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Expert Advice – The Right Lights

Local lighting designers share secrets of the trade

JULY/AUGUST 2010

Whether homeowners are planning a renovation or moving into a new home, it’s easy to overlook the importance of a good lighting plan. Complete lighting systems are seldom built into new homes, let alone older homes where the lighting consists of a single ceiling fixture per room.

We asked two industry experts for advice on how to create an up-to-date lighting system in your home or to improve an existing one. Ronna Cohen, FIFDA, ASID Industry Partner, has more than 22 years of experience in residential and commercial lighting design. She recently joined Annapolis Lighting, where she and her team of lighting consultants are expanding the company’s services to address the needs of the professional design community in addition to the consumer market. Giorgina Schnurr, ASID Industry Partner, is a senior lighting designer/specifier at Dominion Electric in Arlington, Virginia. Born in Italy, she has a background in art, which complements her work in lighting design. She has more than 40 years of experience with Dominion where she works with builders, architects and interior designers to create lighting designs in homes throughout the region.


How often is lighting overlooked in a typical new home, even one built on the high end?  

Cohen: In general, lighting is the last thing on the list and simple fixtures are often the norm. However, more and more builders and designers are acknowledging the importance of lighting and controls not only for decoration but for functionality as well. As consumers and builders become more educated, the value of the lighting design plan is enhanced. 

Schnurr: For high-end homes, which make up the majority of the projects on which I work, builders usually include lighting design in their planning. There are still, however, some high-end clients who leave the purchasing of the beautiful lighting fixtures they’ve envisioned for last. Unfortunately, by the time they are ready to make their lighting fixture purchases, they have exhausted their budgets.


What is the importance of having a lighting plan

Schnurr: Having a lighting plan is critical to the creation of a beautiful home. The architect, builder and lighting designer all have to work together to create roomscapes where architectural details, carefully chosen furniture and the owner’s cherished artwork can all be seen and appreciated under ideal lighting conditions. Working without a lighting plan is like leaving on a trip with a planned destination but not having a route plotted to tell you how to get there.


How can the right lighting enhance a room? 

Cohen: As human beings, we are drawn to the light. Lighting is painting with light; it’s an art. One cannot see color or navigate a space without light. Lighting enhances architecture, creates mood and artistic expression and is both practical and fun. The right lighting creates safety, balance and visual interest. 

Schnurr: Well-chosen and planned lighting enhances a room by not only creating a desired mood but also by accentuating key elements. Good lighting design can also alter the perception of the size or shape of a space. Cove lighting, for instance, can greatly add to the perception of the height of a room.


Why work with a lighting professional? 

Cohen: Lighting designers are skilled at assessing a client’s needs and developing a plan to meet or exceed them. They are experts on the latest products, applications and standards for meeting code and can provide the right design elements. Lighting designers understand the aesthetic, emotional and technical aspects of design, including issues such as proper placement, color, efficiency, luminance and reflection. They can make recommendations and apply these principles to the best advantage. Using a lighting designer can save a lot of mistakes, heartache—and money.

Schnurr: A great lighting plan, executed by a lighting designer, can also greatly add to the resale value of the property.


What are the necessary steps in creating a successful lighting plan? 

Cohen: The lighting designer will meet with the customer and help them imagine how they will live in the space. They will identify what tasks will be done and the aesthetics of the environment to be created. The designer will help to analyze the project, establish goals, formulate a design plan, select lighting and assist the contractors with proper installation and follow-up. 


What are the types of lighting a consumer should be aware of? 

Cohen: Recessed, under-cabinet, pendants, sconces, chandeliers and outdoor lighting are just a few types of lighting fixtures. Portables such as table lamps and floor lamps also add to a room’s lighting design. Consumers should be aware of the difference between fluorescent, incandescent, halogen, xenon, CFL and LED lighting sources and the functionality of each. Consumers should also be aware of the new “light bulb” or “lamping” options including CFLs and LEDs as incandescent replacements. There are also many fun and sustainable materials being used in fixtures, such as bamboo and natural stone. 


What are the most common mistakes consumers make when lighting their homes? 

Cohen: These include lack of education and misinformation on the correct placement or size of fixtures; relying on single-source lighting (one fixture per room); or having too much or too little light. The trick is to “layer” lighting sources and allow for changes in the light levels in the room. Adjustability is very important. 

Schnurr: The most common mistake is attempting to light a room with a single fixture placed dead center. The addition of recessed lighting, cove lighting, portable lamps and wall-mounted fixtures reduces unwanted shadows, adds texture and creates desired moods while eliminating dead spots.


How much interest do you get in eco-friendly lighting? 

Schnurr: There has been a great upsurge in consumers considering the eco-friendly options available in residential lighting. Both older and younger homeowners have heightened “green” sensibilities and are also aware of the money-saving benefits of eco-friendly lighting. People are also interested in tax benefits that can be accrued by having an eco-friendly home.


How have eco-friendly options changed over the years? 

Cohen: New, eco-friendly  options have become widely available at competitive prices and manufacturers are creating more pleasing designs. Eco-friendly dimmers are a simple way to quickly impact your home, as are motion sensors, vacancy and occupancy sensors and wireless controls. CFLs are now dimmable and color-corrected and come in hundreds of styles. New LED lamps and fixtures are available as well. Other exciting new products such as tile and fabrics with lighting elements are now being offered. We are just beginning to see the possibilities.

Schnurr: Lighting and ceiling fan manufacturers have recently been placing great emphasis on creating new eco-friendly options. Fluorescent bulbs have vastly improved, all but eliminating the unpleasant off-color light rendition we used to associate with this source. Top manufacturers are producing increasing numbers of highly decorative ceiling fans with integrated lighting options, often specified in place of chandeliers. Ceiling fans are becoming very popular for use throughout the home, lowering the homeowner’s footprint and creating savings year round on heating and air-conditioning costs. Low-wattage fixtures, both for indoor and outdoor applications, are also rapidly gaining in popularity. 

**Out of the array of interior design magazines, Home and Design magazine stands out as a primary idea source for luxury home designs.  Wonderful visuals of inspired décor and lush landscapes are combined with expert advice to provide a fundamental reference point for bringing amazing home interior design ideas to life.