Lighting - Tips from the Interior Design Industry

We highly endorse saving the information in this blog- Lighting is key to comfort and function in any environment.

The author-Lisa Barter articulated very clearly some important tips for lighting various areas-successfully.

contributed by Lisa Barter [lumenologist / interior architect with 3i Design, LLC]

Interior designers are often called upon to give input about lighting in residential environments. However, many solutions specified in kitchens and baths waste energy and do not get light where it is needed, but are repeated again and again because people are not sure how to light those spaces well. Sometimes, knowing what NOT to do can help make you look like a pro. Here are nine common lighting mistakes to avoid.

Oops! #1| Installing recessed downlights everywhere. This is one of the most common errors that lighting design professionals see. Builder spec versions of can lights can be very inexpensive, and people often assume that laying them out in a regular grid gets light everywhere. Unfortunately, this is not so. The optics of inexpensive can lights often allow only slightly more than half the lumen output of the lamp to escape. What a waste! In addition, can lights, unless they are adjustable or wall wash fixtures, typically don't put sufficient light on vertical surfaces, which is where the eye perceives light. With an array of cans, we might waste nearly half our watts and still have a space that feels like a cave because the walls are dark. Also see Oops! #7.

Oops! #2| Forgetting task lights in the kitchen. The idea of adding a row of can lights over the counter falls under the category of Oops! #1. There are many better ways to light the counter, and one of them is to use fluorescent (T5), xenon or LED task lights under the upper cabinets. We do not recommend halogen because of its heat output. If your kitchen design lacks upper cabinets over some work surfaces, despair not! This is a situation where wall-mounted or ceiling recessed adjustable fixtures with the right lamp make all the difference. Adding several low voltage halogen fixtures with a narrow flood beam distribution, infra red lamp technology, and focusing them on the task area will do the trick. Remember to choose your fluorescent or LED color temperature wisely.

Oops! #3| Using downlights over the vanity without adding lights on the side. Remember the grade school trick of holding a flashlight under your face and seeing the shadows magnify your visage into a gruesome caricature? The same is true in reverse. Standing directly under a downlight, without any light at the sides of the face, creates exaggerated and unflattering shadows. In the bathroom, using a downlight over the sink is fine to accent the expensive polished nickel faucet you've specified, but it's insufficient for tasks like shaving, tweezing, and applying makeup. For this, we need light at the sides of the mirror at eye level to minimize shadows and provide even distribution. This can be achieved with sconces flanking the mirror.

Oops! #4| Using incandescent or halogen sources without dimming. While we are all finding ways to retrofit lighting with more efficient, longer lived light sources than incandescent, it is still a viable and important part of lighting in a residence, provided it is dimmable. By dimming, we decrease energy and heat output, and we elongate lamp life. It's important to educate your clients that they must dim incandescent sources as low as the task allows. For more in depth information on this topic, read here.

Oops! #5| Forgetting to incorporate ambient, task AND accent lighting. Lighting designers understand that all well-designed spaces incorporate different types of light. Ambient light is general lighting for walking around, conversing, and identifying objects. Task lighting provides higher, more concentrated lighting for tasks such as chopping vegetables, shaving, or reading. Accent light is used to highlight artwork or architectural features, such as the beautiful glass tile you’ve specified in the bath or the ceramic collection your client will showcase in open shelves in the kitchen. Combining all three types of light gives greater functionality, interest, and likelihood that you will have sufficient lighting. Also see Oops! #6 below.

Oops! #6| Neglecting to control different types of light separately. As mentioned in Oops! #5, it's important to combine different types of light in each space. For maximum efficiency and flexibility, each type of light should be controlled separately, and any incandescent or halogen light, or dimmable LED's (check with the manufacturer for specific requirements) should be dimmed. Controlling multiple sources can be achieved by the old school method of multiple light switches, but there are many more sophisticated ways to achieve control. From a simple programmable wallbox system for single room control with preset scenes, to wireless controls that generate their own power and can be reprogrammed from a laptop or phone, controlling the lighting yields energy savings combined with the right amount and type of light for different times and uses.

Oops! #7| Putting recessed downlights in a high ceiling for ambient light. A corollary to Oops! #1, this tactic results in a lot of wasted light and a very dark space. Light originating at high ceilings needs to have a very focused, tight beam spread with enough center beam candle power (CBCP), such as that from a ceramic metal halide or high wattage halogen source. Better yet, using wall-mounted or pendant sources to reflect light off a light, matte ceiling surface often provides much better illumination than punching a lot of holes for recessed downlights.

Oops! #8| Choosing dark colors everywhere without adjusting the lighting. While dark, saturated colors can provide a very enticing interior setting, they absorb light, requiring more energy for the space to have the same illuminance level as one with lighter values in the finishes. Many LEED-certified buildings, such as the U.S. Green Building Council's new headquarters, use high Light Reflectance Value (LRV) finishes as a way to reflect as much light as possible. This can create a significant energy savings since both daylight and artificial light are reflected deep into the space. Where possible, limit use of low LRV finishes to spaces where task lighting or high lighting levels are less critical, like powder rooms that aren't used as full baths, formal dining rooms that do not double as work spaces, or on accent walls or trim. If you must use dark colors in spaces where higher light levels are needed, add additional light sources and use higher wattage lamps.

Oops! #9| Decorating with light. Lighting designers think about light as an actual dimension, imagining the distribution and output from each fixture, as well as the quality of the light and color. Decorating with light fixtures, or choosing fixtures based on how they look rather than their light output, performance, and distribution often results in a waste of energy and less than optimal light output. For assistance with architectural (and yes, decorative) light fixture choices, consider hiring a professional lighting designer who can transform your space through light, while providing adequate task lighting and often saving energy.