Around The House, The Power of Light

Nothing makes or breaks the interior of a house as much as the lighting. The most carefully arranged and beautifully appointed interior can fall flat if it is poorly illuminated.

When considering lighting for their home, most people think in terms of fixtures; they want unobtrusive high hats, a beautiful chandelier or fabulous looking floor and table lamps. However, before you start picking fixtures, the best way to start a lighting plan for your home is to think conceptually about what you want the light to do. Basically, there are three types of lighting to consider: ambient, task, and accent. Ambient lighting is the general illumination in any space: it creates the general atmosphere , task lighting is just that – reading, cooking, shaving – these tasks require specific illumination, and accent lighting is the icing on the cake – it is used to highlight a focal point (in the case of a crystal chandelier it might be the focal point) or to create drama as in lighting a beautiful stone fireplace.

Let’s consider the light in a master bedroom over the course of a day. How do you like to wake up? Some of my clients swear by blackout shades on their windows and I do provide them if people insist, but as far as I’m concerned, I’d never have them myself – nothing deadens a space more than cutting off all the natural light from the windows. Current research suggests that our bodies respond best by awaking to a gradually increasing light level such as occurs naturally with the sunrise. In winter, those of us who work for a living don’t have the luxury of waiting for the sunrise to awake but if you find that a rudely ringing alarm clock is too much of a shock to the system – there are “light clocks” available that emit stronger and stronger light to waken the sleeper more gently. For the truly sensitive wake-up call, how about this: There is a new prototype for bedding that starts to glow in the early morning hours so the sleeper is literally bathed in ever increasing light! (Maybe levitation is an option too…)

Once one has arisen for the day it’s nice to have the Master Suite brightly lit for the morning rituals. For sheer cheerfulness, you can’t beat daylight streaming through the windows; it creates the nicest ambient light, and, if you are lucky enough to have windows on two walls, the daylight creates even a greater sense of dimension and life. The best way to mimic daylight is to use uplights that illuminate by reflecting light from the ceiling in much the same way the sky provides a broad light source. Uplighting can be created by strategically placed torchieres or by building light coves if the ceiling height allows. Good ambient lighting, especially when one is first greeting the day, provides a great sense of well-being.

There are tasks to be performed in the master bedroom — reading, dressing, putting on make-up — and all require appropriate lighting. Many people like to read in bed so bedside lamps are popular. I have no objection to a good looking bedside lamp but if it is intended to be a reading lamp make sure that it is tall enough to shed light on the surface of your book and it’s also nice to have a three way bulb or a dimming mechanism so that you can adjust the light level. For flexibility and function, I prefer classic wall mounted swing arm lamps; they can put the light where you need it and they don’t take up any space on the night table!

Closet lighting is often overlooked. Here is one place where you might want to consider a high intensity fluorescent ceiling fixture. Fluorescent lamps come in a variety of “color temperatures” which is measured on what is called the Kelvin scale. Daylight has a rating of 5000K (Kelvin). A fluorescent bulb with a 5000K rating will give you a good idea of what your clothes will look like in daylight and may end that dilemma of bad closet lighting: “Are the socks black or navy?”

For evening, romantic lighting is essential in the master suite and nothing casts a warmer glow than good old incandescent bulbs. They have a low color temperature and thus give off a warm yellow light. Turn off the ambient light and have a table lamp on a chest or a pair of candlestick lamps, use a picture lamp over a favorite painting (sconces are good) and make sure that all the lighting is dimmable. And don’t forget candles – everyone looks good in candlelight. Whether used for a soothing bath, at the dinner table or in the bedroom, candles are an excellent source of warm romantic lighting.

Taking some care with the lighting in your home is well worth the effort. If your needs are complex, a good lighting designer can help; not only will a lighting designer have lots of good suggestions but he/she should be up to speed with all the latest technology.

However, being aware of what kind of lighting you’re after is half the battle, and with some experimentation and perhaps the help of an electrician, you’re well on your way to making the most of your interior. By the way – since this is the month of Valentine’s day, forget about technology, just get out the candles and go for romance!

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About the Author: Barbara Sternau