“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.
Bridging the gap between classic and contemporary, transitional fixtures match familiar materials and forms with a streamlined sensibility that works with any decor.
Simple shapes paired with a vintage and/or an industrial vibe — think hand-blown glass and matte metal — are the hallmarks of the popular modern farmhouse look.
Sleek and unexpected are the watchwords when it comes to this sky’s-the-limit style, which encompasses silhouettes ranging from organic to futuristic.
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.
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.
Before my first posting about light bulbs (sources of light) there are some qualities of light with which you should become familiar. Different sources of light exhibit different characteristics that influence which light bulb to use in different situations.
Color Temperature is a term that refers to the color of light, commonly expressed as warm or cool. Technically it is expressed in degrees Kelvin (K) with lower numbers being warmer than higher numbers. For example 1,700K is the color of a flame, 2,700K is the color of an incandescent light bulb, 3,000K-4,500K is the color temperature of fluorescent and LED light sources and 6,500K is the color temperature of the sun on an overcast day. For residential lighting purposes most color temperatures are compared to incandescent light.
Notice the smooth transition from red to violet for the incandescent light bulb.
Color Rendering Index, expressed as CRI, is a measure of how good colors look. All light bulbs are compared to an incandescent light bulb which is deemed to have the best CRI. CRI is expressed by a number from 1 to 100, 100 being the CRI of an incandescent light bulb. CRI’s between 82 to 100 are judged to be satisfactory while CRI’s below 80 are not. Most of the new fluorescent light bulbs, including CFL’s, are mid 80 or higher. LED’s currently range from about 65 to 88. In the photo to the left you can see the full spectrum in the light of the incandescent light bulb earning it it’s 100 CRI rating.
As humans our eyes see color as the reflection of the color in the light source. If part of the color spectrum is missing from a light source, red for example, you will not see red. Some of the early highway lighting had such bad CRI that at an accident scene the police could not differentiate between blood and oil.
There is a lot to learn about light, how we see light, how contrast affects how we see, how glare interferes with our vision and what kind of light is best for different situations. I strongly urge you to download the Underwriters Laboratory app “Light Smart” at the App Store. It has lots of great information about lighting.