What is Lighting?

November 01, 2015

Many of us grew up thinking that lighting was a single piece of bent glass up on the ceiling with a couple of sixty watt light bulbs behind it. And that’s if we thought about lighting at all, which most of us did not. We were taught how to make a bed, or clean up a room, or paint something, or build something...But no one ever took the time to talk with us about the importance of lighting what we cleaned, painted or built. So, for the most part, it is a learn-as-you-go experience. And that can give rise to bad lighting or expensive redo's, since we’re trying to achieve something we do not fully understand. Well, let’s agree on what we want to accomplish with lighting: 1) to evenly light our work areas so that we see our tasks clearly, 2) for our areas of egress to be comfortably lit so that we can walk through a space without danger of tripping over a roller skate, 3) to create a mood or atmosphere. Now functional lighting (recessed lights, portable lamps, track lighting, monorail, cove lighting) can accomplish or contribute to all three lighting goals. But none can really ornament a room like a decorative lighting fixture does. And if that fixture is really going to look good, then it typically will not be a great source of illumination. It is, essentially, room jewelry. Just as a necklace or earrings can add a stunning touch to a lady’s attire for the evening, a beautiful chandelier can transform a room from good to spectacular. But do not expect that chandelier to light up the room. If it does, it will be too bright to appreciate as an objet d'art. Ornamental lighting fixtures are a vital part of the decorative arts, and can contribute as much presence to a room as any piece of furniture or architectural accessory.

So how does one go about choosing the perfect ornamental fixture? Pretty much like you would pick out any decorative item, by educating yourself in style, quality, and proportion. For the die- hard fans who really want to understand the development of ornamental lighting in Western Europe, there is a terrific book I recommend: Period Lighting by Stanley Wells. It is out of print, but you can often find copies on amazon.com. It traces the styles through different countries’ political periods. It is like reading a very interesting history book, covering where all those old styles originated. Having that historical perspective can bring a new level of romance and excitement to lighting fixture choices.


Next : Pursuing our lighting goals