What is a Good Lighting Scheme?

December 01, 2015

A good lighting scheme provides lighting from different directions and in multiple locations. How many excuses can you find for adding light to a room? A picture light on a painting...a desk lamp...recessed lights washing a bookcase or fireplace...a floor canister up-lighting a plant...ornamental wall sconces...display case lighting. In each case, the source ostensibly fulfills a particular lighting task, but simultaneously contributes to the overall sense of lighting balance and completion. And when properly implemented, no one source calls attention to itself while performing its lighting task.

Early in my career a client called me for an evening consultation to improve the lighting in several rooms. As we entered their living room, the glare from three shaded lamps filled the space. Each held a 50/200/250 three-way bulb turned up to the brightest setting. I suggested we sit and chat for a few minutes. My hosts took their seats as I wandered the room, turning each lamp to its lowest setting. I sat and visited a bit, explaining how I approach lighting a space like theirs. I pointed out that after turning down the lamps we could see each other better and more comfortably.

Many people, my clients included, mistakenly believe that brighter means better. The problem with brighter can be the resultant glare, which causes our pupils to restrict, requiring more light for us to see with equal clarity. By reducing or eliminating glare, we allow our pupils to open up and use the available light more efficiently. My dear client grinned sheepishly and declared, “I can’t believe I’m paying you to show me how to turn down my lamps!” A bit of an oversimplification, but she was essentially correct. To further improve the room I pointed out dark spots and suggested excuses to add light in each of those areas, allowing the room to achieve a better sense of lighting balance. There would still be shadows and variances in brightness and direction, but the differences would not be extreme. Deliberate, carefully developed shadows can add a great sense of drama. Careless shadows leave a space feeling unfinished at best, and often uninviting, with large dark areas. The solutions do not have to be costly. Part of the answer in this living room was a $30.00 floor canister to gently up-light a plant in one corner of the room. During the day that corner looked great, a floor to ceiling window overlooking the Mississippi River. But at night, without light, it died. $30.00 later, voila...instant drama!