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.
Recessed lighting is best used for task lighting, wall lighting and accent lighting. Since recessed lighting can be directional, the light can be directed onto a work surface, or onto a wall or onto a piece of art. It is a tool that makes tasks visible, that washes an interesting feature on a vertical surface or that lights a painting or a sculpture. The most important part of the recessed fixture is the light bulb. The choice of the correct light bulb is crucial in creating the desired effect. The first decision any lighting designer makes is which light bulb to use. Fixture selection is secondary. Light bulb selection will be discussed in a future posting.
|Improper Placement Of Recessed Lights
The kitchen pictured here is an example of task lighting gone wrong. The recessed lights look great and are supposed to illuminate the kitchen. They do illuminate the center of the kitchen. However, working at the counters along the sides of the kitchen is difficult because shadows are created on the work surface by having the light come from behind. Recessed lights in a kitchen should be aligned with the front edge of the counter tops to avoid this pitfall. This is the most common mistake made with recessed lighting, improper placement.
Lighting art is also a matter of proper placement. The recessed light must be directional, use the correct light bulb and be positioned at the correct distance from the wall so that the light hits the painting at a 30 degree angle. This is a function of ceiling height and the height at which the art is hung. The correct angle is important because when light from a light source strikes a surface light is reflected off that surface. The 30 degree angle insures that the reflected light does not shine back into the viewer’s eyes.
Lighting a wall is a terrific way to create interest in a feature, a fireplace or an accent wall. It also is a way to get more ambient light into a room. Placement and the correct fixture/light bulb combination is important here too. Usually the fixture will be placed close to the wall and shine straight down. Using this method of lighting adds depth to a room and increases visual interest.
I do not like using recessed lighting in living areas where people gather and sit and interact because light from above creates unattractive shadows on faces. Use recessed lights along the perimeter of these spaces if you use it at all.
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