Q&A / 

Lighting Options

I love to watch people walk through new model homes, especially ones that have been professionally decorated. The potential home buyers Oooo and Ahhh over the striking wall colors, window treatments, furnishings and floor coverings, but rarely do I hear them say anything about the lighting. What many of these people do not realize is the things they are drooling over often look good because they are showcased with excellent lighting both natural and artificial.

Talk to a top-flight architect with 10 or more years experience and they should be able to give you plenty of examples of how to leverage natural light in certain rooms to produce certain effects. The really great architects know how to position a house to extract sunlight for certain rooms at specific times of the year.

As the sun increases its arc in the sky from winter to summer here in the northern hemisphere, all sorts of opportunities open up to get light into rooms. This can be done with windows placed at strategic heights or through clever placement of skylights with flared light shafts.

Mirrors can also be employed to bounce natural light from room to room. This takes an enormous amount of talent and the interior architecture of the home must lend itself to the presence of large expanses of glass. If mirrors are not to your liking, you can get natural light from one room to the next using large archways or pass-through openings where the top half of a wall is open to the adjacent room.

The lighting possibilities with artificial lighting are probably infinite. There are thousands of different light fixtures that have hundreds of different applications. One of the most underused lighting techniques in residential housing in my opinion, is indirect lighting. I love indirect lighting as it is not harsh and it can be used as one of several different layers of light in a room or space.

A friend of mine took my advice and incorporated indirect lighting in a small kitchen remodeling job. As it turned out, this one aspect of the total job got the most compliments from friends who would visit for an evening party. As the natural light stopped pouring in the windows, the kitchen ceiling was transformed into a warm yellow-orange canopy. The incandescent bulbs producing the light were hidden in a trayed ceiling detail I had drawn for him.

Combining recessed lighting with traditional surface mount fixtures allows you to light certain parts of a room. My own kitchen is lit in this fashion. We have a hanging fixture over our center island that has three 75 watt bulbs in it. This one fixture produce ample light in our 17 x 20 foot kitchen. But when we need additional task lighting or desire to have the kitchen as bright as day, I flip one switch that powers 10 recessed lights. This adds another 750 watts of light and makes the kitchen a bright and inviting space.

If you want to maximize the lighting possibilities in your new home, I suggest you spend an afternoon with a lighting professional. You can often find these trained pros in stores that just sell lighting fixtures. Take your floor plans with you and let them show you any number of options for lighting in each and every room.

Hopefully you will have some extra money in your budget for outdoor landscaping lighting. You don't have to do the entire house at one time and you may start by just highlighting a few important features. If you do have larger wants than your budget and plan to add lights in the future, discuss this with the professional so you get the correct lighting center to power the lights.

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