Apr 10, 2013

Lighting Design Tips

In 1879 Edison invented the incandescent light bulb and it changed the way we live. What was once an invention for practicality, has become a way to improve our living spaces, create mood, and add drama.  Lighting design is a key element of a comfortable home, combining the functional aspects, use for entertaining and relaxing, and being energy conscious in the fixtures and type of bulbs used. When you're selecting a fixture you are buying LIGHT, not 'a light'. 

Hiding the fixtures works in this powder room,
since it's not used often.  Quite a unique view in
lieu of a mirror!

While light sources behave in predictable ways - the beam spreads of fixtures are directly related to the housing, shades and bulbs used - the size of the room, its color, and what the purpose of the room and its contents are, all have a role to play in good lighting design.  You wouldn't light a small powder room in the same way as you would a master bath suite,  just like you wouldn't use a kitchen pendant while you watch a movie in a joined great room. So, what is the key to a good lighting plan?  First is balancing task, ambient and general lighting.  Next is the position of the fixture you select.  Finally, the size, type of bulb, and style of the fixture are important. Last, be sure to consider lighting controls.

Layered lighting works best for open plan kitchens. 

1. Balance: Many people make the mistake of adding just task lights to their spaces, and forget general and accent lighting.  The right fixtures can have multiple roles, especially with the use of lighting controls, dimmers and sensors for occupancy and vacancy. For example, wall sconces with low wattage incandescent bulbs are fabulous accent lights. When a higher output CFL is used to ensure that the wattage remains under 60 for the fixture, they can serve as reading, task and even ambient lights.  Why hang a wall sconce upwards just to wash a wall when you can position it downward and light more of the room? Dimming a high output-low wattage CFL can make the sconce an accent light for the fireplace, and at full power, a reading light for the fireside chair.   One of the least well-it spaces are bathrooms. The single over-the-mirror bath fixture is the most commonly seen. Uggh.   Nothing is worse than seeing a shadow under your eyes and chin that is actually caused by the lighting. Wall sconces and a few recessed fixtures create cross-illumination, better coverage for personal tasks like applying make-up and shaving, and ideal lighting for bathing and dressing. Don't forget to add dimmers so your lighting can be soft and subdue when you enjoy a relaxing soak! 

Yes, even a dining room can use layered lighting.  here the buffet
lamps add accent light while the twin chandeliers dim for dining and
go full power for game playing.

2. Position:  So, you added a bank of recessed fixtures to the kitchen but hate the result.  Could be that those fixtures throw light on the floor, the cabinets, or an area that doesn't work for you.  You don't want to create shadows or glare.  In living rooms, putting them directly overhead can be very annoying. Sometimes all that needs adjusting is the housing, but consider what you are illuminating before adding them.  Even the right place for a chandelier can make or break your enjoyment at the dining table.  Are those sconces showing the right area or useless in lighting the space.

3. Size: Be sure that the scale of your fixture is right for the space. It's less desirable to have a tiny chandelier in a large space than it is to be dramatic with a large one in a small space. Knowing the size of your room, table or wall, will be a good guide to what fits.

A fixture that fits the table, and is dropped the right
height, is both beautiful and functional.

4. Bulbs: With the need for energy conscious lighting, LED and compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) are more available and with a range of options. Know what color you want....is a white light desired or do you love the warm, yellow light produced by the now-defunct incandescent bulbs?  The wattage consumed by both LED and CFL is dramatically lower than incandescent bulbs, but their light output is high, so select what you need unless they can be dimmed.

5. Controls: I love dimmers. You can make your builder-installed recessed lighting  soft and warm by putting them on a dim setting. Sensors are fabulous for both interior and exterior lighting.  Why come up to a dark entry or even bedroom?  Exterior light sensors are often built into the fixture, or you can purchase and adapter that screws into the socket and turns on as it gets dark.  Wall switches with timers are great ideas. You can install them and set for 30 days so you never have a dark home even when you're on vacation. Lamp timers are simple to plug in, and can be set with multiple on-off settings. I always recommend occupancy and vacancy sensors for closets, garages, hallways, laundry rooms and spaces used by children.  Home automation systems are fabulous, and can be as simple as a single room control or as extensive as the whole house. 

Using a professional with lighting design experience can give you the best 'bang for your buck' whether you are remodeling, moving, building a new home, or just updating what you have.