In a monthly column, Lori Powell of Fogg Lighting in Portland offers her expert tips on illuminating your home.
In most homes, the kitchen tends to be the center of gravity. And yet for all the time we spend there — chopping, cooking, noshing, cleaning, helping with homework, lingering over leftovers — kitchens are often drastically under-lit, with a single ceiling fixture in the center of the room that creates irritating shadows in the areas we most need to illuminate. Here are some steps you can take to brighten up your cookspace.
First, get on task. Your time in the kitchen is task-oriented, so your lighting should be too. If you’re standing at a counter and the light is behind you, your body will cast a shadow over the surface, making it harder to see what you’re doing — not ideal, especially if you’re working with sharp utensils. To brighten up work areas, place recessed, track, and/or under-cabinet lighting over countertops, tables, islands, sinks, and other surfaces you use frequently.
Then, think layers. Because of the wide variety of tasks you do in the kitchen, one light will never provide all the illumination you need. Layering the light — adding different sources around the room — will give you the flexibility to customize the lighting to suit your changing needs. If you’re hosting a dinner party, for example, you can dim the overhead lights to create ambiance, and keep under-cabinet lighting on to illuminate the areas where you’re serving and preparing food.
Find the right fixtures. Adding fixtures on walls, in glass cabinets, and over sinks and islands will brighten and warm the room, while providing decorative accents that can enhance the look. Consider adding pendants over sinks and islands — allow 30 to 36 inches between the countertop and the bottom of the fixture for optimum illumination. Above sinks, pendants should be hung higher, so that people don’t bang their heads against them while doing dishes.
Q. As darker days approach, how can we adjust our lighting to keep our home comfortable and well-lit?
Light fixtures and bulbs can have a huge impact on your mood, productivity, and the coziness of your living space. This is true all year long. But during the transition from summer to fall, lighting issues are particularly noticeable. Walkways and interiors can suddenly feel dramatically dimmer. And you may feel like you’re constantly chasing the illumination you need to cook, work, help with homework, or put on makeup. With some smart changes, however, you can brighten your home — and your outlook.
Start Outside. Adjust any timers on your exterior lights to accommodate the changes in daylight. If your walkways feel tough to navigate even when porch lights and lamp posts are on, consider incorporating path lighting — either 18-inch-tall posts or fixtures recessed into the pathway or its environs — to help you get safely in and out of the house. Remember that a little light goes a long way outdoors; 40-watt-equivalent bulbs typically work best. Anything brighter can actually make it harder to see.
Layer your light. A room needs a mix of light sources at different levels to create a warm glow and ensure you can see what you’re doing. These layers include ambient illumination from decorative fixtures such as a chandelier, pendants, or flush-mounts, as well as accent and task lighting — typically some combination of recessed or track fixtures, sconces, under-cabinet units, cove lights, and table or floor lamps. At this time of year, you may need to beef up your task lighting, bringing in an extra reading lamp or adding a fixture in a spot where you sew or do puzzles. When only one light source is used, as is sometimes the case with recessed fixtures, you get pockets of light and darkness that make the area difficult to navigate — and impossible to read in.
Assess lampshades. Consider swapping dark fabric shades, or older white ones that have yellowed, for crisp new ivory or white shades to bring more ambient illumination into your rooms. If you favor colored-glass shades, you may want to supplement with an extra fixture to brighten up your space. Clear-glass shades, meantime, can allow too much light to escape, causing glare and making a room feel shadowy, if not paired with proper bulbs — no more than 40-watt-equivalents on a dimmer are best.
Turn up the temp. Light bulb boxes indicate a color temperature, labeled K for Kelvin temperature. In general, but particularly at this time of year, opt for bulbs with a 2700K or 3,000K rating, which provide a universally flattering, warm-white light. Anything higher is going to have a cooler, bluish-white cast that can make your home feel as chilly as a feebly lit landscape on a winter’s day.
A: Many lights on the market today are, quite literally, works of art. Expertly designed and skillfully executed by metalsmiths and glassworkers, these fixtures read like sculptures in a room. Turning them on heightens the drama, as partially shielded, diffused, or angled beams create intriguing shadows in your space. When selecting a form-over-function fixture, just be sure to supplement with layers of task and accent lightingto produce even illumination in the room and ensure you can see what you’re doing. As for my favorite statement makers, I’ll let these images do (most) of the talking.
Down-lit arcs of heat-textured steel studded with decorative cuffs crisscross in a Calderesque feat of asymmetry and balance. Choose from eight finishes for the canopy and cuffs.
Inspired by ikebana, a Japanese form of flower arranging that emphasizes minimalism and stems and leaves as much as blossoms, this fixture has interwoven steel strands emanating from bud vase-like domes. Choose from eight canopy finishes and platinum or gold for the ball accents.
The Greek myth of Icarus — the boy who flew too close to sun on wax-and-feather wings — sparked this fanciful avian design. Choose from eight canopy finishes and “spun frost” (shown) or “cork” for the shades.
A sculptural textured-steel and polished-aluminum ring, fairly levitating in its lighted base, effects an abstract sunrise. Choose from eight canopy finishes and platinum or gold for the textured accents.
These streamlined steel fixtures (literally) turn classic candle sconce forms on their heads. Rotate the bases and rings to alter the positioning and look. Choose from eight canopy finishes and platinum or gold for the rings.
Handcrafted crystal “river stones” are baked and annealed in massive seeded-glass blocks that create a glowing gallery effect on your wall. Choose from interior and exterior fixtures in silver and bronze finishes.
Transform your room into a skyscape with a futuristic satin-nickel fixture available in “Aquila Major” (shown), “Aquila Minor,” “Ursa Major,” and “Ursa Minor” configurations. LEDs radiate through smooth white domes or sparkle through multi-faceted diffusers (your choice).
Comprised of a brass stem and filaments bejeweled with glass accents, this glam allium-like lamp blooms wherever its marble base is planted.
Rustic meets refined in this organic lamp, composed of a polished metal base that resembles petrified wood crowned with a paper shade. Choose from “gild” (shown), “burnished silver-leaf” and “plaster-white” finishes.
Fringed edges give this classic silhouette, rendered in an antique zinc finish, a kinetic quality. A rectangular paper shade underscores the artful geometry.
Traditional lantern forms are reimagined in steel trapezoidal shapes with cutouts that conjure sections of stained glass. Downlights brighten the edges of the frames, bringing depth to the composition.
“When I walk into a lighting store and look at fixtures online, I am literally dazzled by the options. How do I zero in on the best styles for my home?”
Lighting provides an obvious and important function in the home, and we spend a lot of time advising clients on the proper size and placement of fixtures, the best-performing bulbs, and how to combine different types of lights to create a flattering glow while ensuring you can see what you’re doing. But as anyone who has ever marveled at a chandelier like the one above knows, lighting can also be a heck of a lot of fun. Designers frequently refer to pendants, sconces, and lamps as the “jewelry” in a space. Like a statement necklace or pair of glittery earrings, an eye-catching fixture can transform your ensemble. As for which accessories your rooms should “wear,” we’ve pulled together looks to suit a range of tastes.
Photo by Benjamin Williamson
Q: What are “dark sky friendly” exterior fixtures?
A: Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Outdoor lamps are there to illuminate the darkness, helping us move around safely. But in so doing, many also allow light to escape into the night sky, a phenomenon known as light pollution that masks our view of the stars. In fact, an international group of scientists recently determined that the Milky Way is invisible to more than one-third of the world’s population, including nearly 80 percent of North Americans. Light pollution also contributes to energy waste, disrupts many ecological processes, particularly for nocturnal animals, and can have a negative impact on human health, interrupting sleep and causing headaches, stress, and anxiety.
In 2008, Bar Harbor — home to Acadia National Park, one of the most blissfully dark places on the eastern seaboard — passed an ordinance regulating outdoor lighting on all new construction in town. To comply, fixtures over 1,800 lumens must be “dark sky friendly” — i.e., have casings or canopies that shield the bulbs, preventing them from being seen from above. Other cities and towns, including Portland, have their own ordinance requirements for lighting; check with your municipality to find out what the rules are.
No matter where you live, I recommend choosing warm (no more than 3,000 Kelvin), dimmable LED downlights, like those described above, to curb light pollution, reduce glare, and create a soothing — versus blinding — outdoor environment. Remember also that you don’t need many fixtures to make an impact outside; learn about my less-is-more approach to landscape lighting here.
As for dark sky-compliant fixtures, these picks will adequately illuminate your home and yard and facilitate stargazing.
Cover Photo: On Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Peninsula, Down East’s director of photography, Benjamin Williamson, captured the Milky Way and bioluminescence in the water.
Q: What’s the best way to illuminate artwork in my home?
A: If you’ve invested in a beautiful piece of art, you want to display it in the best possible light. One way of doing this is by directing ceiling-mounted spotlights or track fixtures at works exhibited on walls or shelves. This approach works well in a minimalist space and offers flexibility if you like to move things around. Picture or track lights installed on the wall or the frame of an individual work are another option that creates intimacy in a room by visually lowering the ceiling and drawing viewers in for a closer look. Here are examples from our store of Tech Lighting’s Georgi lamp mounted on track and “monopoint” canopies:
Until recently, halogen bulbs were the lamps of choice for accenting artwork, but today’s LED equivalents have evolved to provide a strong alternative. The European Union has been phasing out the use of halogen spotlights since 2016 and will issue a wider ban of halogen bulbs in 2018. Accordingly, museums have been shifting to LEDs, which offer significant energy savings, lower costs, and better light distribution. Equally important: unlike halogens and other incandescent bulbs, LEDs do not emit the infrared and ultraviolet rays, and accompanying heat, that can damage artwork.
Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is illuminated with LED lamps in the Louvre? Specifically, the masterpiece is lit with a custom Toshiba fixture comprised of 34 LED bulbs with precise spectrum controls. Works in the museum’s famed Red Rooms are also enlivened with Toshiba LEDs.
While we can’t provide our clients with highly specialized lamps like the Louvre uses, we have discovered an excellent system for customizing any LED fixture. The SORAA Snap System, used with the lamps above, consists of magnetic disks that snap onto the face of a bulb, allowing you to change the size, shape, and color of the beam to suit your artwork.
We love to support the local art community and regularly invite artists to exhibit and sell their work in our showroom. As you may have guessed, we are currently showing images by nature photographer John Orcutt. Stop by for a tour and demonstration on how lighting can transform your artwork. Here’s a sampling of some of the diverse products you’ll find:
Q: As I get older, I’m finding it harder to see when I read or do other simple tasks in my home, even with my glasses on. Can you suggest some lighting improvements that might help?
A: When I was a teenager, I used to kid my father because he could not read menus in dimly lit restaurants. Now that I’m in my 70s, I realize how insensitive that was! As we age, our pupils actually get smaller, so less light makes it to the back of the eye. Many people start noticing changes in their vision around age 50 and, by the time you’re my age, you need about three times as much light as a 25-year-old does to read and perform fine-motor tasks. In addition to more wattage, older adults need glare-free illumination that is consistent from room to room, since moving from a low-light space to a bright one can be disorienting.
At Fogg Lighting, one of the things we try to educate people about is the concept of layers of light. Basically, you need a mix of light sources at different levels to create a properly lit space. We generally establish a first layer of ambient illumination in a room using decorative fixtures such as a chandelier, pendants, or semi-flush or flush-mount units. Accent and task lighting — typically some combination of well-placed recessed or track fixtures, sconces, under-cabinet units, cove lights, and table and floor lamps — fills in the shadows and helps you see what you’re doing. Contrast this scenario with one in which recessed fixtures are the only light source, as is sometimes the case in hallways. Used on their own, these units create pockets of light and darkness that make the area difficult for seniors (and toddlers!) to navigate.
For reading and other activities, it’s important to have a dedicated fixture that can accommodate the equivalent of a 100-watt incandescent bulb. Choose an opaque shade to reduce glare and an articulated arm if you want the option of shining the light onto a book. Here are a few of my favorite products.
These dimmable lamps by Holtkotter have transitional shapes and efficient halogen bulbs. Adjust the height of the floor lamp and move the arm to direct light where you need it.
For a more modern look, I love these sleek LED fixtures by Koncept, which are dimmable, adjustable, and work well in tight spaces.
Want more information? We are trained to design lighting plans that will see you through the aging progress. Stop by our store for a free consultation tailored to your specific needs.
Q: It used to be easy to replace a light bulb; now there are so many options, I don’t know what to choose. What do you recommend?
A: It’s hard to imagine a household commodity that has changed more in the last five years than the light bulb. The incandescent bulbs we all grew up with wasted a lot of energy and have been phased out. Government mandates ushered in the brief reign of the more efficient, but widely despised, compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs, which emit terrible-quality light and are difficult to dispose of because of their mercury content. The public’s loathing of CFLs accelerated the development of light-emitting-diode bulbs known as LEDs, which now rule the lighting world. These use up to 80 percent less energy than the old incandescents and can last for decades. LEDs are improving all the time and their prices are coming down. However, the quality of light they produce varies significantly, so it’s helpful to understand some lighting nomenclature before you buy.
Most LED bulb boxes have a Lighting Facts label that indicates brightness (measured in lumens), color temperature (labeled K for Kelvin temperature), energy use, estimated energy costs, and expected life. Since most packages also specify the type of incandescent bulb the LED replaces, you don’t need to pay much attention to the brightness measure. Instead, zero in on color temperature: 3,000K is my recommendation for a universally flattering, warm-white light. Anything higher is going to have a cooler, bluish-white cast. Another good measure is the Color Rendering Index, or CRI, which tells you how accurately the bulb renders colors compared to an incandescent bulb, which has a CRI of 100. For LEDs, a CRI of 80 or higher is best.
To ensure an LED will fit in your fixture, bring your old bulb with you to the store and compare the bases. The splayed fins that LEDs have to dissipate heat make them larger than other bulbs. Make sure the bulb is dimmable (you may need to replace your dimmer switches with LED-friendly ones to avoid annoying flickering or buzzing). And if you plan to use the bulb outdoors and/or in an enclosed fixture (some LEDs require more airflow than these lights provide), check that these applications are noted on the box.
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to embrace this new technology — unlike previous innovations, this one is here to stay.
Q: How effective are ceiling fans and what should I look for when shopping for one?
A: Ceiling fans have a place in every home. While they do not lower the temperature, they make you feel more comfortable on steamy days by evaporating moisture on the skin and reducing body heat. In the winter, you can reverse the motor so the blades rotate clockwise and run the fan on low to gently recirculate the warm air that normally gets trapped near the ceiling. By employing ceiling fans throughout the year, and therefore relying less on your furnace and AC, you can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs.
Aesthetically, ceiling fans have gotten a bad rap over the years, but they’ve come a long way. There are now many attractive ones available in a wide range of designs — from traditional shapes with streamlined styling to futuristic models with curvy, aerodynamic blades. A lot of fans are also equipped with LED lights that provide good ambient illumination. Check out some of my favorite styles, below.
Once you’ve zeroed in on a fan style, be sure to pick one with a blade span that is right for your room. A 36-inch unit is appropriate for small rooms up to 75 square feet; for spaces up to 144 square feet, choose a 42- to 50-inch one. Large rooms up to 255 square feet require a 52- to 54-inch model and those up to 400 square feet need a 54- to 72-inch one. Use multiple fans in a room that’s bigger than 400 square feet. Look for blades with a 14- to 16-degree pitch for optimum air movement, measured in cubic feet per minute (cfm). I recommend a fan with a cfm rating of 5,000 or higher, which will have a stronger motor, last longer, and operate more quietly than other types.
For best performance, mount your fan seven to 10 feet from the floor and six to eight inches from the ceiling. Every three months or so, wipe down the blades with a dampened cloth to remove dust that can curb efficiency and cause wobbling.
The Modern Fan Co. – Stella
Q: What’s a good strategy for lighting a yard?
A: I suggest following a less is more approach. You don’t want your yard to be lit up like a theme park, and I promise your neighbors don’t either. Too much exterior light can be blinding, uses unnecessary electricity, and contributes to the brightening of the night sky, making it difficult to see stars and disrupting animal habitats. Instead, focus on installing fixtures where you need them — near a patio or path, for example — and accentuating a few special features in the landscape. In addition to making your yard feel inviting when you’re outdoors, these pockets of illumination give you something to gaze out at (other than a black window) when you’re inside your home at night.
I recommend down lighting, also known as moonlighting, as an environmentally friendly means of landscape lighting. You can place downlights, which have a cylindrical casing around the bulb to eliminate glare, high up on tree trunks and aim them at a walkway, seating area, or the tree’s own foliage for a moonlit effect. Path lights — typically 18- to 24-inch posts topped with canopies that direct light downward — are a good choice for highlighting plantings in a garden. Modern versions, such as those shown above, are also available. Place path fixtures about 20 feet apart to create glowing areas that draw the eye from one plant to the next versus a single blast of illumination. Avoid stationing these lights at regular intervals along a path, which conjures a landing strip, and using them on lawns, where they are vulnerable to lawnmowers and weed wackers.
Opt for solid brass or copper fixtures, which hold up well in Maine weather and can withstand the occasional ding from a power tool, and use 20-watt equivalent LED bulbs. These last up to 20 years in a landscape setting (compared with six months to a year for halogen bulbs), a lifespan you’ll be especially thankful for if your fixtures are in a tree.