Switching on the Light
Creative lighting achieves its goal by blending function and
form to enhance a design without drawing attention to the source,
according to lighting experts.
By John Filippelli
Using the proper lighting, creatively and efficiently, is the most
important thing a designer can do to enhance the perception of a
design. So says Jane Grosslight, LC, kitchen and bath lighting
expert, author of Lighting Kitchens & Baths and sole proprietor
of Tallahassee, FL-based Jane Grosslight Lighting Designs.
Grosslight believes that when designers work with lighting, the
primary goal is to emphasize the space without distracting
attention from the overall design.
Additionally, Grosslight sees lighting as a key element in any
space in that it has a huge impact on both the mood of the space
and the mood of the space’s inhabitants. “How [the light makes]
clients look is primary because they need to look good in order to
feel good about themselves,” she states.
For other designers, such as Charles Ward, CKD, and Lisa
Anderson, CKD, ASID, of Omaha, NE-based Ward’s Kitchen & Bath,
Lloyd Wright mantra ‘form before function’ does not always work.
Anderson believes that functional lighting has to be addressed
first, “then we get into accent lighting.”
Lighting needs to be viewed as multi-purpose, according to Lynn
Monson, CKD, CBD, ASID, CID, president of the Minneapolis, MN-based
Monson Interior Design, Inc. He states, “You can [use lighting to]
set the stage for a party or make the lights bright for cleanup.
[From a design standpoint, lighting] is also important for color
To address the variety of lighting needs, Anderson notes, “We
try to incorporate different types of lighting, and we usually
switch them separately so the clients can meet different design
[needs].” This type of lighting gives clients the option of
choosing vivid light for entertaining, or soft, romantic lighting
for quiet nights at home regardless of the design theme.
Types of lighting
When installing task, ambient and accent lighting, Grosslight
recommends the light be very bright, such as incandescent open
downlight. She notes that, since the purpose of task lighting is to
help clients determine whether a dish is dirty or clean, or help
them cut food or cook, it must be powerful enough to simplify
performing these tasks.
Safety is another important consideration, and to that end,
Grosslight suggests that designers install emergency back-up
batteries for compact fluorescent or MR16 fixtures in kitchens for
“I recommend that clients have an emergency light to allow them
to get out of the house, using a recessed downlight or wall sconce
with emergency ballast backup,” she recommends.
While task lighting can offer safety, it is ambient lighting
which allows designers to be creative, Grosslight believes.
“Ambience affects the mood of the design,” she notes.
She relies on natural lighting, utilizing sunlight and moonlight
to create a warm ambience, but warns, “Beware of the glare in the
kitchen; you don’t want the skylight capturing the light where it
will interfere with food preparation at any particular
Grosslight’s recommendation to diffuse glare is to make the
skylight with an opal lens on the ceiling. Similarly, moonlight on
a mirror in the bath is acceptable, but she guards against letting
sunlight hit the mirror in the bath, where it will create a
Ward, conversely, prefers toe space lighting in master baths.
“Other than accent lighting, it can be used as a night light, so
clients don’t have to switch on 100 watts of light,” he
In the bath, Grosslight uses task lighting as ambient lighting.
The key places, she explains, are the shower, jacuzzi and whirlpool
areas. “Those are task areas that need lighting,” she further
She also points out that lighting could be placed underneath a
sit-down vanity overhang, which would light the area below and
across the floor, or the area where there is a toilet. She also
recommends using a downlight here, as long as it is not
“In most cases, you don’t need ambient light in the bath because
it can come from task and accent lighting,” she
Grosslight also offers a reason why she prefers fluorescent
lighting in the bath. “I use fluorescent lighting because it offers
a broad range of color of light,” she says, stating that
fluorescent light has the added benefit of being extremely energy
She further notes that designers should avoid hot, incandescent
light sources in the kitchen. “It’s already a hot space, and so is
the bath,” she explains, “[and] extra heat is usually unwelcomed in
the bath and kitchen.”
The angle and heat of certain lighting choices can affect how
cabinets, countertops and appliances are perceived, Grosslight
notes. “If a cabinet is textured, for example, it’s a good idea to
enhance it with incandescent, rather than fluorescent light,
because fluorescent doesn’t create a shadow,” she
She mentions that for cabinet lighting, 20 watts is too hot for
the space, which should be kept cool.
Since most appliances come self-illuminated, lighting is not a
concern, Grosslight adds, but she does point out that designers
should be wary about lighting a wine holder, as “hot light” can
dramatically deteriorate the quality of the wine.
Glare on countertop surfaces is also a concern for designers,
she mentions, and believes that designers should never put a
surface finish on the countertop or backsplash.
Tim Aden, CKD, CBD, president of Sawhill Custom Kitchens and
Design in Minneapolis, MN, agrees, stating, “Halogen is such a
white, bright light that it can become very reflective and
distracting especially on glossy surfaces.”
Grosslight also offers some insight into what she believes are
some of the innovative lighting products for the kitchen and bath,
stating, “a fun solution is end-lit fiber optics (called
remote-source lighting, using one light bulb, a projector, and a
carrier mechanism) in showers making the ceiling look like a starry
sky.” She adds that waterproof side-lit fiber optics could outline
the skylight and at night, a soft glow will fill the
Another trend she sees is lighting fixtures being used less as a
design element especially if the lighting designer has knowledge
about the field of lighting. In contrast, she believes, if a
builder is doing a spec house, there will more likely be many light
Aden also mentions a trend he has noticed, offering, “I see a
lot of people using more decorative pendant fixtures, which are
used to help define certain work areas or work surfaces.”
Grosslight offers several caveats when discussing lighting
techniques. First among these is never to put an open downlight
over someone’s head. “That is a deadly mistake,” she
Ward concurs, stating, “Never put a recessed light over a
mirror, or have a single light” that can cast shadows in an
unflattering or distorting manner. Rather, he suggests, “It should
be a combination of light.”
Grosslight adds that neither the kitchen nor the bath should be
uniformly lit, stating, “Wall-to-wall lighting with ceiling
recessed fixtures is not good; it creates ceiling acne.”
Concluding, Grosslight strongly recommends that designers do not
work on a reflective floorplan, rather, suggesting that they
work on a one- or two-perspective drawing instead. “That is the
only way they can really design creatively,” she states,
continuing, “designing on a reflective ceiling plan is not
justified, [and] if designers keep doing that, then they will
continue to create what they already know. That is cookie-cutter
lighting design.” KBDN