Magazine article Sunset

Seeing the Light

Magazine article Sunset

Seeing the Light

Article excerpt

How to light your rooms effectively

A well-lit room is like an atmospheric painting: Bright illumination brings some areas into prominence, while softer light causes other areas to recede. Backlighting and shadows add interest, texture, and depth; highlights make important features stand out.

Such artistry requires multiple light sources; one fixture simply cannot do it all. The trick is to blend varying light intensities from different sources. "It's called light layering," says San Francisco lighting designer Randall Whitehead.

To accomplish this layered effect, there are four basic kinds of lighting: decorative, accent, task, and ambient. Mix these together in a lighting plan and thus modulate the light levels and mood of a room to suit your needs. You can make the room dim and intimate for a romantic dinner, brighter but with accented areas for a larger gathering, or fully lit, in all the corners, when it's time for cleaning.

Lighting types

Decorative. Probably the most familiar, but often misused, fixtures are chandeliers, wall sconces, and showy table lamps. They're best used to add sparkle to a room, not to light an entire space. Many of these fixtures have exposed lightbulbs (called lamps by designers), and when they are turned all the way up, they create glare problems that overpower more subtle and indirect lighting. Think of decorative lights as pretty but lary: "I'm on, but don't expect me to do any real work." Keep them at dimmer levels and let other fixtures add more diffused, overall light. Accent. Recessed cans, track lights, or more contemporary, double-wire halogen bridge futures all provide direct illumination that's used to highlight objects in a room. Artwork such as paintings and sculptures, flower arrangements, or tabletops can be dramatically accented with this type of lighting. If accent lights are used alone, the objects are the stars but people fall into darkness: You see only pools of light, much like spotlights at a circus. Accent lights need to be used in concert with other light sources, so they may add emphasis to a feature without overpowering the rest of the space.

Task. Illumination for certain kinds of work-such as reading, chopping vegetables, or typing at a computer-can take many forms, the most familiar of which are table lamps and under-cabinet lights. The ideal location for these lights is between your head and the work surface, to avoid shadowing. For task lighting with table lamps, experts recommend using opaque shades to concentrate and direct the light, rather than translucent fabric shades, which are more decorative. …

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