Dramatic Flare

An artsy Milwaukee hotel inspires with its signage and its unique mission.
The canopy sign uses red-painted, open-face channel letters that matched the red (Pantone 179 C) of the FlexiBRITE tubing.

Experimental. Creative. Fun. The new Saint Kate, a boutique-arts hotel in downtown Milwaukee, is on a mission to illuminate at every turn – from its art gallery and theater to its avant-garde sign hugging the building’s corner. “The hotel’s branding firm came up with the concept of painted letters on the corner and it took off from there,” said John Wachniak, manager of the Signs and Lighting Division at Lemberg Electric (Brookfield, WI). “The open-face signs tap into the look of classic neon with an artsy twist.” Lemberg partnered with Marcus Hotels & Resorts to create two custom pieces – a red sign floating over the canopy at the main entrance, and a 45-ft. white sign running vertically and straddling the southeast corner of the building’s façade.

Both signs use SloanLED FlexiBRITE faux neon to grab attention. Because of the unusual nature of channel letters bent at a 90° angle, Wachniak and his team fabricated a prototype of the letter K to explore various options. “We needed to design the edge letters to be legible at several angles from the street,” Wachniak said. “We also experimented with lighting and color options for ideal presentation of similar signs on a brick background and floating over the canopy.” Prototyping with LEDs, whether they are inside flexible plastic tubing (also called rope lighting) or placed in cabinets or channel letters, is particularly helpful when multiple lighting colors and materials are being considered. In addition, the most reliable LED products are gaining market share because a small premium in quality LEDs quickly pays for itself in longevity relative to inexpensive products that may fail even in the first year.

The prototype letter K shows how FlexiBRITE tubing wraps in mirror-image fashion.
The prototype letter K shows how FlexiBRITE tubing wraps in mirror-image fashion.

For the Saint Kate – named after Saint Catherine, the patron saint of the arts – the teams decided on white-painted aluminum letters with FlexiBRITE tubing that illuminates with red for the brick, and red letters with red tubing for the horizontal entrance sign. The SloanLED tubing is thin and bright for use in applications such as edge lighting and channel letters, inside or out. The product can bend in two directions and has a draw of 2.8W per foot. 

Wachniak said that LED lighting enables more cutting-edge signage solutions. “People are trying to push the envelope with illuminated signs, whether [they are] facelit, backlit, up-lighting or down-lighting. They’re combining different materials and colors to arrive at novel designs,” Wachniak said. Lemberg has also used SloanLED FlexiBRITE in signs inside Miller Park, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Faux neon signage, such as that featured at the Saint Kate hotel, is considered a wise choice for clients wanting the look of neon without the high-energy usage and potential risk of broken glass. Especially in outdoor environments, faux neon offers a robust, enduring solution.