Whether you want to improve the lighting for a specific room or plan a whole-house lighting makeover, keep these room-by-room tips in mind:
The concept of layering light is particularly important in the living/family room, an area of the house where people tend to gather for long stretches of time and engage in an array of activities, including conversation, watching TV, reading, playing board games and using a laptop. "In rooms where people spend a lot of time, I like to get away from recessed downlights, and instead use lights that bounce off the ceiling for ambient illumination," says lighting designer Markus Earley, of earleylight, in Providence, R.I. "Bouncing light off the ceiling creates a sense of brightness in the room, and avoids the shadows or downward direction of recessed lights."
Earley also favors bouncing light off the ceiling because it suits the human tendency to visually perceive vertical planeslooking upversus looking at our feet.
To accomplish ambient lighting that bounces off the ceiling of a living room, Earley suggests integrating cove or valance lighting into the room's architecture. "Or, if you have bookcases or an entertainment unit that doesn't go all the way to the ceiling, there's an opportunity to add a piece of millwork and put a linear fluorescent behind it," suggests Earley, who likes the new slim T5 fluorescents that are dimmable and have good color rendering and a warm appearance.
Another way to provide ambient lighting in a living room is to wash the walls with light, which can be accomplished with soffit or valance lighting, recessed or track lighting that is directed toward the walls, or even with plug-in floor lamp torchieres with translucent upward facing globes.
Task lighting for a living room may be provided by table lamps, such as pharmacy-style adjustable lamps placed near a reading chair or game table. "An apothecary-style reading lamp with an LED or incandescent light bulb is one of my all-time favorite choices for task lighting," says interior designer Cheryl Katz of C&J Katz Studio in Boston.
Accent lighting in a living room may be used to focus on an architectural element, such as a fireplace or bookcase, or on a painting, sculpture or plant. Uplights placed on the floor may be used as accent lighting for a plant, while track lighting may be used as accent lighting for artwork. When lighting an art collection, the brightness and heat generated by a type of lighting must be considered; for some lighting designers, accent lighting for artwork is a particular area of expertise.
In a large living room formerly lit by recessed cans and table lamps, a new lighting design that includes architectural lighting might consist of two valances running the length of two opposite walls (mounted about a foot below ceiling height), one soffit installed directly above a fireplace (at ceiling height), and a table lamp placed next to a reading chair. Wall switches would control the valance and soffit, or a keypad could control all the lighting with preprogrammed 'entertaining,' 'reading,' 'all on' and 'all off' settings.
In a modest living room that has one wall switch wired to an outlet, a homeowner fix that provides energy efficiency and versatility would be to replace the wall switch with a dimmer, and add faux-cove lighting by concealing a fixture behind a piece of millwork added to the top of a bookcase, and wired to the outlet controlled by a dimmer.
Lumens: Ambient lighting for a living room should be 1,500-3,000 lumens. Task lighting for reading should be a minimum of 400 lumens.
With its heavy focus on the functions of food preparation and cleanup, as well as its tendency to be a gathering spot, the kitchen requires careful consideration of task and ambient lighting. Think in particular of the task lighting for the counters, where most of the work takes place, and over the sink.
One of the main reasons sinks have often been located at a window is to take advantage of natural light, and this layout is still highly recommended by lighting experts. Augment the natural light with a ceiling mounted or recessed fixture above the sink. Using undercabinet lighting is a good way to illuminate the countertop work surfaces without relying on an overhead light that will cast shadows on the person working at the counters.
When Providence lighting designer Markus Earley, an adjunct professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, upgraded the lighting in his own kitchen recently, he compared LED and compact fluorescent lighting options for his undercabinet lighting, and chose T5 linear fluorescent light bulbs that are dimmable and emit a warm light with a correlated color temperature (CCT) of 3,000 Kelvin. "My one concern with LED technology is that the LED chip is a tiny little directional light source so that in a linear undercabinet LED light, you have a multiplicity of little tiny light sources that create shadows," Earley says.
A basic lighting plan for a modest kitchen might consist of a central, ceiling-mounted fixture providing ambient light, with undercabinet fixtures providing task lighting for the counters, soffit lighting providing task lighting above the sink, and a pendant providing task or ambient lighting over the island. This traditional lighting plan is adequate for many kitchens and can be improved simply by putting all lighting on a dimmer, and choosing energy efficient light bulbs.
A new lighting plan for a medium-sized kitchen might call for cove lighting along two opposite kitchen walls to provide ambient lighting that bounces light off the ceiling, instead of recessed downlights or ceiling-mounted central fixtures, both of which primarily send light straight down. Valance lighting above the sink and undercabinet lighting would provide the task lighting.
Lumens: Ambient kitchen lighting should be 5,000-10,000 lumens, with task lighting at counters, sink and range a minimum of 450 lumens in each area.
Whether you choose a valance or pendant, there's a fixture for every need in your home
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