I have been writing this particular blog over the last few days, gathering information and my thoughts to share with you, dear reader. And then……I went to the James Turrell exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum this morning, and the top of my head blew right off. This visionary artists work revels in the optical and emotional effects of luminosity. He has created a volume of space within Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic vessel that simply allows the viewer to think about light and the way we see, in a miraculously new way. Enough said on this, and suffice it to say that I recommend that everyone visit the Guggenheim because you are in for a rare treat. The show is up until September 25th.
Here are some things I know about lighting and interiors.
You need good 3 way lamps at the sofa level
You need task lamps at the desk
You need a ceiling fixture at the dining table
You need up lights, torches, for light at the ceiling
You need a floor lamp at the club chair
You may need wall sconces for drama
You need natural light
The big thing about lighting is flexibility and having options. The image shown is the ceiling of a master bedroom project that was completed recently. The shot shows a huge cathedral ceiling (16′ off the floor) with skylights. I hung a subtle chandelier that does not compete with the power of the skylights during the day, but gives a romantic glow at night. Additionally I strung LED cove lights at the top of the cove (which divides the height of the room in half) and recessed down lights on the bottom of the cove. There are lamps throughout the room. The result is that this room can take on a myriad of qualities, all through the lighting design.
So, how can YOU put it all together?
Try to put all wall switches on dimmers. There is just no reason not to. Try to rewire large lamps to be 3 – way, going up to 150 incandescent watts each. Two of these on either side of the sofa will make the space cozy and you will be able to read well.
Torches will give interest to a room. You want the room to glow at all levels, and a torcher will glow onto the ceiling and this tends to bring the ceiling up. They are not necessary, and in fact they are over used at times, as a kind of de-facto corner lighting fixture. But in the right setting, they can be pretty and effective. Remember if you do light the wall, the wall should have a skim coat or you will just see all the imperfections.
All desks need a task lamp period. The room may be lit well, such as in an office. But there is nothing like a task lamp to improve productivity at the desk. It reinforces the work surface and helps the eye actually stay on point. If you want to work well at your desk, get a task lamp.
Wall sconces are mostly decorative, but they do add lighting to a space and give the walls some architecture. If you are doing a renovation, consider well placed sconces. They could be in a foyer or in the hallway to the bedrooms. Additionally if you have a hallway that is fairly wide, you could hang art on these walls, and light each of the pieces of art individually. These art lights can also serve to actually light the hallway. And, you will always enjoy the art!
A solo club chair calls out for a small floor lamp. And I love the oversized pharmacy floor lamps at Restoration Hardware. They have all sorts of swivels and angle points that make them perfect for any space. They come in all finishes. It’s just a great look.
Do you need a ceiling light in the living room? Not necessarily, but if one is wired try to find something special that will be an eye catcher. You may seldom turn it on, but it will be a very decorative moment in the room.
Perhaps you happen to have fantastic natural light in a room. Wonderful. But don’t hesitate to get nice curtains so that you have the option of closing up the room if desired. You may want to take a nap in the middle of the day and shut the world out. I know I do at times, and I don’t want to be in the bedroom. So I close the curtains and settle into my darkened living room. Sleep! Options!
Look in flea markets for great lamp bases. Undoubtedly the shade will be a disaster, but you can get great vintage finds at a reasonable cost. It is worth it to re-shade and rewire the fixture if the base is special. Another thing that I do for clients is find fabulous vases and simply have them made into lamps. These can be stunning when it is all put together. Of course, you need a great eye to foresee what will work….
So what about the new energy efficient LED lights? Well, new construction code now requires that 60% of all hard wired lighting be LED. There are all varieties of LED (light emitting diode) light “temperature” from very warm to cool. But the main advantage is that LED’s do not emit the actual heat that incandescent bulbs do. You save money in the energy consumption, but they are more expensive to purchase.
The compact fluorescents are not dimmable (although there is a new one that is, and it is very expensive), and have mercury in them so you CANNOT throw them out. (You must carefully and specifically recycle) They are very energy efficient but the glow itself is just not attractive. For me, the fact that they have mercury in them is crazy. I just don’t understand this trade off, from an environmental perspective. Honestly, are compact fluorescent light bulbs the best that a huge industry can come up with? I digress…..
What about Line and Low voltage? What is this and why should you know about this? Simply put, line voltage lighting means that it’s running on the line voltage without a transformer. This almost always equates to 120 volts. Most table lamps and ceiling fixtures use line voltage to turn on the light bulbs you put in them. The biggest advantage of line voltage lighting is that the bulbs that work with it are going to be less expensive. Since most fixtures are manufactured to be run on 120-volt lines, the bulbs that work with those fixtures are produced at a higher rate, driving the cost down.
When someone says “low voltage,” it means there’s a transmitter inside the fixture that is turning the 120 volts from the line into 12 volts. Halogen bulbs are low voltage, as an example. It is important to know whether a lighting fixture is low or line voltage because it will dictate what dimmer you use.
Most of all, remember that lighting is an important decorative feature and it is really worth it to spend an appropriate amount of money on lamps and good lighting! You may have the greatest room on the planet, but if the room is not appropriately enhanced by great lighting, which is also part of the over all design concept, you have failed. Everything that functions (lighting) must also have beauty, which stands on it’s own. A well lit room sings. And thank you, Mr. Turrell.