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.
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:
By Sanford Fogg
Photo Courtesy of Hubbardton Forge
Q: What should I consider when selecting fixtures for the exterior of my house?
A: The first step is determining the type of fixture, or fixtures, that best suit your house. This is, of course, a matter of personal taste. A flush-mount fixture works well on porches with low ceilings, while a pendant can be a good match for higher ceilings, depending on wind. Sconces on one or both sides of the door are a classic choice and can be combined with a ceiling fixture if you have a portico. If you have a tight space with no covering overhead, mount a single sconce near the door on the handle side. Whatever style you choose, invest in a quality material, such as copper, brass, or powder-coated forged steel. These metals come in multiple finishes and hold up well in Maine weather.
Choosing exterior fixtures that are too small is a common mistake people make. Lanterns that look large in a crowded showroom often get lost on the broad façade of a house. And when you stand back 50 feet, they appear about half their size. As a general rule, select models that are roughly ¼ to ⅓ the overall height of the door. Before making a purchase, cut cardboard to the size and shape of the light and affix it to your house, then stand on the street and see how it looks. Lamppost fixtures should match those in the entry and be approximately the same size. Garage fixtures are usually a little smaller and can be a different style if they are not visible from the front of the house.
Glare is another issue with a lot of exterior lights. A prime example is the motion-sensor flood lighting many people have on their garages. Instead of helping you see, these fixtures actually blind you! When it’s dark out, a little light goes a long way. One frosted, 40-watt-equivalent LED bulb per fixture is usually just right. To truly minimize glare, and light pollution in your community, opt for a “dark sky” fixture, which has a shade that shields the bulb and directs the beam downward — your neighbors will thank you!
What could be cooler? The Koncept mr. GO comes in five fun colors, 5-50 hours of illumination depending on level setting AND has a USB output to charge your other devices on the GO!
I buy some stuff online because I really don’t like to shop. I know what I want and if I can’t find it locally I will look for it online. Many people are like me. Then there are many people who like to shop. They will go online for hours looking for good deals on whatever they want to buy even if they can get it down the street for almost the same price. I applaud their passion.
If you have ever shopped online for lighting you might have noticed that most lighting websites look about the same and offer pretty much the same products at pretty much the same prices. Why? Well, except for some very large lighting showrooms and chains who maintain their own online stores, there are only a couple of companies that run e-commerce sites for the retail lighting industry. The reason for this is that there are hundreds of manufacturers that each make thousands of products and a computer link to each manufacturer is necessary to keep prices and sku’s updated. The manufacturers do not have time or resources to link to each showroom so they have linked to just a couple of computer service companies and those companies run all the lighting websites. So except for some custom storefront designs, all the products, search logarithms, drop-downs and prices are the same on all the e-commerce sites.
Prices are the same because most of the major manufacturers have an MAPP, Minimum Advertised Price Policy, and their products can not be advertised for sale at a lower price then the minimum. If you are shopping for a product from one of these manufacturers you will not find it lower than their MAPP. Save your time and buy it from a local showroom who should sell it at the same price and who will stand behind the sale. Products from manufacturers who do not have MAPP policies can be, and are, advertised and sold at whatever price a retailer wants to charge. Some online lighting stores will lead with these discounted prices, but their prices for the MAPP manufacturers will be the same as everybody else.
I guess the advice I want to give is to know what you want before you go shopping. Otherwise you can waste a lot of time. Speaking for myself as a retail lighting showroom owner, if you find a lower price online for the same product you saw at my store I will meet the lower price. I feel that if I do the work to help you find what you want you owe me this favor. I have to be honest about this.
Underwriters Laboratory has a great app called “LightSmart” that you can download at the App Store. It is fun and informative. Also please visit my website at FoggLighting.com to see more about us. I do not maintain a typical lighting e-commerce site. There are just a few items available to purchase online, but all my vendors’ websites are available to view. Please email or call for pricing and availability of items that interest you. Also please email any questions or suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.