Monday, June 27, 2011

Light Layering, The Secret Sauce to Great Design

The pendant fixtures adds both ambient and decorative light for this family room. The recessed fixtures provide accent light, while the floor lamp provides task light for reading.

Lighting Design: Randall Whitehead
Interior Design: Jessica Hall
Photo: Dennis Anderson

There is no one light fixture that can give you everything you need to illuminate a room properly. The trick is using a variety of light sources to create a flexible, inviting space. This is called light layering.

A detail shot of the copper floor lamp shows how
 it offers glare-free task light for reading.

Lighting Design: Randall Whitehead
Interior Design: Jessica Hall
Photo: Dennis Anderson

Light performs four functions. Here is a list of what they are and what it is that they do:

Task- Lighting by which you do work, such as the under cabinet lighting in the kitchen or a reading lamp.

Accent - Lighting used to high light objects in a space. This adds depth and dimension to an environment. Recessed adjustable fixtures, track lights, portable uplights and directional landscape lights all fall into this category.

Decorative- These are what I like to call architectural bling.  Their main purpose is to look pretty.  They add sparkle to a space.  Chandeliers and candlestick-type wall sconces fall into this category. They should not be used as the work horses for lighting a room. When they are too bright they can visually overpower the other elements of the design.

Ambient- This is the gentle fill light for a room. It softens shadows on people’s faces and fills the volume of the space with a warm glow, as if the room was being filled with the light of a roaring fire. Ambient light comes from illumination that is bounced off the ceiling. Such sources as opaque wall sconces, torchieres, pendant hung indirect fixtures, and cove lighting can be used to create the ambient light.

Note- Some fixtures can serve more than one function, such as an alabaster pendant. While most of the light is reflected up to provide ambient light, some of the illumination backlights the stone to create a decorative effect.

The Bottom Line- By layering these four functions of light together you can create an environment that welcomes visitors into the space, while providing usable light for day-to-day activities.Getting a feel for these terminologies will get you on the right path to understanding how light can work for you.

Well done light layering keeps your eye moving around the room

Lighting Design: Randall Whitehead
Interior Design: Turner Martin Design
Photo: Dennis Anderson

CFL goes ESL... The first mercury free fluorescent

After many years of waiting patiently, I am now holding in my hands a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) that is mercury free. I've been following the development of these lamps by the VU1 Corporation for around three years now. I've been pretty excited about the possibility, but the actual production date kept getting pushed back. Now it is finally available to consumers. I think that this is a huge step in the right direction.

Note: I keep using the word "lamp", which in the lighting industry means "light bulb", just to be clear.

Officially they are calling it an ESL (electron stimulated luminescence) lamp. I figure that's to separate their products from fluorescents in general. That's A-OK by me. The first type of lamp they have released onto the market is an R30, which is a very popular lamp for recessed fixtures and track fixtures. Even though it's a lamp that I don't use very often in my design, I can see where it makes sense for it to be the first one to be introduced. 

This lamp offers 65 watts worth of illumination for 19.5 watts worth of energy usage. The color of the light is very incandescent ( 2800° Kelvin) which I think is a good thing. The front of the lamp is made of a thick glass, which when screwed into a recessed fixture or track light looks very much like the reflector lamps that were all used to seeing. From the side it has a plastic collar on it which I feel gives it a little more durability. It says right on the collar mercury free and disposable. It can go right in the trash. Yeah!

The lamp is dimmable as well. I tried it out on a number of dimmers, including the cheapest one I could find and it really seemed to be doing a fine job at dimming.  The lamp has a rated light of 11,000 hours which is a 1000 hours more than a standard CFL. I won't really be able to personally verify this for another 10,000 hours or so.

It also shows on the box that is UL listed. Also a good sign. The one thing I noticed that surprised me is how hot the lamp gets it warms up like incandescent lamp, much more than I'm used to with the standard CFL's.

 If you want to learn more about this lamp go to They have a video you can watch. I do believe that this lamp is a valuable addition to the emerging category of earth friendly, energy-efficient light sources.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Scale is Everything

Consider using a textured glass to hide the bulb
People often have a hard time choosing the right size decorative lantern for the exterior of their home. It can be a little overwhelming at the lighting store. There are lots and lots of choices, often all crammed together. What I typically see is that homeowners tend to choose fixtures that are too small: when installed they look dinky on the house. Here is my recommendation of what to do when trying to select the right size fixture:

Before purchasing the fixture, see if you can borrow a sample or two from the lighting showroom to take home and try out. I would recommend selecting fixture that is one size larger than you think is the right size. The fixture doesn't have to be the exact finish that you're looking for, prior to ordering, it just needs to be put up against the fa├žade and tested size-wise.

This 'Auberge' fixture by Hans Duus Blacksmith
 hides a GU 24 CFL inside a resin candle

Some of these fixtures tend to be a little bit on the heavy side so ask a strong family member or friend told that the fixture in the approximate position it it will be installed while you run out to the street and take a look at how the fixture looks in proportion to the house. Try make a quick decision since, like I said, these fixtures tend to be heavy.

If the show room won't let you borrow a sample then take the measurements and create a template made out of cardboard. It's really worthwhile taking this additional step when making a long-term investment like this.

Sometimes a modern fixture is the right choice, like the Aliante by Ivalo

Friday, June 17, 2011

Alluring Energy Efficient Lighting for More Traditional Homes & Gardens

The addition of landscape lighting of this adobe inspired home in Arizona
 subtly blends interior and exterior spaces, helping to eliminate the black
mirror effect where you eee your own reflection instead of the view
beyond. LED accent lights and decorative fixtures lamps with LED sources
provide dramatic illumination while saving money and maintenance.

Lighting Design- Randall Whitehead
Interior Design- John Martin,
Photography-Jeff Zaruba

 Lighting Design Evolved

The techniques of lighting have greatly evolved beyond simple table lamps and chandeliers, yet many homeowners have not updated their thinking much beyond this approach. It’s true that progressive design is a hot topic, but it’s not for everyone.  How does the owner of a more traditionally styled house make use of today’s lighting techniques in conjunction with newer light sources?  Can new lighting techniques be applied to non-cutting edge spaces to enhance the sense of warmth and comfort that these cozy interiors inspire?  The answer is a resounding... yes!

The trick is to keep the lighting upgrades subtle so that the decorative light sources can remain the architectural jewelry for a home. Chandeliers and table lamps are an important element to most all styles of residences. They are needed to provide the ambience for a room without necessarily providing all the necessary illumination on their own. This applies outside of a home as well. Adding a layer of accent lights, hidden among the plantings, allows the lanterns at the front door and by the garage to provide the illusion of providing the main light without visually over powering the landscaping. Using high quality LED lamps, they can  offer the dimmablity and warm color of the more traditional incandescent lamps.

Sometimes residential lighting design takes a backseat to commercial projects as far as use of emerging alternative lamps.  Lighting for homes needs to be more subtle than what goes into public spaces. A restaurant or theater project can dive headfirst into the realm of fantasy design.  Patrons want to be transported to a place that is a different world than what they experience at home. Yet, when homeowners are in their personal spaces they want to be able to have various levels of functional illumination for the mundane, but ever so important tasks, that are a part of day-to-day living.

Lighting can be a tremendous force. It’s the one factor that makes all the other elements in design work together. Yet it has for so long been the last thing considered and the first item cut from the budget. Often less expensive, poorly made LED and CFL light sources are specified for a project. The result has left many homes drab, uncomfortable and dark. Too often the blame goes elsewhere, when improper lighting design and component selection is the true culprit. Becoming better acquainted with the guidelines for  good lighting, layered with a better understanding of the companies who offer high quality energy efficient sources, will allow homeowners to work with their designers and contractors to get the best of both worlds.

Light has four specific duties. They are to provide decorative, accent, task, and ambient illumination. No one light source, whether it is incandescent, fluorescent or LED can perform all the functions of lighting required for a specific space. Understanding what these terms mean will help homeowners make better decisions that will integrate illumination into the overall design and give them what they want.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

First impressions are everything when lighting the entry of your home

The entry is what sets the tone for the rest of the house. This is not normally a gathering space but more of a pass-through area, so you just have a few moments to give your guests a feel for how you live. Don't be afraid to be a little bit more creative in this space.

If you're foyer is small then use accent lighting adding depth and dimension to move people's eyes around the room. If you have the luxury of a very large space with a high ceiling then use a large decorative hanging fixture to help create a secondary ceiling line, giving a more human scale to the space.

Whether your entry is tiny or spacious, you want to create a sense of welcome. GOod lighting helps to draw people into the room, making them feel both intrigued and comfortable. Having interesting objects in the entry can certainly get the conversation going. Don't be afraid to use bolder colors here, you want that first impressionto be memorable. Often paintings and sculpture have a little more presence in a room when the wall color behind them is more saturated.
The lighting, while dramatic should always be subtle. Let the decorative fixtures create the illusion that they are providing the room's illumination. Use small aperture recessed adjustable fixtures to highlight the objects in the space. Create a setting that let you be the star of your own home.

This entryway in the image below is only 12' x 12 ' with an 8 foot ceiling. The twig and paper hanging fixture creates wonderful statement when guests arrive. Even though it feels like all the light in the room is coming from the central fixture it actually contains only three 8 watt compact fluorescent bulbs that provide 40 watts of illumination apiece. They are dimmable and last 25,000 hours. The real accent lighting comes from recessed adjustable low-voltage fixtures that highlight the red lacquer chest, the large ceramic jars and the mid century modern chair.
Even a little space can pack a punch

Monday, June 13, 2011

Taking a closer look at alternative light sources

Saying goodbye to the incandescent bulb is very emotional for many people
As the US government is beginning to phase out less efficient incandescent bulbs, people are looking at alternative sources and finding themselves less than satisfied.

I, like everyone else, have had a long love affair with incandescent bulbs. They are inexpensive, come in lots of shapes and wattages... and best of all, they get yellower in color as you dim them. For me, incandescent light is like fire light or candle light. Unfortunately, what people are finding in the bulb isle of home improvement centers, big-box stores and hardware stores doesn't even come close to what people want.

People want their bulbs to be warm and inviting like firelight
I think that one of the reasons for this is that the marketing behind fluorescent bulbs (also known as CFLs) has been to offer an alternative light source that costs about the same as a regular household bulb. The reality is that you can't make quality fluorescent bulbs for for such a small amount of money.

To get a fluorescent bulb that feels more like incandescent bulbs, people need to shell out about $12. It does seem like a lot of upfront money, but because these lamps are so energy-efficient you end up saving money over the life of the bulb in energy costs. If you're willing to spend this kind of money you can get fluorescent lamp that doesn't hum or buzz , is dimmable and has a color quality close to that of an incandescent bulb.
For me, the aesthetic challenge here is that I tend to gravitate towards the color of dimmed incandescent. Most people, when they screw in 75 watt household bulb they usually dim it down to about 60 watts worth of light. As the bulbs dims it gets warmer in color, which for me is very pleasing. CFLs don't get warmer in color when dimmed.

The color of all light bulbs is measured in degrees of Kelvin. A regular household bulb is 2800° Kelvin. The standard CFL alternative is 2800° Kelvin, which is actually a little bit warmer. The downside is that it stays that color even when you buy a dimmable version of the CFL.
The color of dimmed incandescent is between 2200° Kelvin and 2250° Kelvin. There is a subcategory of fluorescent lamps that most people don't know about. They are called cold cathode compact fluorescents (also known as CCFLs). I like them because you can get them in the color of dimmed incandescent. Also, the technology is different than standard CFL allowing them to have much smaller coils of glass tubing which can fit inside glass envelopes that look very much like standard household bulbs and flame tip bulbs. These are dimmable, down to 90% whereas standard dimmable CFLs are dimmable down to 70%. They also last longer than the more standard CFLs which have a life of around 10,000 hours, as compared to 25,000 hours for the CCFLs. Standard household bulbs have a life of around 750 hours. They cost around $12.
The glass envelope of the globe bulb on teh left is clear so you can see the inside, but this shape, as well as household bulbs
and flame tip bulbs, comes in a white glass version so they look very much like the light bulbs we are used to buying.

Now let's get down to one of the main drawbacks of fluorescents, and that is that they do contain mercury. This is no longer a universal truth. There is one company that is been working hard for many years to create a fluorescent lamp that is mercury free bulb.

It is called an ESL (which stands for Electron Stimulated Luminescence). My feeling is that they wanted to create a new category so that they do not get lumped in with standard fluorescents and the negative associations that go with them. Since it has no mercury it can be disposed of like regular incandescent bulbs. The first bulb they'vefirst introduced onto the market is a reflector bulb (known as an R30). It is dimmable and offers 65 watts worth of light for 19.5 watts worth of power consumption. The cost is around $29. They will be coming out with other bulb types in the near future. The company is called VU1, and you can learn more about them at

Friday, June 10, 2011

Improving your home through landscape lighting

In today's economy people are reluctant to move to the next bigger homeor remodel their existing house. One way to get a lot of bang for your buck is to look and see what you have existing outside your windows. There is valuable real estate outside, waiting for an upgrade without a huge outlay of cash.

We are used to seeing our front yards and backyards during the day, but what happens at night is that they virtually disappear. This is called the 'black mirror' effect, where instead of seeing the view beyond you end up seeing your own reflection. By balancing the light inside and out you can take advantage of those exterior spaces at night. Not only will your interior rooms feel larger, but you will also have a greater sense of safety when you can see out into the yard space at night.

I recommend using two levels of illumination-

The first level would be a stronger layer of light coming from light fixtures mounted under the eaves of the roof. This lighting would be especially effective during those times of the year when the weather is too inclement to go outside.

By lighting outside your view is drawn outwards

The second level of illumination would involve the placement of light fixtures throughout the garden to provide up lighting for trees, highlighting sculpture and water features, adding task light for the barbecue and offering pathway lighting to get people safely from one area to the next. this is called 'light layering'.

A lighting designer or landscape designer who specializes in landscape lighting can help with the layout, showing where the lighting fixtures should be placed. Its best to put them in locations that prevents the light sources from causing glare for you and your neighbors.
With the correct lighting you can create outdoor rooms, which will expand your entertaining space without breaking the bank.

Use lighting to draw people through the garden 

Highlight objects in the garden for guests to discover

Uplighting trees will add visual height to your yard