Let There Be Light

When standing in front of a dressing room mirror, do you ever wonder why you look worse than you do in your own mirror at home? After seeing yourself in a mirror at the office, have you wondered how you applied so much make-up? How about your favorite restaurants … are you drawn to particular restaurants more than others? Do you find comfort in certain rooms of your home?

Lighting affects how you look and how you feel. For example, lighting that is properly placed behind the floating mirror in a dressing room is much more flattering than a fluorescent light bar mounted above a mounted wall mirror. The latter is equivalent to holding a flashlight under your chin — shadows enhance undesirable details. Lighting specialist, Lori Bohner from the Chicago retail outfit “Lightology” answers some questions regarding the importance of lighting. She addresses common mistakes that people make along with applications for us to consider when lighting a space.

Question 1: How do you start the lighting design process for a residential project?
First, Lori said, learn about the home. Is it new construction or a remodel? If it’s new construction, is it a high rise with concrete ceilings or is it a home with drywall ceilings? Learning about the structure will set specific parameters for a designer and the client. Furniture layout and room usage are also important considerations. Once the space assessment is complete, the next step is to focus on “layering” the lighting.

Question 2: Why is “layered lighting” important?
The eye naturally gravitates to the lightest part of a room. Your eyes can’t tell your brain to notice anything special when all the lights are the same brightness. The most common mistake people make is “over-lighting,” which causes that dreaded “flat” look. Flat is when the light sources in the room give an overall bright (generic) light. In new construction you typically find six “can” lights in a living room ceiling; this look (without a dimmer) is “flat.”
Layering the lighting adds interest and purpose in your space plan. Lori applies the following principle to each and every situation. She recommends three types of lighting in each room: general, task and ambient.

  • General lighting is when you walk into a room, turn on a switch and have a light overhead turn on; it’s for safety and practical purposes.
  • Task lighting is when you assign a specific light fixture for a specific need; a floor lamp near your favorite chair for reading, or an under-the-cabinet light in your kitchen for reading recipes.
  • Ambient lighting refers to mood lighting; controlled lighting that may be dimmed for entertainment or for relaxing. Cove lighting or decorative sconces, picture and art lighting also fall into this category. In her opinion, ambient lighting is overlooked the most often.

Question 3: Are all recessed cans the same?
Absolutely not. Recessed canned lighting (basic lighting) can actually achieve any of the three types of layered light described above. Cans and baffles (the rim around the recessed portion of the light bulb) come in different sizes and colors. Baffles control the light output. For example, using a black baffle absorbs a huge amount of light. This is a good application in a home theatre — in a kitchen, bad idea.

Some cans give you the fantastic option to adjust the direction of the bulb after installation. Different brands also do different things. Lori suggested to try can lights to specifically “spot” artwork on walls, or to highlight a side table with a unique accessory on it. You can imagine the subtle beauty of a discreet light highlighting a beautiful treasure displayed on a buffet or table. But six generic recessed cans installed in a ceiling won’t add dimension in your room. When used properly, cans have the ability to make light disappear; when done right, you will notice the effect of the light without noticing the fixture.

Quick tips from Lori:

  • Best lighting for applying make-up: A halogen light bar above the mirror with two wall sconces with dimmers is best, yet, often disregarded due to budget.
  • Common misconception: The brighter the better. But, not necessarily so, because that can create the dreaded flat-look.
  • Dimming a light fixture by just 10 percent more than doubles the life of a bulb!
  • Rule of thumb for chandeliers over dining table: for an 8′ ceiling, install fixture so bottom is at 30″ above table. For each additional foot of ceiling height, add 3″ to installation height. The size of the fixture depends on the effect you are trying to achieve but generally speaking, the diameter of the light fixture should be half the table size and no larger than the width of the table plus or minus 12 inches.
  • When shopping for a fixture, consider working with a lighting specialist, as she will have the expertise and awareness to help you select the best fixture considering your space, style and purpose. The specialists are trained to blend their technical knowledge of lighting with your aesthetic preferences.

The light in a room is like the Preface in a book; it directs your eyes to naturally go places. So, look around your room … where are your eyes leading you?

If you have questions regarding purchases — or you have suggestions on future articles, feel free to fill out a comment card below or email us at TheSavvyGal@TheSavvyGal.com
Lori Bohner can be found at “Lightology”. A store “where art meets Light,” in Chicago, Illinois. 312.229.7428.
Helen Babilla is a certified Interior Designer out of Chicago, IL; www.babilladesigns.com. She contributes to TheSavvyGal.com once a month and is ready to answer your decorating questions!

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