Renowned architect Nancy Ruddy believes lighting is one of the most critical Ingredients in today’s restaurant design, as evidenced by her work on Sugarcane DUMBO.

Following the resounding success of their design for Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Miami – an eatery that has received numerous awards including semi-finalist for “Best New Restaurant” by the James Beard Foundation; “Best Restaurant” by Johnson & Wales; “Restaurant of the Year” by Eater; “Best New Restaurant” by Miami New Times; two three-star reviews from the Miami Herald, and a 4-Diamond rating from AAA – the architectural firm CetraRuddy recently performed similar magic for Sugarcane DUMBO, located along a hip Brooklyn waterfront in New York City. (DUMBO is a local acronym for the trendy area known as Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.)

In addition to its breathtaking views of the Brooklyn Bridge and expansive outdoor seating, Sugercane’s gorgeous design elements are courtesy of award-winning architect Nancy J. Ruddy, founding principal and Executive Director of Interior Design for CetraRuddy, and her team.

Ruddy has plenty of insights to share about the handcrafted, custom-designed lighting fixtures that help create the eclectic, vivacious atmosphere at Sugarcane DUMBO. In both locations, she stresses the importance of lighting fixtures when creating the ideal surroundings and experience in hospitality.

“For both DUMBO and Miami, the design choice of lighting fixtures was as important as the interior design, finished materials, and furniture to achieve a cohesive experience within the restaurant,” Ruddy explains.“None of the lighting fixtures were an after-thought or add-on, but instead, integrated components that complete the whole design.”

Housed in an historic 1860s warehouse building, the aesthetic of Sugarcane DUMBO seamlessly combines contemporary sensibility with a subtle, historical vibe through lighting elements such as the open pendants and column-mounted sphere lamps. The unique private dining area – which features a large wood communal table made from reclaimed wood beams – is lit by a custom chandelier that pays homage to cooking vessels from the visible open kitchen. 

“The concept of each design was inspired by the brand’s cuisine and the motto, ‘Kick back, eat well, and stay a while.’”


According to Ruddy, every lighting fixture in the restaurant area was custom-designed and hand-crafted to express their own personality while being an integral part of the whole design.

“The concept of each design was inspired by the brand’s cuisine and the motto, ‘Kick back, eat well, and stay a while,’ and the rich history of the site,” Ruddy states. “For example, the feature chandeliers are created from the authentic, 150-year-old iron gates that were salvaged from the site. The original shape of the gates was kept intact, but were reimagined by suspending them loosely at irregular angles,” she notes. “We then chose Tala LEDs for the light sources [because they evoke] Old World filament illumination in the simplest suspension detail with the latest LED technology. The entire process took approximately six weeks.”
While there are some similarities between the design process in the New York and Miami properties, there are noticeable differences as well. Since the Miami location was first, its look influenced the development of the new space.

“The design of the DUMBO restaurant carries the essence of the CetraRuddy-designed flagship in Miami while advancing its spirit to New York, the Brooklyn waterfront, and the amazing historic building that houses the restaurant,” Ruddy reveals. At both locations, the varied cuisine and cultural influences that define the Sugarcane experience are expressed through the design of distinct areas including the oyster, sushi, robata, and cocktail bars.

“A vibrant mix of materials, textures, colors, and found objects are incorporated throughout the design to reflect back to the brand’s essence,” Ruddy comments. “At the DUMBO location, we really wanted to celebrate the building’s unique past as a Civil War-era landmark cargo warehouse. The design approach minimally impacts the monumental space, maintaining an authenticity that reveals and celebrates the bones of the existing [building].”

Part of what makes this space so distinctive are the 200-year-old schist walls measuring two feet thick, the centuries-old wood rafters, aged brick walls, abandoned rusty gates, and monumental arched windows overlooking the East River.

Curated metals of sculpted zinc, acid-etched bronze, and hand-rubbed steel are complemented by antiqued Cuban terra cotta and custom mosaic tiles that provide visual richness.

“We are always inspired by lighting that highlights other design details, working together with those elements to form memorable experiences that lead to moments of discovery and surprise.”


For Sugarcane DUMBO’s design, lighting inspiration came from sources as disparate as old Havana, 1950s industrial warehouses, and Japanese wine bottles, to name a few. The look and feel of the lighting design give a nod to the Old World, explains Ruddy, but it’s updated with modern detailing and technology.

For the designer and her team, lighting is an essential design component – especially for hospitality spaces. “We are always inspired by lighting that highlights other design details, working together with those elements to form memorable experiences that lead to moments of discovery and surprise,” she explains. “For a project with an historic or adaptive reuse component, we love lighting fixtures that blend a modern sensibility with subtle, historically referential qualities. Sugarcane DUMBO’s open pendants and column-mounted sphere lamps are a great example of how lighting can meet that aspiration.”

Ruddy and her team have a finger on the pulse of design spanning several industries including hospitality, residential, educational, cultural, interior, and commercial. Such a deep immersion has given them insights into what’s trending and in demand regarding lighting today.

“We’re seeing a greater interest and focus in the use of lighting to create authentic, experiential, and immersive environments,” she comments. “It’s something we’ve always sought to explore in our work: How subtle, ambient lighting fixtures can be combined with decorative light sources to enhance and highlight different elements and experiences,” Ruddy notes.

“For example, with our recent U.K. restaurant project – 20 Stories, a rooftop location in Manchester – our goal was to create a ‘garden in the sky,’ with a variety of indoor/outdoor settings. Using integrated custom linear LEDs, we created the main bar as a centerpiece with its dramatic form of a shimmering, illuminated metal and fabric canopy recalling a grand specimen tree. For other spaces in the restaurant, we used lighting to create a warm, ambient glow.”

In addition to 20 Stories, CetraRuddy has a number of interesting projects in the works. The firm recently completed ARO, a new 62-story, 426-unit luxury rental tower in Manhattan featuring a striking glass-and-white metal lattice façade and a unique podium base.

“On the hospitality side, we just opened Bluebird London NYC overlooking Central Park, an exciting restaurant whose design highlights vibrant elements from British art and culture,” Ruddy remarks. “Also in New York, we’re working with Fotografiska, the Stockholm-based international destination for photography, to restore and convert a historic landmark building into a new cultural destination.”