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In the spotlight
The 10 elements of perfect lighting


October 2012

In this dazzling display of lighting design and architecture by Klein Lighting and Deep River Partners, the working metaphor was to originate a horizon line that separated earth from sky, Steven Klein says.

"The starry sky is a 100-point end-emitting ‘star-field’ fiber optic configuration," Klein says.
Photo courtesy of Klein Lighting


The lighting in your home is one of those things you might not think much about until you realize it leaves something to be desired. Whether you are highlighting a well-loved piece of art, a food preparation area or your latest shade of lipstick, lighting can make all the difference. Consider these tips on how to achieve the best possible lighting in your home.

What’s the Use?

When determining what type of lighting for any area of a home, the first thing to consider is how that room will be used, according to Lynn Tarrence of The Egg Design Group in Milwaukee. "It all depends on lifestyle. Where will the furniture or appliances go? Will the room be used primarily during the day or at night? Every person and family is different. Think about a lighting scheme before you start to decorate a room, if possible," she says.

Accent the Positive

Draw attention to architectural details or special objects. "The artwork displayed in a home says a lot, but the exchange of information is nonverbal," says Steve Klein, lead designer with Klein Lighting in Fox Point. "Lighting a piece of artwork well articulates the nonverbal interchange. The information exchanged can be lucid, colorful, charismatic and stimulating without a word being spoken," he says, suggesting the use of specific pinhole or slot-hole apertures for spot lighting.

Take a Dim View

Consider the lowly dimmer switch, says Tarrence. "Dimmers provide a huge amount of flexibility in lighting, from soft and flattering to very bright, to suit a wide range of situations," she says. "For example, you might want your under-cabinet lighting to be bright enough so you can read a recipe and dim enough to serve as a night light. In the bathroom, you need bright light for grooming, but soft light for relaxing in the bath tub. Dimmers can instantly change the mood."

No More Eerie Glow

Now that incandescent bulbs are disappearing, rethink fluorescent lighting. Most people shrink from the idea of fluorescent bulbs because of a bad experience at work. These days, however, the common objections no longer apply. "For do-it-yourselfers, there’s confusion related to picking out a lamp color because the consumer labeling is poor. To be sure of what to buy, look for the Light Facts Label," Klein says. Typically, a compact fluorescent bulb can have several different color temperatures, such as 2,700 degrees Kelvin (warm like incandescent) to 4,100K (cool like daylight).

Mix it Up

Most rooms require different levels of light. For example, in a kitchen, you need ambient illumination — a lighting technique that provides general light, Klein says. "There also should be task illumination, to provide specific light to perform functions requiring eye-hand coordination such as cutting, chopping, sewing, reading and writing," he says. The same is true in a den or living room where you need good light for reading but also soft light for entertaining.

A Positive Image

While down lighting is effective for preparing meals, it’s the last thing you want to use over grooming areas. "Down lighting over a face emphasizes surface imperfections. You know what they are — bags under the eyes, facial wrinkles, a chin waddle," Klein says. "Lighting should come from both sides of the face at eye level. Decorative wall sconces or suspended mini-pendants are ideal."

Technological Advances

More lighting choices than ever are available thanks to new technology. Fiber optics, with its remote light source, can create twinkling star effects when inset into the ceiling above a stairway or in a bathroom. Halogen bulbs with a variety of sizes allow manufacturers to design more ornate light fixtures. And, companies like Philips have made halogen bulbs for standard household fittings that can replace incandescent light bulbs of 10-50W power ratings. "These bulbs used to get very hot, but improvements have been made," Tarrence says.

Dining Tips

Lighting is possibly the most important aspect of a dining room, but too many people use just one type, a chandelier. "When correctly used, chandeliers should be suspended over the dining room table and proportioned appropriately for the room and the table," Klein says. The chandelier should not be the only light source in the room, however. Consider using wall sconces or small accent ceiling lights — and put a dimmer switch on the chandelier.

Be Eclectic

Free yourself from the obsession to use matching suites of lamps. Those days are gone, Tarrence says. "If you have two different lamps that you love, there’s no reason why you can’t use them as bedside table lamps, for example. If you want to tie them together, use similar shades," she says.

Don’t Neglect the Outside

Just like the interior of a home, the outside requires different types of lighting for different purposes. "Exterior lights provide curb appeal and entertaining as well as safety," Tarrence says. Flood lights are useful for safety reasons, but you will need task lighting for the outdoor chef and soft lighting for patio seating areas. LED lights have improved in quality and in the amount of light provided, so they are a good option for the garden path. "Make sure the lights on the outside of your house are properly placed. A well-lit entry can make a world of difference in how a house looks from the street," she says.


This story ran in the October 2012 issue of: