Today’s lighting offers beauty, style and functionality to illuminate your life
stories by Lynn Drennan
We’ve all seen it, perhaps even in our own homes: a room that is perfectly styled with furniture and accessories, but with lighting that is outdated, incorrectly sized, not bright enough, or just plain ugly. Conversely, the proper lighting can make any room go from so-so to oh-so-lovely.
Lighting is the superhero of interior design. It can create a mood, illuminate a task, or make a personal statement. It can pull a room together or delineate spaces and uses. Whether you are building or renovating a home or you’re just looking to spruce up your existing space, lighting should never be an afterthought.
“The importance of proper lighting can’t be overstated, because it sets off everything else in your rooms,” says Helen Labelle of Georgian Design Centre in Collingwood. “Lighting can not only brighten a room; it also adds drama, clarity, elegance, beauty and character to your décor, enhancing your furnishings and accessories. And, of course, good lighting is critical for safety.”
Today’s top trends include LED lighting, pendant lights and filament bulbs, according to Labelle. Another big trend: using multiple light sources for one space; for example, a kitchen may have under-cabinet lighting, pendants over an island, and recessed “pot” lighting in the ceiling.
Trend #1: Layering
Just as designers layer elements like colour, texture and pattern to create interesting, dynamic rooms, the layered approach used in lighting design involves combining ambient, accent and task lighting to create a balanced, visually comfortable space.
“This layering effect can provide different levels of functionality within the space while also creating different moods,” says Katherine Arcaro of Farrow Arcaro Design (FAD) in Collingwood.
Ambient (general) lighting uniformly lights the space, typically avoiding shadows and dark corners while also putting some light on walls. Ambient lighting provides light mainly for orientation and general vision, usually via ceiling-mounted light fixtures. Examples include downlights, pot lights, cove lighting and wall washing.
Because ambient lighting tends to be diffuse and uniform, it can be bland. That’s where accent lighting comes in. Accent lighting us used to highlight features in the space such as artwork, collectibles, floral arrangements and interesting architecture. The goal is to draw attention through contrasts in brightness.
Task lighting is then used for specific activities requiring more light, such as reading, homework, cooking, crafts, and personal grooming. These lights are typically visible, so their style and finish should match the décor of the space.
To meet the varied needs of a living room or family room space for entertaining, watching television, reading, playing games and highlighting artwork, three to four layers of ambient, accent and task lighting should be used. These might include recessed lighting around the perimeter of the room, a chandelier or central decorative fixture for general lighting, wall sconces for mood and portable lamps for reading and other tasks.
“For living spaces, diversify your lighting,” advises Mary Ellen Lynch of Lynch + Commisso: Architecture + Light, a Toronto architectural and design firm that specializes in architectural lighting design. “Recessed lights need to be complemented with some glowing sources of light in order to bounce light around the room. Architectural accents will provide visual interest with low-level light.”
Trend #2: LED
LED – light emitting diode – bulbs and fixtures are extremely energy efficient and consume up to 90 per cent less power than incandescent lighting, resulting in a dramatic decrease in power costs. The long lifespan of LED bulbs – up to 20 years – also saves in maintenance and replacement costs. However, until recently LED lighting was expensive, with limited and often unattractive choices, so the pros didn’t always outweigh the cons.
Early LED lightbulbs were large, clunky and emitted a harsh, too-bright, too-white or bluish light. Thanks to significant advances over the last few years, today’s LEDs come in a wide range of colours, sizes and tones, finally delivering the warm light incandescents have comforted us with for decades.
“LED has come a long way in a short period of time,” says Lynch. “Great improvements have been made to the colour temperature of white LED; therefore, it can be considered for many home applications such as recessed downlighting, bathrooms and exterior light. LED is everywhere now and has really allowed lighting product designers freedom from the traditional restraints of lamp technology.”
While LEDs have decreased in price, they are still more expensive than incandescent bulbs. Another potential added expense: LED lights require special dimmers, so using an existing dimmer or buying the wrong dimmer can result in flashing, stuttering or inefficient dimming. Speak to a lighting professional or check manufacturers’ websites to ensure that you have the right dimmer for your LED lights.
Even with some additional up-front cost, LED’s longer lifespan mitigates the cost, and there are coupons for bulbs, fixtures and even lighting control products and timers at www.saveonenergy.ca that will save you anywhere from $3 to $15 per item.
Incandescents may be cheaper, but they won’t always be available. As of 2015, 60- and 40-watt incandescent bulbs can no longer be manufactured or imported into Canada, an extension of the federal government’s ban on 75- and 100-watt bulbs that came into effect a year earlier to cut energy consumption. While retailers are still allowed to sell existing inventories of incandescents, stocks are running out. So before you buy and install that expensive light fixture, it’s probably a good idea to make sure it can take LED bulbs.
“Not every bulb is an LED yet, but they’re definitely working on getting there,” says Nicole Wolfe, manager of Living Lighting in Owen Sound. “I’d say about 85 to 90 per cent of our fixtures that go out are with LED bulbs.”
More and more manufacturers are also producing LED-specific light fixtures, she adds. “LED can get so sleek and thin that companies are building the LED diodes right into the fixtures. You can get some seriously thin lines and the light source is hidden so you don’t have to have big pieces that you have to hide bulbs behind. It’s a much sleeker, more modern look.”
Trend #3: Light Control
The linchpin that makes all of this work seamlessly: dimmers. “Dimmers are key for maximum control of all fixtures,” maintains Katherine Arcaro. For example, pendant lights over a kitchen island should be brighter for tasks such as food preparation or homework, but dimmer for ambiance.
By making each layer separately dimmable, you can establish a wide variety of visual scenes, moods and functionality in areas like kitchens, living and dining rooms, but they are also becoming more popular in bathrooms and bedrooms.
Today’s dimmers come in an array of styles, colours and control options, from traditional rotary-style dimmers to more linear, designer style dimmers with or without switches. But the next generation has also arrived: light management systems that provide the ultimate in ambiance, convenience, functionality and security at the touch of a button.
Light management systems and equipment can make lighting a vibrant and vital part of any space, with features such as daylight sensors that automatically adjust overhead lights throughout the day and occupancy sensors that ensure that lights are never left on when a room is not in use.
More sophisticated systems can also store personalized settings for multiple lights, allowing you to completely tailor the lighting scheme in any room.
These smart lighting controls allow you to program preset “scenes” – for example, by hitting one button on the control you can turn off the overhead and under-counter lights in the kitchen and dim the chandelier in the dining room to create just the right ambiance to enjoy a meal (without having to see those dirty dishes next to the sink until you’re ready to tackle them).
“We have one client who has an entertaining scene,” says Carla Nicolson of Red Brick Group in Thornbury, which installs Lutron lighting systems. “When she has company and everyone is sitting down to dinner, she presses the entertaining button and the under counter lights turn off so nobody can see the clutter, the overhead light in the kitchen turns down to 10 per cent, the hall light stays on 20 per cent and the bathroom light is on at 10 per cent so if anyone has to go to the bathroom they can find their way. She says it’s like a party trick and everyone is amazed when she does it.” Such systems can also be programmed to automatically transition between scenes at different times of the day.
Automated lighting can have other benefits aside from ambiance and energy savings. One bonus is esthetics: traditional light switches can be hidden and replaced with keypads, reducing wall clutter. The other is security: advanced systems can work in conjunction with a security system to switch on lights if an intruder enters a home, simultaneously warning the trespasser and ensuring that law enforcement will know exactly where they are needed.
With such precise and powerful control, you can completely craft the look and feel of any space, as well as its functionality and efficiency.
As for trends in styles of the light fixtures themselves, brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze have replaced polished brass as the go-to finishes, while retro-looking Edison bulbs and clear, seeded glass offer a modern take on a Victorian classic. Otherwise, pretty much anything goes, from traditional to contemporary, depending on taste and the style of the room or home.
One thing is clear: no matter what your taste, style, budget or needs, there is a lighting solution to brighten up your home – and your life. ❧
3 tips For lighting a room
- Break your room into layers
Think of your room as a cake. Just like a cake, each layer builds on the other. General/ambient lighting is the main layer of the cake: the substance. It typically provides 75 per cent of the room’s light, assuring that you can walk into a space without bumping into furniture. For larger rooms, ambient lighting may require a few ceiling fixtures.
Task lighting is the cake’s frosting; without it, everything is drab, unappetizing and doesn’t hold together well. Task lighting helps you accomplish everyday chores or tasks – from reading a book to chopping vegetables to brushing your teeth. Write down all of the tasks that take place in a room, and make sure you plan the lighting around them.
Accent lighting is the ice cream on top: enhancing all the flavours and finishing things off with a flourish. Accent lighting serves as a decorative element, enhancing artwork, collectibles or certain architectural details like coves, tray ceilings and decorative trim.
- Consider your controls and switches
You’ll want to control each light layer separately so you can use the light in a variety of ways: accent lights while entertaining, task or general lights during food prep, etc. Dimmer switches and more complex lighting control systems can allow you to soften lighting when the occasion calls for it, either by controlling individual lights or whole rooms or groups of rooms.
- Keep bulb coloUrs the same
Not all “white” lightbulbs give off the same colour or quality of light. Some are warmer with a more golden glow, while others emit a more pure white or even bluish light. The bulbs you choose will give off different shades of light across a spectrum from blue-white to yellow. When selecting bulbs, look at the bulb’s Kelvin Colour Temperature and choose bulbs with a similar rating. Kelvin charts are available online or from your lighting professional.
Light Me Up!
7 easy steps to choosing the right light
Upgrading your home’s lighting is an easy and relatively inexpensive update that packs loads of “wow” factor and adds visual punch to any space. If you aren’t sure where to begin, Hinkley Lighting provides these guidelines to help you choose the right fixture for the space.
- Identify the area(s) you want to enhance with lighting.
- Zero in on the function(s) you will be performing in the space to determine how much illumination you want to achieve in areas where you need lighting most.
- Measure the areas and surfaces you plan to light.
- Identify the number of fixtures you need to achieve
- Choose a style that suits your décor, whether modern or rustic, traditional or eclectic. Select designs that will stand out in your space.
- Find a finish by thinking about how the lighting will complement other finishes in the space.
- Consider the style of the room and what kind of lighting design will add the right touch of flair and character.
With a little thought and pre-planning, you can choose the light fixture(s) that will reflect your personal style and enhance your space while illuminating the areas where you need lighting