Flexibility Creates Right Lighting Mood

Setting up appropriate zones for certain functions makes lighting design easier.


Interior decor of modern kitchen

Photo by: Jupiterimages


By: Daniel C. Brown

The right lighting can create a mood, light up a task or accent a decorative feature, says interior designer Rob Sower, ASID, Strite Design + Remodel, in Boise, Idaho. The key to achieving all those purposes — cost effectively — is to use lighting systems that are flexible.

"Certain people want more flexibility and more zones than other people," Sower says. "Some people want 10 zones, or sets of lights, with each set on one switch in a space — and dimmers on each zone — and others may only want two zones in the same space."

An Indirect Approach

Take living rooms, for instance. An intimate atmosphere can be created in a living room with low-level incandescent lights that are on dimmers. The mood can be enhanced with uplights hidden in cabinet tops.

"For a lively social setting, you want pools of light that are a little more intense," Sower says. He's currently remodeling a living room that features low-voltage rail lights or cable lighting mounted from the ceiling. Ten MR-16 lamps mount on two polished nickel rails; their direction can be adjusted. "Most people don't change the direction of rail lights that often, but if you rearrange the furniture, you can add a lamp, take a lamp off, or change its direction," he explains.

That same homeowner will also have low-voltage strip lights, all on one dimmer, mounted atop built-in cabinets in the living room. There's a lamp in the center of a ceiling fan hung from the ceiling.

"So for a social setting you could put the cable lights on 75 percent bright, the cove lights (atop the cabinets) at 25 to 50 percent intensity, and the ambient light on the fan at 25 percent," Sower says.

In the bathroom shown at right, the two ceiling lights are small can fixtures with low-voltage MR-16 bulbs. One is mounted directly over the bowl sink and gives a jewel-like appearance to the entire vanity top. "When the water is turned on, it shimmers in the light," Sower says. The other ceiling light accents the grass arrangement in the corner. "Those are examples of pools of light: getting intrigue with the interplay of lighter areas with darker ones," he says.

Task lighting in the bathroom comes from incandescent lights at each side of the mirror to provide an accurate rendering of a person's complexion; the side mounts eliminate potential dark spots under one's eyes that might result from overhead lighting.

Talk, Task

The general rule for kitchens is to light it for two purposes, he says. One is for socializing. "People like to hang out in the kitchen, even if they're not cooking," he says. The other purpose, naturally, is to prepare food.

As a result, kitchens need to have separate zones, each on its own switch and dimmer. "You need to determine the zones based on what is happening in that area," Sower says. Food preparation is usually one or more zones, and, if it's an eat-in kitchen, the eating area would be another.

"In doing a kitchen, I like to use two or more pendant lights," he says. "They bring down the scale and create an intimate atmosphere in a specific area."
He likes to use a large central pendant over a center island with no cooktop in it. "You might also hang three or so pendant lights over a bar in the kitchen," he adds. "For general task and ambient lighting, you can use can lights spaced about 4 feet apart."

Another type of lighting for kitchens is over-cabinet and under-cabinet lamps, again putting them in their own zones and on their own dimmers. "The over-arching principle to keep in mind is flexibility, and so much of this is personal preference," he stresses. "Flexibility means different things for different people."

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