September 01, 2015

Most of us think of lighting as a single subject. It’s not. Lighting comprises two distinctly different pursuits: 1) illumination and 2) decorative lighting devices. One has to do with the function and esthetics of properly lighting a space, the other has to do with decoration. Another way to think about it is to consider illumination as the nuts and bolts, and the decorative fixtures as the jewelry. That’s not to say that chandeliers or lanterns cannot contribute to the lighting in a room; they make a very vital contribution. But they cannot be expected to do all the work. Lighting, at its best, is a layered, multi-directional collaboration amongst various sources.

When developing an illumination plan for a room, introduce as many small sources of light as possible. Achieve a multi dimensional balance by making sure that there is light in every part of the room, and that it comes from different directions. Picture lights, a small desk lamp on a secretary, sconces flanking a mirror, lit bookcases and china cabinets, table lamps, a center chandelier, small recessed accent lights...each ostensibly performing a specific task, but all contributing to the overall sense that the room is well lit. A properly lit room does not call attention to the lighting. It calls attention to each of the many small tasks the lighting performs, and it welcomes you to come in and experience the space.

One key ingredient that enhances every room: lighting control. Dimmers. By setting up a lighting control system, whether simple or complex, we can adjust the lighting in the room to achieve optimum effect. We can also use the room in different ways, raising the light level for tasks and lowering it for relaxing or entertaining. There is not a room in your house that would not benefit from a dimmer. There are even lamp dimmers. A key contribution from the dimmer is the ability to eliminate glare, the enemy of see-ability. In the presence of glare our pupils restrict, requiring even more light to see with equal clarity. So in planning a lighting scheme, work to eliminate glare in every instance. In most cases, this involves concealing the source. Never use an exposed light bulb unless it is for deliberate effect and it is very, very dim. With dimmers, shades, and the myriad of bookcase lighting available, a glare-free room is a very achievable goal.

Next week: Let’s talk room jewelry.