve grown up driving towards the glow of Coca Cola’s permanent Kings Cross installation, its flashing radiance acting as a beckoning light towards the affluent east. Then there’s Porky’s iconic signal to the place you shouldn’t be (or at least shouldn’t be seen) and the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant neons that generally point to an impending MSG hangover.
But the tables are turning and the neon is being reintroduced as a critical, if sometimes a little ironic, design element.
Much of neon’s charm comes from its inflexibility as a material. It can take a certain amount of interpretation on a small scale. There is also no diffusing of the light, which makes it a huge commitment for any interior design. Plus there is always that lingering connotation attached to its prolific use by the adult entertainment industry.
As a medium, neon comes at great expense. Since its invention in the early 1900s, no method has been found to create it easily or on a mass scale. It requires the work of artisans skilled in the art of glass bending and harnessing the colour that is emitted through the use of different gases and coatings. It’s a medium that could be boundless to the imagination but is hindered by the skill of the artisan and the flexibility of glass. Expect to pay upwards of $3000 for a basic installation with a single colour and no animation.
Melbourne’s Cutler & Co. and Gingerboy used neon as part of their outdoor signage, craftily bringing back the art of neon for a new generation, and it now seems unavoidable amid a host of new openings around Sydney employing the bright lights to quite draw customers like moths to the flame.
Tio’s Cerveceria in Darlinghurst would be largely invisible from down its quiet street, if not for a gentle green glow emanating from the front window. Its largely ironic neon features a classic margarita and a telling arrow leading you to the front door. As far as making the decision to employ neon signage, Jeremy Blackmore from Tio’s simply says “neon is really bright”. And as for the cost of what is one of Sydney’s larger forays into the medium, Blackmore says, “It was expensive but worth it. We never questioned whether we would have it or not, just what we would need to leave out to afford it.”
While Sydney fails to emanate the kind of glow that cities like New York or Tokyo do, the medium is taking a life of its own across our city. And if recent examples are anything to by, surely we’ll be left with some iconic and timeless light sculptures to illuminate our way through the streets.
The Blocks, by London based Faye Toogood for Penfold’s Wines, had a huge reliance on neon in setting the tone for the interior and making a vast visual impact on the entire space. Ms.G’s simple use of neon, meanwhile, takes a small sign beyond the point of subtlety without being over done.
The Flinders’ ‘Cold Beer’ sign is one of the first bright lights you’ll see if you’re heading from the airport directly into Surry Hills. Its prominent position in the window says it all. The classic and iconic Sydney Theatre Company is proudly lit by the blue haze emitted from The Wharf, which brings the bare and ageing structure into light and an alluring new context.
Custom red neon subtly overlooks GoodGod’s eatery The Dip. Its luminescence draws your eye from all parts of the room, just in case you forgot where you were, which tends to happen at GoodGod.