an equal player on the artist’s canvas. Without light, our creations and our lives would be fl at and one-dimensional.
No one knows this better than lighting designer,Evelyn Audet, of East Providence, RhodeIsland. Playing with light as a natural -- andtechnical -- element of design is Evelyn’s specialty. She recommends that planning forlighting in any new construction effort be done as close to the beginning of the project as possible. “From a technical point of view, youhave to let the electricians know where you’ll be wanting, for example, recessed ceiling lightsand/or junction (or fi xture) boxes. Ceilings should be thick enough or have enough space above them to accommodate the height of recessed light fi xtures. And electrical wall sconces and some types of swing arm lamps require junction boxes, which are cut right into the walls behind them.”
“From a design perspective,” she continues,“light distinguishes tasks and purpose by its pure presence and level of intensity. Much like color. So it is little wonder that lighting is as much a part of the design equation as color, furnishings, style, scale and proportion,” she affirms.
Planning for lighting at the onset is also far less costly in the long run. “Planning upfront is much less expensive than choosing light sources as you go or, worse, not thinking about it at all and being surprised at the end,” says Evelyn. “And,” she adds, “most likely you’ll be left with far fewer choices than you would have had at the beginning of construction.”
Of course, it is not always possible to plan for lighting. You may live in an old house with existing wiring that will either not accommodate your lighting preferences or would be wildly expensive to implement. European-bred architect and designer, Karine Scheurer, owner of KVS Design in North Easton, Massachusetts, is amazed by the architecture in American homes. She feels that many older houses are simply too dark, due to low ceilings and small window openings.
“What adds to the problem,” she points out, “is all the trees and shrubs that, while lovely from the outside, contribute even more to lightless interiors by shading or even blocking windows.“
Home Plan Designs suggests that homeowners think carefully about how remodeling or renovation projects, such as installing new windows, will affect the amount of light flow into a room. When lighting changes, so do the ambiance and the colors on the walls, flooring and sometimes furnishings. Home Plan Designs helps prevent unnecessary mistakes by providing “live examples” in 3D that produce an accurate picture of just how the proposed, new-style windows or room addition will affect these elements. Those new windows can make a drastic difference!
Evelyn, who works with every lighting component from incandescent bulb to wall sconce to garden spotlight, explains the different uses for lighting. “There are three basic things a designer wants to accomplish with appropriate lighting. The first is ‘task’ lighting or keeping in mind the function that will be performed in the room or area and choosing the proper source for that function. The second type of lighting is ‘ambient’,’ for creating a specific mood, and providing general illumination. The third is accent or decorative. These things drive the decisions about how light will work as part of the end result -- together.”
Evelyn concedes, “the most common mistake people make is expecting one light source to do it all when, in reality, it is a combination of light sources that produces a great result.”
So, keeping in mind the function of the room or area, the style of decor, and combination of light sources to be used, consider the following, different types of lighting sources that are currently available and decide which ones may work for your home.
Types of Lighting
Incandescent bulbs, or yellow light, can produce a brilliant glow, depending upon the amount of wattage, from a lamp, spotlight or chandelier. The detraction is that they are not very energy efficient, so people tend to keep as many turned off as possible, inadvertently creating the drab, gloomy atmosphere in their home that they seek to avoid! Yet, incandescent bulbs are readily available and so versatile, they can be used in many different styles of lamps, making them desirable for most home dwellers. But many designers, Karine Scheurer, among them, dislike incandescent. “I think we should get rid of bulbs,” she confesses. “They consume too much energy and don’t last long enough.”
Halogen light gives off a white light and is considered by experts to be the closest artificial lighting to natural light. When these bulbs were first introduced, they were difficult to work with and frustrating to change. Now, however, they come in the regular screw-in type bulbs and are available in sizes appropriate for lamps, floodlights, spotlights and standing lamps. What is more, many halogen lamps come with dimmer switches; in fact, most spot-and floodlights can be installed with dimmer switches as well. The only potential drawback we must point out is that, because these bulbs can reach temperatures of 970 to 1,200 degrees, they can become a potential fire hazard when placed too close to curtains, fabrics and other flammable materials. However, the many pluses of the halogen bulb, one being its extreme energy efficiency, far outweigh this one minus, so it is gaining in popularity and becoming the light source of choice for many. It is, after all, the best way to bring the sunshine indoors on a dark or rainy day.
Fluorescent Light: Fluorescent lighting has come a long way since the good old days where its ungainly tubes could often be found flickering, humming and buzzing in offices, factories and retail stores. Since making its foray into all kinds of homes, fluorescent bulbs have changed shape -- and color. The most economical type of artificial light, it now comes in smaller “twists” to fit the standard screw-in type fixture that the incandescent bulb uses. Fluorescent also comes in many colors and light tones, giving consumers a wider choice than ever before.
Styles of Lighting
Ceiling Mounted: Ceiling-mounted lighting serves the purpose of illuminating a room without the inhabitant having to turn on several light sources at once. Overhead, as it is also called, is sometimes used for special effects, such as highlighting art objects, collections and floral arrangements.
There are many different types of overhead lighting and they differ as much as people’s tastes and needs, so they should be considered carefully.
Track: Ceiling-mounted track lighting is both practical and flexible because it permits the user to add/subtract and re-direct the fixtures -- an ideal feature for those who like to rearrange their art on a regular basis.
Thanks to improvements , (small halogen bulbs and fixtures have replaced the original, bulky, “can” requiring large, incandescent bulbs), more and more people are using track lighting. Because of the sunshine-like effect of halogen bulbs, this track lighting can shed brighter, more even light over more space and highlight collectibles, as well. Some restaurants use this type of lighting for ambiance purposes, such as having them shine down on romantic little table bouquets and beautiful crystal, making it sparkle like cut diamonds.
Recessed Light Fixtures: Recessed lighting means that the fixtures are flush with the ceiling, creating lighting that is basically concealed. Fans of this type of lighting like it for its decorative simplicity and the warm, overall glow it casts without being structurally intrusive in a room’s design. The only problem with this type of lighting is that many homes and apartments do not have thick enough ceilings to accommodate the fixture’s height. Unless there is some crawl space above the finished ceiling, most designers advise against lowering a ceiling for this purpose. What is more, lowering a ceiling to allow for recessed lighting could significantly change the room’s basic proportions, creating an awkward, inharmonious environment (SEE SCALE AND PROPORTION). Unless recessed lighting is included in the original building plans for a new home, installation can be very expensive since it would require demolition, replastering, repainting, and more.
If you do decide on this type of lighting, be sure to check out the many styles available. Shapes and finishes vary from polished or brushed brass to colors, including black and white. A note of caution: finishes can be easily viewed from the room below, so it makes good design sense to have a fixture with an interior color that matches your ceiling. For instance, you wouldn’t want to install fixtures with black interiors if your ceiling is white.
Recessed ceiling lighting is sometimes used to spotlight a beautiful painting or object d’art. Some bulbs used in ceiling lighting “swivel” freely and can be aimed in any direction in order to call attention to a specific item or area of a room. (ALSO SEE PICTURE LIGHTING.)
Home Plan Designs recommends that you work with a lighting professional when considering overhead lighting, since there is an art -- as well as a function -- to its placement.
Wall Sconces: Wall sconces are more decorative and “ambient” than anything else and should be, like recessed ceiling lighting, part of the original electrical plan for a house. Like other types of lighting, wall sconces require electrical outlets called “junction” or “fixture” boxes, which must be cut into the walls.
When developing your overall electrical plan, it is wise to include a plan for the installation of junction boxes wherever you feel you might need them throughout the house. This way, you will always have the option of having electrical wall sconces, even if you think you may prefer using them with candles instead.
Because of their decorative nature, wall sconces should be beautiful, like fine jewelry. Used in pairs, sconces can be very effective for highlighting a magnificent art collection, or for “framing” a single painting, a wall mirror, a mantel or a window.
Picture Lights: Picture lights are just the thing for highlighting one or more pieces of artwork in a room, a hallway or on a staircase. They attach easily to the picture’s frame and, when you have a junction box installed behind them, conceal the electrical cord. Designers recommend having picture lights on a separate switch or individually (just add an unobtrusive switch to the bottom of the picture’ frame) for added enjoyment.
Picture lights are available in a range of sizes and lengths, with the standard being nine and sixteen inches. They are basically a slim, tubular bulb covered with a shiny, lacquered, solid brass fixture which adds an element of sophistication to the work being displayed.
Strip Lighting: Strip lighting has come a long way in recent years and is the most practical, economical way to “spotlight” small areas, such as under kitchen cabinets (as “task” lighting, for activities such as chopping vegetables), pretty, decorative shelves, curio cabinets, bookcases, closet interiors, and more.
Years ago, strip lighting consisted of tiny, Christmas light-size bulbs that burned out often and were expensive and difficult to replace. Today, the strips are available in brass, chrome, or white/black lacquer finish and feature small bulbs that either swivel mount or a stationary. These strips are just 1/2” deep and 1/2” high, allowing for an easy fit anywhere you want them. They can be purchased in standard lengths from 10 to 40 inches and install easily with a two-sided tape. When the bulbs burn out, the entire unit can be replaced inexpensively, saving you the trouble of trying to install hard-to-reach, individual lights. With light strip bulbs containing just six watts of power per ten inches and burning an average of forty thousand hours, this method of lighting is one of the most popular options available today.
Swing Arm Lamps: Say hello to a classic and practical way to enjoy great “task” lighting that happens to look stylish, too! Most often used for reading, they are commonly installed on either side of a bed or sofa. Some people like them in the bathroom, as well, placed over the sink, counter or vanity. While there are hundreds of variations of the swing arm lamp, it actually comes in just two standard sizes. The single swing arm features a nine-inch extension; the double swing has an elbow with an eighteen-to nineteen-inch extension.
Since some swing arm lamps require the installation of junction boxes in the wall, do make sure you are careful when determining the ideal height and placement of each. (Note: some swing arms do not require junction boxes and come with a brass or chrome strip to conceal the electrical cord, which can then be neatly lined up under the lamp’s rectangular base.)
Although the lamp’s instructions will recommend suggested heights, the best guide is always your own eye and lighting needs. Also consider your height as well as what feels most comfortable and convenient. For example, install a pair of swing arms high enough on the bedroom wall so you don’t feel as if you have to slump while reading in bed! Conversely, swing arm lamps shouldn’t be so high over a desk or work area that you can’t see what you are doing. When placed over a recliner, they should be at the proper height so you can knit or do needlework comfortably.
Another advantage to these task-oriented lamps is that the bulbs are three-way, which lets you adjust the wattage. Two, 150-watt bulbs in lamps placed on a mirrored wall in the bath will provide 300 watts for chores such as shaving or applying make up.
Swing arm lamps are becoming more and more popular in both contemporary and traditional homes. Because they come in a multitude of finishes (polished brass and chrome, brushed brass/chrome, white lacquer, gunmetal or nickel matte), they make stylish additions to any type of decor.
Standing or Floor Lamps: It used to be, years ago, that standing lamps were placed in a room’s corners for casting a soft glow and creating a soft ambiance. Today, standing lamps are both decorative and functional, especially those that use halogen bulbs (these usually stand 72” high and feature a shallow, round cup or saucer as a “shade”). A great variety in styling abounds, making this type of lamp popular with interior designers.
They are adjustable in height and many come with dimmer switches and tilting shades, so when you are not seated, reading, they can serve as a pretty way to spotlight a painting, a plant or a favorite object d’art. Of course, the traditional lamps with fabric shades do not have this capability.
Designer’s Tip: Use the tall, sophisticated style standing lamps in pairs for balance in your decorating scheme. They look especially elegant in far corners of a room, near a wall, for example. The shorter lamps used for reading or desk work can easily go it alone.
Table Lamps: Table lamps are fun. Used as both light sources and decorative accents, they add charm and a warm glow when placed strategically throughout a room. Table lamps come in probably the largest variety of all the lighting sources discussed here. Whatever shape you choose, try to make sure it is repeated throughout the room for balance and visual equality. For example, while two end tables on either side of a couch can comfortably vary, the two lamps placed on each should either be a matching pair or at least similar in design.
As a rule of thumb, table lamps should be the last light source you add to a room; specifically, plan your space’s actual lighting needs (task and ambiance) first and save the “accent” table lamps for last. And keep in mind, when shopping for a table lamp or lamps that, because they are mostly geared toward decorative purposes, the prettier and more ornate the lamp, the dimmer the light it will shed.
Despite the staggering amount of choices in table lamps, we find that they each have a unique personality. Usually, the classic, simple shapes work well for most needs and can be found both inexpensively and in a higher price range. Before you decide on a pattern, chose an appealing shape and color. And rather than keeping a certain couch or chair in mind when shopping for a lamp, try to find one that will look great in a number of settings.
Furniture or fabrics come and go or we move, so the lamp or lamps should be versatile. And remember, if your room is predominantly neutral, you can go as bright and patterned as you want with your table lamps.
What are some of the most common styles in table lamps? There’s the familiar “bean pot” lamp featuring a fat, rounded base and equally generous shade. This style is fun and comes in every color imaginable. It looks most at home in a casual environment and goes extremely well with rattan furniture. Its one caveat: because of its large proportions, it takes up a lot of space on a table.
Another popular choice is the antique tole lamp, which features malleable, hand-painted tin shades. You’ll find these lamps mostly in traditional living rooms, often boasting beautiful, graceful, oval shades. But, again, because many are painted in deep, rich shades and embellished with lavish patterns, their tiny, often frosted, candelabra bulbs don’t throw off much light.
Finally, there are exquisite, hand-made pottery lamps in all colors, patterns, shapes and sizes. Many people are making their own lamps by wiring their favorite vases, baskets and brass candlesticks. This can be a lot of fun and creates a truly unique look in today’s homes. Other great sources for table lamps include pottery studios and antique shops where you’re sure to discover many a precious find.
Mini Table Lamps: The tiny, ornate, cozy-looking lamp you always saw perched on your favorite restaurant’s table and sometimes as wall sconces is now making its appearance in homes, hotels, bars and restrooms of upscale establishments. Beaded, fringed, dark and light, they evoke a feeling of glamour, romance and charm wherever they are placed. Typically, because of their small size and elaborate detailing, they give off very little light; in fact, they can be considered a “dressed up candle,” at best. They are a beautiful, warm welcome on a small table in a foyer, or on a decorative shelf in front of a small mirror. Theycan serve as a night light in a small guest room or be placed on the vanity of a private bath off the bedroom. They come in all colors, patterns and styles. Fun in nature, and available in almost any home store, they are meant to be played with.
Floor Cans: These toy-like, spotlight lamps were first introduced in the ‘70s and are still in full use! Casual and contemporary, they typically sit on the floor (supported by a small bracket or stand) and are used to illuminate a grouping of plants or a single tree in a corner of a room. Because their light is cast upward, a pretty indoor tree can be both silhouetted and shadowed at the same time. Because they tilt at various angles, any part of a plant, sculpture, or a stack of books or paintings on the floor can be beautifully showcased with just a flick of the switch. Available in an array of colors, we like white, since they can go anywhere in the house and are quite frequently tucked behind a piece of furniture or interspersed amongst plants, making them invisible, anyway. A truly inexpensive way to “punch up” a room! A 40-watt incandescent bulb is all you need. (We do not recommend a halogen bulb in this case, since its proximity to plants could prove hazardous, given the high temperatures halogen bulbs can reach.)
Chandeliers and Lanterns: Ah... the exquisite glamour of fine crystal chandeliers! Today, they grace many more rooms than just the formal dining room. They are seen in entrance halls and large foyers, placed over a winding staircase so when you look up, it is the focal point of the ceiling decor. Depending on the style, of course, chandeliers are also found in bedrooms and even the bath. There are as many different types as there are people, and the style that you select is up to your personal taste and where you would like to present its undisputed beauty. You can find chandeliers fashioned of dazzling, cut or rock crystal, warm, polished brass, glimmering porcelain, pewter and other natural materials. Some, such as fine Waterford crystal chandeliers, are extremely expensive and should be considered only when money is not a consideration. Designers recommend that you buy only the “real thing,” since faux or pseudo-anything is easily detected, even by the untrained eye. Better to go with a natural material, such as a beautiful, ornate wrought iron -- design than do anything half-hearted.
When placing over a table, experts recommend that your chandelier be located about three feet from the table, warning that it is better to err on the low side than have it suspended much too high. Most people will not bump their heads on it!
Lanterns make for a warm, almost sensual welcome into any homes and are probably the most versatile in style, price and design. Because of their sparkling glass and candelabra style lighting, they simply dazzle a hallway or foyer and are a charming accompaniment up a stairwell. They can be suspended by chains or mounted flush to the ceiling (a great option for home with low ceilings). Some come in plate or disk shapes and look quite elegant supported by decorative “arms” or multiple chains. This style can be a contemporary and inexpensive substitute for the pricey chandelier when placed over a dining room table.
Lanterns are available in brass, wrought iron, patterned, plain or smoked glass and sometimes in colors. There are even super-casual styles in brushed aluminum and bright colors. While designers, again, recommend you go by your own preferences and decor, many are inclined to choose brass since, coupled with the pure glass and flickering candlelight, the lantern’s reflective qualities will be enhanced to the maximum enjoyment of the room’s occupants.
Many lamp shades are actually too big for the lamps they come with. Coming soon to this site: Advice on how to properly “scale” a lamp shade.
Also,visit our DESIGN NEWS/TRENDS page for the latest in lighting options being used and recommended by contemporary designers