When clients ask me about lighting for a new home, my answer sometimes surprises them. Because as important as good lighting is for tasks or for accenting architectural features, the control of the lighting is just as important. While it used to be expensive to set up electronic controls, today this option is very affordable.
Most people are aware of the various sources of lighting in a room: ambient, which is a general lighting, often from recessed fixtures in the ceiling; task lighting; decorative lighting and accent lighting.
I recently came upon some lighting mistakes that drive me crazy. Lighting a sculptural piece from directly above can put the piece in shadow and not accentuate the features properly. Accent lighting that lights artwork from the front will draw the eye into the piece. Also, instead of using a long row of recessed down lights in a hallway, try providing accent lighting only on the walls to light photographs or artwork. The result is striking, with plenty of light for passage and yet a stunning effect on the art.
For bathroom lighting, the biggest mistake I see is placing recessed lights in the ceiling or soffit at the vanity. This puts your face in shadow. The best location is from either side of your face. I also recommend putting bathroom vanity lights on dimmers so you can control the intensity first thing in the morning and yet turn them up when you need the light for shaving or putting on makeup.
Another use for accent lighting is at the dining room table – used with other light sources such as a chandelier and other ambient light sources, accent spot lights can subtly cause the china and crystal on a table to sparkle.
Last but not least is natural light, which many people love. While it’s not surprising that we’d want to be able to control artificial lighting, there are situations where you’d want to control the natural lighting as well, like when you’re watching the game on TV.
We usually control natural lighting with shades and these, too, can be electronically controlled. You can even put them on an astronomical timer so the shades open in the morning and when you come downstairs, the first floor is already bathed in light. In the evening, the shades can be programed to go down automatically.
We try to educate our clients on why lighting is important and what they can do to make a wonderful difference in their enjoyment of the house; in particular, scene control. For a home with many lighting options, people will tend to either turn on all of the lights or just use the same one or two most of the time. For a special event, you don’t want to be going around to every light switch and dimmer. Instead, think of scene control. Press one button for a casual dining scene and another for cleanup (bright light) and to turn everything off with one button.
Lighting can also be controlled via the cell phone. If you are coming home late at night, press a button to have the lights come up a few minutes before you arrive.
The right lighting and the control of the lighting will set a scene that’s just right for you.