Layered Lighting

Filed in Design and Decor by on October 6, 2015

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By Betty Ravnik, ASID, CMKBD

Good lighting impacts the function of a space, the beauty of a space and even the perceived value of a home. With the trend toward open spaces in our homes it is all the more important to pay attention to the lighting. Lighting can break up the expanse of the interior and create the spaces walls used to enclose. Also, with open spaces comes an uninteresting big ceiling. Lighting is one way to help visually change the ceiling plane.

Probably the biggest news in the decorative lighting world is BIG! No longer are we seeing little pendants over islands or dining room tables. Statement lighting is trending strong in the decorative lighting world helping create spaces with personality. Big drum shades or industrial fixtures are stealing the show. We are also seeing one large or a pair of fixtures versus the standard three pendants over an island. Another trend is multiple light fixtures grouped together to contribute to the feeling of a large fixture. Clustering several pendants hung at varying heights over a dining table is more interesting than hanging a single fixture. The large fixture trend is spilling over into floor lamps as well. Large arched or tripod style floor lamps with big shades are becoming focal points in the living room.

Lighting fixture finishes and styles are changing as well. Options like copper and brass can create a retro or traditional look and weathered metals give an industrial look. Cut glass shades are being replaced with blown glass because the smooth and clear features complement contemporary design. Variety adds interest. Create interest by mixing materials such as glass, fabric and metal.

Even with showcase lighting there needs to be layering of light. Although many of the large fixtures can be decorative and functional at the same time, they should not be the only light in the room. Layered lighting creates mood and atmosphere and transforms a simple room into a glamorous interior. There are three types of lighting that should be layered for a room to be both functional and beautiful.

Ambient lighting is the general lighting. This can come from recessed can lighting or decorative ceiling fixtures. Ambient lighting creates a level layer of light and helps us move safely through the space.

However general lighting should never be the only light in the space. Studies have shown that down lighting from ceiling fixtures is the least pleasant type of lighting to the occupants. Ceiling lighting is not flattering to people and tends to be bland. Ambient lighting should be balanced with other layers of lighting.

The next layer is task lighting. Task lighting illuminates an activity area and is an important consideration in the overall lighting plan. Task lighting can be achieved by utilizing a variety of light fixtures in different areas of the home. In the kitchen, under cabinet lighting highlights the countertop. The living room uses floor and table lamps for reading light. Sometimes, task lighting can be very decorative such as wall sconces on either side of the mirror in a bathroom.

The third type of lighting is accent lighting which draws your eye to a focal point. Accent lighting can highlight a home’s architecture with cove lighting or it can be used to accent something like a fireplace or piece of art with spot or wall washers. When accentuating an art piece or any object that you want to be a focal point, you need to increase the intensity of the light three to five times more than the rest of the room. This design technique is used in retail to bring attention to displays and cane be used effectively in home lighting schemes as well. Layered lighting is not only about the activities taking places in the room, it is also about the intensity of the light source.

We could say there is fourth layer of light and that is sparkle. This can be a form of accent lighting since it demands our attention. Sparkle can be found in back lit glass, the twinkle of crystal pendants or exposed rope lights. Sparkle can be joyous and festive. Reflective surfaces can add to the sparkle of the space.

Each room should have at least three sources of light. In a bathroom there is typically a ceiling light, either a ceiling mount or recessed cans. The shower should have a recessed can light for task and the vanity needs to have lighting for grooming. The wow factor typically comes in pendants or in the wall sconces flanking the mirror.

Drama and contrast make for an interesting interior. This can be created with the lighting output and the actual light fixtures themselves. Mix up the styles of the light fixtures. Having all the pendants and wall sconces match is unimaginative. Be careful not to take this too far. Mixing a contemporary pendant with a Victorian lamp or mixing cool and warm metals together are both examples that won’t work well.

Change the mood or feel of the space by using dimmer switches. Do place them on the ambient lights. High light levels increases the energy in the room while low lighting quiets the mood. Dimmers can also help with the function of the space. Low light levels which reduce glare are needed when watching television and high levels are necessary when cleaning the room. Also, dimmers help as we age in place. The human eye needs more light the older we get.

Lastly, don’t forget exterior lighting. It helps balance the lighting inside the house. Without exterior lighting windows become black mirrors at night reflecting the interior light in a harsh way. Exterior lighting extends the space in the room and adds romance.

Layering the light in (and outside) your home is both pleasing and practical. Doing it with a plan in mind will showcase your home in its best light.

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