I’m Jennifer Pott, Co-founder and Director of Brand & Customer Experience for The Adelaide Project. Navigating is probably a more accurate description than managing when it comes to the current circumstances. That said, we are one of the lucky businesses and wholeheartedly believe in the power of our community to come out of this pandemic stronger and scrappier than ever. It doesn’t matter if it’s trigonometry, skiing, or navigating the new reality of owning and launching a business weeks before a pandemic hits–being new at things is hard.
Some background: The Adelaide Project is a one-of-a-kind collaborative lighting studio that opened its doors mid-February in the King West neighbourhood of Toronto. Offering a provocative way to experience and specify architectural and decorative lighting, our second-generation family business has created a space that showcases physical solutions to many of the key challenges in light sourcing within the context of a thoughtfully renovated century-old heritage home. With a heavy focus on restoring the home’s original architecture, we designed The Adelaide Project to be not only an extension of the TPL Lighting brand and a place to make lighting sourcing easier than ever, but to also be an industry distributor, collaborative presentation centre, a shared meeting and event space and an active hub for creating inspiration for the Toronto design community. It’s about bringing people together by inspiring conversation, provoking thought through sharing different learning and experiences and through collaboration.
By definition, TPL Lighting is a sales agency, but The Adelaide Project is not about sales. The traditional agency model is to focus on projects and products; try to sell your product and get specified for a job. The problem with this is that everything starts to become a commodity game. We realized we needed to think beyond the product and spec and consider how we could create greater customer value throughout various stages of the specification journey. The Adelaide Project is about the experience you have with light; it’s about visually representing how the sum of lighting in the context of furnishings, decor and art is greater than the allure of any of the individual pieces. The space is highly curated in an epically elegant way, which is completely unique to this industry. We are also the only women-owned lighting studio in a male-dominated industry–that in itself is disruptive.
The Adelaide Project achieves what traditional showrooms lack character and context–and a connection to visitors on an emotional level. In order to accomplish this, we not only aim to bring to life an assortment of lighting applications across commercial and residential spaces, but we also seek to keep the vignettes “fresh” by rotating the lighting, art, furniture and accessories on a quarterly basis. We will be varying the products on display from manufacturers currently installed and integrate luminaires from our manufacturers not currently shown. We will also be aiming to have “manufacturer take-overs” of the space, allowing each of them a time to have a larger presence in the house to showcase their pieces.
We designed the space to allow for maximum flexibility. Lighting can be a bit of a mystery for some of our clients; controls and technology even more so. By rotating the types of products through a variety of applications, we are striving to bring to life how versatile and effective lighting can be in bringing the spirit of a space to life. While we don’t have a specific theme, we are directly addressing foundational design challenges when it comes to lighting and controls: lighting bedrooms, getting colours right, bringing warmth and intimacy to open spaces, considering user experience when it comes to designing and programming controls, etc.
Prior to becoming The Adelaide Project, the building where the studio now stands, 509 Adelaide Street West, was deemed a heritage home by the Ontario Heritage Trust and is a part of a set of homes coined “The William Clarke Houses,” after the local builder responsible for the homes. These William Clarke Houses, including The Adelaide Project, have significant cultural heritage value as a pair of surviving semi-detached houses, displaying features of the Gothic Revival style popular for residential buildings in the late 19th century.
Designed as mirror images, The Adelaide Project building and its neighbour are distinguished in particular by the brick and elaborate wood detailing in the gables and porches. The value of the William Clarke Houses is also associated with their role in providing information about the historical evolution of the local community, which began as a residential neighbourhood on land formerly allocated for a military reserve. Clarke resided for a time in the building where The Adelaide Project is now.
With lighting design in mind, our creative team behind The Adelaide Project lovingly renovated the building and included adjustments to the electrical plan, lighting controls and ceiling heights to maximize the impact of product displays. The space was constructed with flexibility in mind, so that lighting pieces can be added and removed with ease. This capability allows for installations to be rotated quarterly within The Adelaide Project so that the latest innovative, design-inspired luminaires and lighting control solutions are consistently on display. Additional renovations included the replacement of floors, stairs, railings, windows and hardware. The ceiling rosettes, crown molding, coiffed details, front door and interior hardware were restored.
Fast forward exactly one and a half months from opening day. We vacillate between feeling excited about the opportunities this pandemic opens up in terms of thinking about the business differently and scared about ‘are we making the right decisions’ for our business; our evolving family brand and the greater Toronto design community.
As of late March, we have temporarily closed the studio,
as most non-essential businesses in the area have. We are spending our time fleshing out ideas on how to create engagement with our clients and community digitally. We are also using the downtime to focus on planning so that we can get new partners lined up for the first “quarter turn” — swapping out the current lighting fixtures for new ones in true museum-like, rotating art-installation style. The products shown in the space are curated by our team, based on input from the specification representatives, clients; and by studying current global trends, projects and lighting technologies.
Typical visitors to The Adelaide Project are the architecture and design specification community: interior designers, architects and lighting designers. Post-COVID-19, we also expect to see some consumers and engineers in the space and welcome contractors that are installing our luminaires in jobs they’re involved in. The Adelaide Project is also serving as an extension of not only the TPL Lighting headquarters, but also of our clients. Prior to COVID-19, we were seeing the space utilized by our ‘spec reps’ and clients alike as a “downtown office” to work from. Additionally, we intend to host a series of lectures, speaker series and workshops about lighting and design in general–currently working on digital/virtual versions of this–which will further serve to create community for members of the architecture and design community.
We are all incredibly proud of The Adelaide Project, so every compliment and the level of excitement around this venture fuels our desire to keep going, even when it feels impossible at times. We are proud of how the design community has received this new idea in Toronto and we are excited to keep on growing and evolving with The Adelaide Project as we work together as a community to come out of this tragedy.
Together with my business partner, as owners,
we have an immense responsibility to think about this time as an opportunity to turn this crisis on its head
and think about how we can find ways to stay engaged authentically, while being supportive and empathetic to the needs of our clients and greater community.
Director of Brand & Customer Experience, The Adelaide Project