What’s Trending in Lighting

by Autumn McGarr

Lighting was once an afterthought in many kitchen and bath projects. Sure, you wanted to ditch those Hollywood-style bath bars and kitchen fluorescent light boxes, and you knew you could create a prettier, more functional lightscape than what the builder provided.

But then lighting began to get more complex, with energy-saving codes and the benefits of layering. You needed to set aside more time and budget to address these additional challenges, or bring in a lighting specialist.

Today, residential lighting is a $15 billion* global market that has merged with wellness design and smart home technology to attract increased investment and excitement. In fact, if you attended the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in January, you probably spotted the debut of Kohler’s lighting line. You know a category is sizzling when an international plumbing leader expands into it.

Here are five pros illuminating the latest trends in lighting design:

  • Lauren O’Donnell, interior design manager for online retail giant Build.com;
  • Nick Rindt, senior product manager for Kohler Lighting;
  • Chris Pearson, president of Austin-based technology integrator Service Tech;
  • Leading interior designers Kerrie Kelly in Sacramento, California and Michele Alfano in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Mixing metal finishes is a dominant design trend.
Photo: Michele Alfano Design LLC

Growing importance of lighting

“With all of the inspiration being pinned and saved on social media and other sites, it’s no wonder that lighting is becoming a clearer priority!” declares O’Donnell, adding that there’s definitely an increase in design focus within the sector: “Manufacturers are doing more research and being more selective with the styles coming out. Lighting is becoming more of a centerpiece.”

Kohler has long been a style-setter within the plumbing sector, and with its vanity, mirror and tile lines, but now the flagship brand is attaching its historic name to a full home lighting product line. “We saw an opportunity to expand the Kohler portfolio within the home,” Rindt observes. “As interiors reflect more individual personality, more elements are being added, which creates more opportunity for investment. Lighting can help you update spaces without a lot of effort. It is the jewelry that pulls the interior together.”

Kitchen lighting is becoming a sculptural focal point.
Photo: Michele Alfano Design LLC

Lighting goes high tech

“Smart technology is touching all areas of our lives, but interior lighting is now a top request for residential clients,” observes Kelly. “Energy efficiency and security may be the driving reasons why more homeowners are flocking to smart lighting. While our team specifies fixtures that are more decorative throughout the home, we work with our electricians and lighting specialists for the automation details of our designs.”

Alfano is seeing interest in her New York metro area design clientele too, she says, but also concern. “I’m finding many clients have a true fear of smart technology in the home. They are afraid of their lighting being connected to the network. There is a sense of control lost. As a designer, it is my job to educate the consumer that the technology is here to make our lives easier.”

Residential lighting (and shades) comprise the largest percentage of Service Tech’s smart home projects, Pearson says, and the categories continue to grow. “Clients are interested more than ever in the variety of products and control options available,” he shares. It’s not a difficult adoption either, he notes. “Clients are easily trained with lighting control apps, and are able to adjust their own lighting levels, change settings to scenes and create and save their favorites without having to call a programmer to the house each time.”

Smart home technology can use keypads, voice control or mobile apps for convenient user control.
Photo: Service Tech and Photographer Chase Daniel

Alexa, Google and Apple Home Kit have become common in both the kitchen and bath, Pearson observes. “Pre-programmed, voice-controlled scenes like ‘cooking’ for brighter task light or ‘nightlight’ for a late night trip to the bathroom are becoming more commonplace in our systems,” the integrator says. “Occupancy sensors that eliminate the need [for] voice commands have also become a popular option,” he adds.

O’Donnell is also seeing lighting getting higher tech for Build.com’s buyers. “Bathroom lighting is really all about integrated mirrors,” she notes. “Using smart technology, the lighting can be turned on, adjusted and even set on timers for added convenience. For the kitchen, integrated smart home lighting is becoming more standard. It has features that allow you to set the mood, and timers that make it easy to have the best lighting based on your tasks or the time of day.” This segues perfectly into lighting’s role in wellness design.

Wellness design is touching lighting with increased natural light availability, human circadian lighting and color tunable lighting options.
Photo: Service Tech and Photographer Chase Daniel

Wellness design touches lighting

“Human-centric lighting is gaining popularity,” Kelly shares. “As designers, we understand its ability to set the mood and complement interiors – and we are educating our clients. We share that HCL mimics natural daylight to support physical, emotional and mental well-being. A better lit environment increases productivity of the tasks at hand and resets our circadian rhythms, thus enhancing our lifestyle and what we want to accomplish in a day.”

“Color tunable lighting is also trending,” Pearson says, observing that it has mostly been used for entertaining purposes, but has potential wellness benefits. “Having the ability to turn a room from a natural white to a deep, saturated color like red or blue for a party is a cool feature, but it is also believed to have an effect on mood and behavior. [Having] designated rooms for color tunable lighting for light therapy treatment is likely on its way.”

Overall style trends

“Mixing and matching lighting finishes, faucet finishes and cabinet hardware is completely on point in 2020,” shares Kelly. “Adding a mix of metals in a variety of cone, oblong or geometric shapes provides interest to the gray and white kitchens with marble countertops that were installed over the past several years.” Alfano also likes to mix metals and finishes, she says, and Kohler has definitely included mixed finish potential into its new series.

What has been the reaction to the company’s lighting debut? “We all know Kohler as a go-to plumbing resource, so the lighting caught the eye of many, including myself,” O’Donnell states. “These introductions didn’t disappoint and I feel they will be consumer and designer favorites for the right projects.” The initial response has been so strong that Rindt says the company is already planning on doubling its product offerings with expanded styles and price points. The antiquity-inspired sconces have gotten the greatest interest, he reveals.

Industrial style is a trend influence.
Photo: Kohler Co.

Kitchen Lighting Trends

What’s happening stylistically in the kitchen? “Sculptural lighting [as an] artful focal point for a room is becoming very popular lately,” Alfano shares, “especially geometric bold fixtures. As for other trends, black has been popular and I am now noticing black shades for table lamps. Natural textures like wicker, and wood beading will also be more popular in 2020,” she adds.

Kelly observes, “It seems that the kitchen island has become an extension of the dining room, causing island light fixtures to coordinate with dining room fixtures. Smaller chandeliers, measuring 18″ to 24″ wide, have replaced pendants, and when multiple [pendants] are hung, they make for a dramatic look over an island. Geometric shapes, simple leather cones, woven organic materials, recycled glass and matte black, silver leaf and brushed finishes in brass are on the top of the list when it comes to rounding out a kitchen aesthetic,” she adds.

These aren’t lost on the Kohler team. Rindt cites these trends as influencing his company’s debut lighting collection: “Traditionally-inspired forms, but with a modern approach to finish and details; continued influence of the farmhouse/industrial aesthetic, and a minimalist aesthetic in decorative lighting.” Globe lighting is also trending, he recalls from the latest Lightovation trade show.

Sleek, minimal, tubular and mirror-flanking are key bathroom looks.
Photo: Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Bathroom Lighting Trends

Similar finish trends extend into bathroom design, the experts agree. “Sleek, minimal and integrated are all words that come to mind when thinking of bathroom lighting for the new decade,” Kelly says. “Tube-like sconce lights serve as bathroom vanity lighting, flanking or topping mirrors for a flattering effect that is both functional and stylish.” She also cites lighting built into medicine cabinet mirrors with color temperature variability. Variable toekick lighting is also a feature she sees trending, (as does integrator Pearson). “With freestanding tubs still taking center stage in the master suite, we are also seeing chandeliers, woven fixtures and glass pendants over the tub area when code allows,” Kelly comments.

Pearson shares, “One of our team’s favorite recommendations in the bath has become point one percent (.1%) dimming. We install a lot of low dim nightlights, which usually go under a floating cabinet or toe kick, and we marry them with an occupancy sensor for an automated experience. Nightlight or pathway is crucial and must be specified using a point one percent driver, or the light may overstimulate the occupant,” he explains.

Last words

What are you specifying in your lighting projects, or planning in the way of new products for the market if you’re a manufacturer? Do you attend any of the lighting shows? Lightovation is one, and will next take place in Dallas from January 6 through 10, 2021. LightFair is another. It will take place in Las Vegas and has been postponed from its original May 3-7 dates (new dates to be announced). And, as many brands have shown, the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show is another good spot for showing off your lighting products. The next one, paired again with the International Builders Show, will be in Orlando from February 9 through 11, 2021. ▪

Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an independent design consultant in San Diego, the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work and the New Bathroom Idea Book (Taunton Press), a design journalist, and NKBA Chapter Presenter. Her website is jamiegold.net. Her third book, Wellness by Design (Simon & Schuster), publishes May 26 and is available for preorder now.

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