Ellen Freeman Roth                      

February 14, 2002

Some Bright Ideas for Those Developing a Lighting Plan

Ask four lighting designers to light a room and they'll each have different ideas. But they are likely to use the same guidelines. These tips, based on the advice of D. Schweppe and Robin Doerfler, both independent lighting designers, Susan Arnold of Wolfers Lighting in Waltham, and Michael Eberle of Chimera in Boston, offer direction on where to begin the process and considerations along the way.

Determine what you want the light to do. Do not begin by choosing light fixtures. Ask questions: What do you want to see in each space? How do you want to feel when you come into that room? Consider style in deciding the source of light. Do you want a clean look using unobtrusive light sources, or do you want to see fixtures such as track lighting, pendants, sconces, ceiling fixtures, table lamps, or floor lamps?

Achieve indirect lighting in various ways including wall sconces, by building lights into crown moulding, and with torchiere-style floor lamps.

Think about tasks in each room. Remember that down lights cast shadows while lights on the side illuminate more fully.

Kitchen: Outline the tasks you perform in the kitchen and how you want them illuminated.

Dining area: Most people don't want a lot of light in the dining area unless it's a three-meal-a-day space. Washing the walls with light creates a soft effect of light surrounding you. If you use candles on the table, small aperture ceiling lights create the illusion that the candle is producing the light. Decorative pendants can be lovely but installing them at the right height can be challenging: They need to be low enough so the harsh bulb is obscured but high enough to be out of the way when diners stand. Lighting controls can be particularly useful in dining areas.

Bathrooms: Sconces on both sides of a mirror at head height throw soft light. "Light thrown down from above a bathroom sink at 6 a.m. does not make for a pretty sight," says D. Scheppe of Schweppe Lighting Design. "We've used fluorescents in soffits, softening the light with a colored sweep and dimmers."

Bedrooms: Assess how much light you want. While in theory a small amount of light may be appealing, in reality it's tough to see well.

Closets: In walk-in closets, a glass bowl fixture effectively throws light on the ceiling, top shelves, and hanging clothes, whereas a down light illuminates the floor but makes it difficult to see colors and patterns.

Determine how you'll change the bulbs. Motorized light lifts can lower and raise fixtures for changing bulbs and cleaning.

See light fixtures before buying as photographs can be deceiving. Conversely, glass can come alive in person, looking more beautiful than in a photograph.

Work closely with contractors after developing a lighting plan to discuss proposed lighting changes. Schweppe describes one job on Nantucket in which he selected a more expensive exterior fixture than usual. "With the salt and water on Nantucket, a standard fixture would rot out in a few years." he says. "That choice required the owner to be diligent about the lighting specifications we outlined."

There are many resources for finding a residential lighting designer including asking architects, looking in the Yellow Pages under "lighting" or "lighting consultants," and the referral service of the International Association of Lighting Designers, at www.iald.org. Many lighting stores also have lighting designers available for consultation. Both Wolfers Lighting and Chimera, for example, apply a customer's lighting design fees against the cost of products that customer purchases.

When you don't have the option of designing your lighting before moving into a house, you still can light your rooms to meet your needs. Select table and floor lamps to provide either indirect or task lighting. Brighten a room by placing various lamps into fixtures, staying within wattage allowances for those fixtures. In addition, install adapters that attach to recessed fixtures for various types of light.

The real key is to "think outside the box," suggests Schweppe. "Consider where it is physically possible to put a light. You can hide light sources behind plants or couches. One client I had attached drafting table lights to the tops of his kitchen cabinets and directed the light onto the ceiling for indirect light. It became a design statement.