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Laura Hunt

Your First Home

Bring Up The Lights!

Copyright Deborah Marks 2005

The stage has been set. Now it's time to bring up the lights! With a well thought out lighting plan, you can create a wonderful, appealing, and cozy atmosphere while illuminating your home's interior to its fullest advantage.

In the past thirty years lighting technology has seen tremendous development. This has been particularly beneficial for lighting design in contemporary interiors. Halogen entered the home and brought bold and interesting new lighting possibilities. In many cases the lighting fixture itself became a work of art. The crisp white light of halogen is just the right addition to the Contemporary Light interior. It brings dazzle and sparkle in well-defined quantities to your furnishings, artwork, and architectural features.

Nevertheless, the standard incandescent's soft, yellow light, which is so flattering to skin tones, certainly is not passe. And fluorescent lighting, though sometimes associated with flickering, clicking, and greenish color, is useful in a variety of spaces, not just in work areas. Great strides have been made in fluorescent lighting, which make it much more attractive and easy on your pocketbook. Both these light sources have their place in the home and can be used in a lighting plan for a Contemporary Light setting.

How do you create a lighting plan? What do you have to take into consideration? Lighting a room is very similar to lighting a stage. You want to make the stage--or the room--dramatic and interesting. You want to throw the spotlight on certain features in order to create focal points. Lighting, of course, is also utilitarian. It enables us to see and perform certain tasks. How do we take these varying factors into account in drawing up an effective plan?

Lighting experts agree that there should be "layers of light" in a room. Typically, they don't recommend a central ceiling fixture that produces an evenly lit but monotonous space. Instead, layered lighting can produce pools of light distributed throughout the room. These "pools" produce contrasts of light and dark which add depth and interest to the space. The eye is drawn to the light and travels across the room from one lighted area to another.

In the living room pictured light fixtures have been employed to create an inviting atmosphere. Directional light for the artwork is provided by the adjustable reflectors mounted on the ceiling. The floor uplight adds height to the room by casting light and shadow onto the ceiling. Comfortable reading light is furnished by the two floor lamps. The small table lamp on the sideboard casts light onto the wall, from which it is reflected into the room.

In your own plan decide where you want and need those pools of light. You may wish to illuminate the fireplace as the focal point in the room. Recessed directional downlights, referred to as "eyeballs," can be a good choice to accomplish this. To use light to feature artwork as the main attraction in the room, suspend spotlights from the ceiling. Use low voltage halogen bulbs with protective glass that filters out the harmful UV rays which can damage paintings.

If the room is somewhat long and narrow, you may wish to throw light on one of the longer walls by using sconces, wall lights, or spots. This will have the effect of widening the space. If the ceilings are low, plan for uplights. If you have high ceilings, keep the lighting directed downward to enhance the feeling of intimacy.
In recent years recessed lighting has become increasingly popular. A cautionary note about this type of lighting: In most cases a non-directional downlight is used, which is very unflattering to people standing or sitting directly under it. For this reason never position recessed lighting above a sofa or any other sitting area.
Holes for recessed lighting fixtures placed in a ceiling can be quite permanent. When you illuminate objects using recessed lighting, remember it is not easy to change the arrangment of furniture once lights are installed. Also, if you put in too many recessed lights, your ceilings look like "Swiss cheese." This effect is particularly noticeable if the lamp housings are black. Some halogen bulbs produce an uncomfortable amount of heat, so be sure to ask for the ones which disperse heat toward the back.

Alternatives to recessed lighting are spots or pendants on bendable rail systems. The look is captivating! Spots can be used to illuminate artwork or to wash walls; pendants can be used over peninsulas, dining tables, and sideboards. The advantage is that there is one power source to one rail feeding many lights. This eliminates the need for a multitude of large holes in the ceiling. The possibilities of style, shape, and color are endless for the decorative and utilitarian pendants. The cost is higher, but one advantage is that you can take them with you when you move!

Among the floor and table lamps there are some which are industrial looking, some more formal, and some just-for-fun. The shades can come in blown white or colored glass, polycarbonate, or even rubberized plastic! Their bases can be of chromed or enameled metal, nickel, or a wood finish. The lamps can provide very direct task lighting or diffuse ambient lighting You can choose from the most recent designer models or the classics of the past.

Select those that complement or accent your interior furnishings…and those that do the job! If you want soft flattering light more than true color rendering, choose lamps with a standard incandescent source. If you need a bright white light, then halogen would be the answer. If the floor lamp is more decorative than functional, you may want to consider a fluorescent light source. Fluorescents come in cool and warm whites and colors. The flickering is a thing of the past, and they are far more economical. Some lighting fixtures do allow for the use of all three light sources, so you can test the effectiveness of the bulbs as you go.

Do insist that the lighting fixtures have dimmers. Dimmers may come with the lamps or can be installed at the switch. Since they are still too expensive for fluorescents, consider dimming the standard incandescents and halogens. This is one of the best ways to add drama to your lighting plan! If full capacity is needed, up with the lights! But when a more subtle atmosphere is desired, put the lights at varying intensities and experiment with all of the possibilities!

Lighting in kitchens and bathrooms requires special consideration. In the state of California fluorescent lighting must be the primary light source in these rooms. As of October 2005 even more stringent codes will come into effect for remodels and new construction. Title 24, which concerns energy saving matters, addresses this issue.

There are ways to incorporate fluorescents into an effective plan. Compact fluorescents can be used in recessed lighting. Fluorescents are welcome in under cabinet lighting. Usually kitchen or bath designs are done with an interior designer or architect. Consult the professional as to the most aesthetic and functional means to employ fluorescents in the lighting plan.

When planning, remember that any work which requires installing lighting in a ceiling or behind a wall should be done by a licensed electrician. If you are renting a home or apartment, consult the landlord before having lighting installed. You will need his/her approval.

Designing just the right lighting plan does take much thought and some experimentation. The reward of a careful design is an interestingly and well-lit interior. When everything is in place, sit back, turn up the lights, relax, and enjoy the view from center stage!

Picture #1 Courtesy of Schőner Wohnen, Germany
Picture #2 Courtesy of Lite Line Illuminations, Inc., Los Gatos, CA
Picture #3, #4 and #5 Courtesy of Foscarini, Italy

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