Illuminate your home’s design by getting the light right. Rooms that are lit properly inside a home feel comfortable and unstrained, but designing them isn’t always as easy as flipping a switch, says Patricia Davis Brown, an interior designer and lighting specialist based in Vero Beach.
“Lighting is one of the most important — yet can be one of the most undervalued — components when designing or renovating a home,” she says. “A proper lighting plan is very right brain, left brain — blending intuition with geometrical and mathematical concepts.”
When working with clients, Brown tries to shed real light on a design concept by creating a layered plan that blends different types of illumination:
• General: This type of lighting provides a room with overall illumination. The goal is to create ambient light so people feel comfortable and look good in the space, which includes ceiling fixtures and recessed lights.
• Task: Optimal task lighting is achieved by hanging pendants, track lighting and table lamps, which illuminate the specific spaces in which people work and read.
• Accent: Indirect lighting can be achieved by using wall sconces and torchieres that throw diffused light upward, which doesn’t cause glare or shadows.
Brown says most homeowners give little additional thought to the lighting inside a house — that is, until they notice it doesn’t feel welcoming or is too dark.
“With all the choices of light fixtures and types of bulbs that are on the market right now, choosing what’s needed for a space can seem daunting,” Brown says. “A bulb’s wattage says nothing about what kind of light it gives off.”
When creating a lighting plan, a good place to start is by thinking about how much sunlight streams through a room at different times of day, during different seasons. To map out a lighting plan, a person must also mathematically make accommodations for the spread of light from a fixture, so it’s important to consider the type of bulb and the fixture in use, before they’re installed.
Based on a color-rendering index (or CRI), look for bulbs that have CRI ratings of 75, or better. With daylight rated at 100 CRI, some fluorescent lights might only score a 50 CRI. However, compact fluorescents, color corrected fluorescent tubes, incandescent and halogen bulbs can all have CRI ratings that are 75 and greater.
“We want to have a lighting plan that has many levels to it, because when you show the fixtures’ arrays on architectural renderings, you can see how they intersect, and objectively see where there will be more need for light,” Brown says. “Two of the most important places in a home to consider the lighting are in the kitchen and bathrooms.”
The kitchen has always been the center of the home, but now it’s also used for much more than food preparation. Lighting in the form of hanging pendants above the kitchen island illuminate the task at hand, whether it’s doing homework or chopping vegetables. Brown says other task lighting can be set above the sink and beneath upper cabinets, so countertops are illuminated without shadows.
Kitchen cabinetry with glass fronts can be a perfect place for accent lighting. “LEDs (light-emitting diodes) can come in any number of colors and can make a design statement when placed vertically inside cabinets, which illuminate glassware placed on shelves,” she says.
Brown designs bathrooms that are light and bright without being sterile by using cross lighting in the space. “What you don’t want in a bathroom is one fixture that illuminates from the top with the beam spread moving downward. That top-down approach just creates harsh shadows on the face,” she says. “Instead, you want wall mounts on either side of the mirror, which help light the face from each side and eliminate shadows. This makes tasks like shaving and putting on makeup easier.”
Having the ability to control the amount of light in a space is also important. “You want to be able to control the general light in a room through the use of dimmer switches,” Brown says. “That way, you can set a mood by dialing up more or less light from overhead fixtures.”
The placement of lights isn’t the only important factor in a well-lit room. Since the surfaces in a room reflect light, the colors and textures on walls and floors make a big difference in how light travels. Painting white walls to dark red will affect the way light is also perceived by the eye and may also cast a rosy hue.
When remodeling or constructing a new space, Brown says it’s important to pay attention to the lighting details. “Know your overall design aesthetic and purchase fixtures that fit,” she says. “You don’t want an opulent, traditional chandelier in a very minimalistic space.”
Making a multilayered lighting plan is something best done before construction begins, because after walls and ceilings are drywalled, it becomes more difficult and costly to fix shadowy problems.
“Overall, light affects our mood, and if a room is dark and dank, it can have a powerful affect on us,” Brown says. “Conversely, if a room is lit properly, it can elevate and inspire us, without us consciously knowing that the light is right.”