Lighting Design for Dummies

I use lighting as an integral part of everything I design, whether it is a small powder room or a large two-story family room.

authors  | June 19, 2008

In the last three months I have received a lot of feedback on my previous articles about lighting. Based on that response, I plan on doing a series about residential lighting design and principles.

It wasn’t more than two decades ago that there were few choices for residential lighting. You were basically limited to A-lamps, R-lamps or par-38 lamps. The only choices for housings were a 6-in. downlight, adjustable eyeball or a wall wash trim. Additionally, the only aperture available was 6 1/2 in. Our only other choice was the fluorescent lighting. It was not easy to be creative.

Since then, the options available to lighting designers have grown exponentially. There is a variety of lamps and aiming configurations from which to choose. Aperture sizes now range from 2 3/4 to 7 1/2 in. in diameter to help with different types of lighting installations. Trim options have also increased significantly. Trims are available with decorative elements or in seamless designs that disappear into the ceiling. Low-voltage accent lights include a multitude of trim options for both wet and damp applications.

Designers currently have many more attractive choices for adjustable surface-mounted fixtures as well. Instead of just the straight 120-volt track, we can now choose from 120-volt rail, 12-volt cable and rail lights that can be shaped to suit the space or create free-form shapes. Concurrently, the fixture heads for these systems have been miniaturized drastically. Additionally, shapes and shades are available in a multitude of colors, textures and materials such as metals, acrylics, plastics, resins and stones.

I use lighting as an integral part of everything I design, whether it is a small powder room or a large two-story family room. Remodelers, architects and designers should be thinking about the ambience and emotional impact lighting has on the design and functionality of a room. The lighting design should not just be about the technology that is available (20 percent of your clients’ monthly electricity is attributable to lighting), but also the impact of lighting on these spaces.

So where does one start? I look at several things when I start working on the lighting design. What activity is taking place? Is it an active or passive use? What is the size and shape of the room and what exterior orientation does the room have? Is there an abundance of natural light available? Who uses the space? What time of day is most prominent? I break this down into the smallest common denominator. I also like to mix and match light sources and lamps.

For example, we recently completed a whole house renovation where we created a small intimate office/library our clients use not only to pay bills and use the computer, but also as a retreat to read the Sunday paper or curl up on a cold day and read a book in front of the fireplace. In this instance I used incandescent table lamps for reading and the more intimate uses, while specifying 4-in. low-voltage recessed downlights using an MR16 lamp for the task lighting over the desk.

Of course, nothing ever remains the same, and a focus on conservation will impact our designs in the next few years.

ecently Congress passed an energy bill that was a death knell for the incandescent light bulb. Under the new measures, from 2012 to 2014, all incandescent light bulb manufacturers must engineer lamps that expend at least 25 to 30 percent less energy. By 2020, the lamps must be 70 percent more efficient. The current belief is that halogen and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are the only two “green” options available. CFL lamps already have all but been mandated by the new energy codes throughout the state of California.

How do we deal with this? Find out in my next column. If you have any questions in the meantime, please e-mail me.

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