We’ve come a long way in lighting—both at home and in commercial spaces. Interior designers and homeowners alike need to be more knowledgeable than ever when choosing the ideal combination of lighting fixtures for home, office, or business. Artificial light in homes began with one glaring, bare incandescent bulb hung from a cord in late 19th century rooms. Today, bulbs are flat, round, tiny, or long, using an array of technologies that deliver different degrees of illumination and color spectrum.1
Two overriding concerns in lighting planning are energy efficiency and cost. Energy-efficient lighting may include LED (light-emitting diodes), which consumes the least, or the less expensive CFL (standard compact fluorescent), which remains in wide use for institutional and office commercial spaces requiring lengthy fixtures for ambient light.
A well-lit space depends on blending layers of light at different levels, to achieve the right balance and mood. Here’s a brief primer on the basic elements of layering needed to achieve a good lighting mix, in order of importance:1
1—Ambient or general lighting illuminates the overall room or space, often relying on ceiling fixtures.
2—Task lighting focuses more narrowly and intensely on an area set aside for a specific function. Pendant lights and directional spots are good examples of task lighting.
3—Accent lighting highlights a particular object, such as a painting or a work of art. It may take the form of a recessed spotlight or track lighting that can be directed onto an item below, or uplighting from recessed floor spots.
Using this layering technique is a way of blending lighting into the three dimensions of a room. Install lights in the ceiling, recessed into the floor, or in walls. You’ll be amazed at the impact a properly balanced lighting scheme will have on the feeling and mood in any room. A space that generates such a sense of balance and well-being is a space that will be used, while a room that is gloomy or under-illuminated will be overlooked or nearly abandoned.2
Lumens vs. Wattage
Once upon a time, everyone used incandescent light bulbs. You chose the bulb primarily by checking the amount of watts on the label, indicating how much energy the bulb would use. Now, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission directs manufacturers to label each package with the level of brightness it puts out as measured in lumens, along with information about watts it consumes, warm or cool light it projects, and other factors. Choice may seem a bit more complicated, but each consumer is better informed, and the process of planning to scale up for lighting larger commercial spaces or homes is more efficient.
Getting in the Mood - Dimmers
Mood is important in every room of the home, and lighting is known to have a powerful effect on mood. Sometimes, full, bright artificial light is needed when accomplishing certain tasks in the kitchen or home office. At other times, the same room will be used for relaxation, perhaps reading by the fire, under a focused task light, with dimmed ambient light. A dimmer switch or a whole system with dimmability is highly practical, and allows the homeowner to maximize the way each space is used. Dimmers can be built into a new lighting plan or added to existing systems by most do-it-yourselfers.3
The Trend toward LED Lighting – Homes and Retail Stores
LED lighting is gaining ground as the most energy-efficient option, a factor that will become ever more important in a changing energy environment. Using just milliwatts of power to produce the same illumination as the old incandescents (which required 75 watts or more in a typical table lamp), LED lights offer great savings for commercial as well as home use, especially as newer designs become available in more applications.
In retail store display, for example, LED lights produce significantly less heat, which saves on the need for cooling energy, reducing wear on products, and light fixtures.They feel cool to the touch and are virtually maintenance-free.
At the same time, proper lighting can directly influence sales results by creating an energetic—or, if appropriate, calming—mood. Using task display lighting puts the focus on specific products and shows them in a more … what else? ... attractive light. It all adds up to lower overhead costs, more motivation to buy, and, potentially, greater profits.4
As the technology continues to develop, so do the options for types of LED lighting fixtures—or total lack of fixtures. What was that? Yes, LED light bulbs are smaller, leading to new designs and fueling a trend toward light as a sculptural element without a visible source.5 Examples include strip lighting and small light bars, useful for under-cabinet kitchen lighting or downlighting along upper moldings in almost any part of the home. Softly colored strip lighting in a hallway or between glass shelving in a display case blends artistically into a lighting plan to enhance a room’s appeal. In effect, light becomes an architectural element that changes the way we think about furnishing and decorating the spaces in which we live and work.
Light Fixtures as Art – Retail and Institutional Spaces
Designers and artists have quickly responded to new technologies with innovative light fixtures that would have seemed inconceivable in the past. Many take advantage of the smaller, lighter LEDs that adapt to unpredictable shapes. A suspension lamp like the one pictured here, by Bocci Lighting and available through SwitchModern.com, sculpts glass, copper, and light together with living plants, to create an ethereal hanging that seems to pull electricity from the air. The piece takes three 1.8W LED bulbs, and could work equally well over a modern dining room table in a light, airy home, or as accent lighting in a beautiful retail store display.
The lobby of an elegant New York apartment building, or the entrance and grand staircase of a historic building in London (Canada House—pictured), could serve equally well as backdrop for the stunning, institutional scale light installation from the Bocci 57 series, pictured below. Again, LED lights, with their lightweight characteristics and the ability to combine multiple bulbs in one small fixture, no doubt helped inspire the realization of a project with so many intertwined parts, and the need to appear suspended in mid-air.6 The delicate lightness and very modern aesthetic contrast dramatically with the solid yet spacious neo-classical architecture.