Let There Be Lights / by Steven Klein


Illuminating solutions for your home and yard

September 07, 2012|By Kari Richardson | Special to the Tribune

im Tacheny installs exterior lighting for a living, but at the end of a long day, he still smiles when he drives up to his house and sees everything lit up.

"Lighting is enjoyable for the long haul," said Tacheny, principal of Estate Lighting Inc., based in Richmond, Ill. "We spend a lot of time in darkness in this part of the country. Lighting helps."

Artificial light is a subtle, but important component of your home's atmosphere: Get it right and people may not even notice. Get it wrong, and they are likely to feel uncomfortable or, worse yet, be unable to perform basic tasks well.

"If the light quality is poor, I can walk into a space and look at people's faces and figure out what's going on," said Milwaukee-area lighting designer Steven Klein. "They will be squinting or blinking. They might be squirming around and trying to readjust their bodies. That's not the way it should work. Light should be supportive of functions."

Gone are the days when a new home's lighting consisted of dining room and foyer chandeliers and a smattering of outlets designed to plug in lamps. Today's homes include chandeliers and lamps, as well as sconces, recessed lighting, under-cabinet lighting and up lighting on crown molding, to name a few.

With more choices than ever, it can be difficult to get it right. Here are some tips to help your home shine:

Develop a lighting plan. Most architects and lighting specialists query clients about hobbies and habits before beginning the design process. Don't rush your responses. Take the necessary time to think through the likely uses for each of your home's areas and to get feedback from family members before starting to build or remodel. Adding fixtures and outlets costs more once construction is complete.

Are you an avid reader who wants to loll on the couch in the living room while paging through novels? Do you need specialized light in the kitchen to chop peppers for your favorite stew?

"People think table lamps are great if you like to read in bed," Klein said. "But table lamps cast a lot of light and that's not always great if the person who is lying next to you wants to sleep." A better solution, Klein said, might be a wall-mounted sconce that shines a beam of light directly onto the reader while her partner soundly snoozes. Solutions appear when you identify needs ahead of time.

Clients of Tandem Architecture and Construction in Lincoln Park plan for their lighting needs before construction begins. A final walk-through, though, allows homeowners to add last minute electrical outlets or fixtures before dry walling begins, said Chris Walsh, the firm's principal architect.

Multiple kinds of light. "Lighting has become another way for someone to customize their home," said Brian Brunhofer, president of Meritus Homes. Customers no longer make do with standard builder-grade fixtures. Lighting packages include recessed lighting, as well as fixtures for the kitchen, dining room and hallways. Opportunities abound for clients to add their stamp to a home's lighting.

Klein gives the example of the kitchen, one of the most-used rooms in the house. Ambient lighting from recessed fixtures or a fluorescent light might provide a backdrop. Task lighting allows the chef to perform functions requiring hand-eye coordination, such as cutting, chopping and stirring.

At Richelieu Flats, a boutique condo building on Michigan Avenue with four full-floor residences and a duplex penthouse, the lighting mix includes ceiling lamps, accent lighting, sconces and recessed lighting. Careful attention was paid to lighting in common areas, including the lobby and garage, to make sure residents and their guests felt safe and welcome, said Millie Rosenbloom, listing broker for the property.

"We wanted people to feel like they had enough light when they got out of their cars and that no one's parking space was shortchanged," she said.

Accent lighting. Use lighting to play up key architectural features or prized possessions. Highland Park-based lighting designer Mitchell Kohn worked hand-in-hand with an architect to create specialized lighting to accent a home with "origami ceilings," multiple ceiling angles within the same room. His design included a 3-inch gap between the upper wall and ceiling, where light was installed to accent the unusual design.

Though most homes don't have such a dramatic detail, lighting can draw attention to more subtle architectural features, as well. Also to consider: prized possessions, such as artwork or collections that might be worth highlighting.

"Accent lighting brings attention to things people treasure," Klein said. "It's a reflection of their values."

Lighting in layers.Instead of viewing your home's lighting as an on/off switch with two options, blazing bright or jet black, work to give each room layers of light that can be added to or subtracted from as needed. The first layer is natural light, said Brandon Weiss, president of Weiss Building & Development in South Elgin.

Weiss also includes light coves in many of his homes, indirect lighting built into recesses in a ceiling or high on the walls of a room. Often, this light is all that's needed to brighten a space, he said.

Similarly, properly placed ceiling fixtures and task lighting can prevent homeowners from "turning on a room full of cans," he said.

In Kohn's view, dimmer switches are key to the layering effect. "You should be able to control the intensity of every light," he said. His grown children have installed dimmer switches in every room of every apartment they've occupied over the years.

Don't forget the exterior. Many homeowners limit their exterior lighting efforts to a couple of sconces on the garage to deter burglars. While safety is an important consideration, outdoor lighting can also help highlight a home's beauty at night or when natural light is low.

Good exterior lighting follows many of the same principles as good landscaping, Tacheny said. A key is to use both to draw attention to a focal point, often the front door.

When appropriate, hide the source. Tacheny said a common mistake outdoors is overlighting driveways and pathways, creating a landing strip effect. Instead, he climbs ladders to tuck lights into tree branches and digs into the dirt to disguise them in flower beds.

The same principle holds true inside the house: While a crystal chandelier, prized lamp or mosaic pendant lights may be pretty, not every light source is worthy of notice.

Consider color temperature. Take a secret from the pros, who know that light has different color temperatures, measured by a unit called a Kelvin (K). If, like most people, you prefer warm, yellowish light, look for bulbs rated 3,000K or lower. If it's blue light you crave, select bulbs rated 4,000K, Kohn said.

In the right light, furniture, accessories and artwork look their best.

"When someone walks into a room with poor lighting they might say, 'Gee that's an ugly couch.' They probably won't say, 'Gee, the lighting's ugly in here,'" Kohn said.