Sep 19, 2011

Designing in an economic slump: Part I

If you’re looking for a silver lining to the housing downturn, look to interior design. As we all strive for ways to cut costs when doing a remodel or an update, and make good design decisions when purchasing a new home, designers and builders need to strip away unnecessary elements yet still provide elegance and simplicity in design.  As a designer, my role is to guide clients through changes that often stay with them forever.  I find the best of what is available, and ensure that the product, the overall design, and the style is enduring, energy conscious, and budget savvy. This four part blog topic will address areas of design where new products, technology, and a focus on problem-solving make them ideal candidates for make-over or change.

Part I:  Lighting Design

One area where products and technology have made huge advances is in lighting design.  Finding the proper strength lighting, with good color temperature, and at reasonable cost, is now much easier. In addition, many states are phasing out the sale of incandescent bulbs in order to help reduce overall energy consumption. State building codes often call out maximum wattage loads for rooms, and define the type of lighting and controls that can be used. Finding and using new sources of lighting is essential.  

Up-lights, LED cove lights and paint colors made this space larger.
With the advent of LED - light emitting diodes - going mainstream, and the new shapes, colors, and applications for fluorescent bulbs, not only have we gained fabulous sources for natural lighting, the costs are competitive and the overall energy savings are significant.  LED's have always been the darlings of architects and designers, but their cost, bluish color temperature, and lack of beam strength, made them best for accent lighting only. The limited availability of fixtures and ready-to use bulbs made it nearly impossible for homeowners to use them. Now that has changed. LED bulbs, strips, pucks, rope and recessed fixtures are available at lighting stores and most big box home improvement stores. 

We generally like a warm glow for ambient lighting, and clean white light for tasks. For LED, refer to the two numbers on the product’s published information: the color temperature and the color-rendering index (CRI) to select the right one   Color temperature, expressed as a Kelvin rating, monitors how blue or pink the light will appear. Standard incandescent lighting measures 2700 Kelvin, which is warm, yellow, while cooler, bluer, daylight is 5000 Kelvin.  Using 3000 Kelvin LED provides great lighting. Be sure all the lights in a room are the same color temperature for balance.

LED, and CFL's create a warm room in this remodel and
highlight art and collectibles perfectly.
Compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) comes in many sizes, shapes, a wide variety of wattage outputs, and have CRI numbers as well.  Many of the new compact fluorescent bulbs output 100 lumens per watt - a commonly used level in incandescent bulbs -  and some last 50,000 hours. You have an option to select the right color temperature, and the cost is a dollar or two more than incandescent versions. Saving energy adds to the reduction in overall cost.

There’s still the issue of where to place your lighting. In an older home, adding the right fixtures and placing them properly can create a significant update. Layering the lighting will create different effects, so that while the space may not change dimensionally, an update with lighting can transform a space. In a new home, using the right type, number and position of fixtures, will enable the best light, the right initial costs, and long-term energy savings.  While the standard seems to be to use down lighting, generally with a recessed fixture,  lighting the vertical surfaces and lighting the walls is efficient and inviting. If just the center of the room is lit - as in can lights in the center of a kitchen or bath - and the walls aren't, it seems a little foreboding and less pleasant. To strike the right balance, pair a central light fixture with additional down lights and illuminate the walls with decorative sconces.  Using LED or CFL you can light a space well, and use less than a third of the energy used by traditional incandescence.  In new homes, central lighting fixtures can’t be placed until a room’s furniture is arranged. To solve that problem, put three looped-together points in a room’s ceiling where a lighting fixture could hang. 

CFL, LED  lighting placed well, makes a kitchen warm and
inviting yet ideal for a gourmet cook.

Bouncing ceiling light onto counters and walls and adding
LED sconces and in-cabinet lighting made this
 small bath bright and open.
The kitchen needs to function with lots of light when for food prep as well as low lighting afterwards or during dinner. Using CFL's above cabinets so that light bounces to the ceiling, providing lots of ambient light, is one solution to maximize prep lighting without using too many fixtures. Knowing the beam spread of each fixture will help with placement as well as number of fixtures. Use under-cabinet and in-cabinet for task and accent lighting, respectively.  LED offers beautiful white task light and often is enough as the sole source for meal prep lighting.

Bathrooms are another area where lighting must be not only beautiful but also highly functional. In the bathroom, you want lighting that makes your face look flattered and sconces the left and right of the mirror, not only  creates a more flattering effect, make things easier while shaving or putting on makeup. 
Lighting control is especially important. Whether you change to energy efficient bulbs or not.  Dimmers lower energy consumption immediately,  especially in rooms where all of the lighting is controlled by a single switch. For tasks that require high light, you just don't use the dimming function. When those tasks are complete, you can lower the lights so the lighting is softer. If you have many fixtures on one switch - common in kitchen ceilings - have an electrician separate them to create usable banks of light instead. Two stacked switches can be used - - in the space of a single one so no wall repairs are needed. Consider installing occupancy and vacancy sensor switches as well - they'll add function and save money in the long run.