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Photo: Silent Shot

Homes and other buildings can be improved and beautified by the addition of well-placed lighting to highlight and accent existing spaces. Though most spaces come with standard light fixtures and ballasts, the lighting can be altered to meet one’s desires. Often times, the simple exchange of fixtures can completely change the character of a space. Similar to most changes and renovations, it is smart to use a professional, such as an architect, interior designer, or lighting designer. These disciplines have a great deal of knowledge as to the type and use of lights, and the final design will be much stronger than a homeowner selecting and acquiring the fixtures.

There are many types of light with specific purposes to each. The most common type of light is the ceiling-hung direct light. This type can use incandescent, LED, halogen, and fluorescent bulbs. Thought this type may give the most amount of light, it is usually the harshest, unless filtered or baffled. The light can hang against the ceiling or be recessed. The recessed light makes the light more focused, illuminating defined areas. Beneficially, the location of ceiling-hung lights can create apparent rooms of light and dark, giving the overall space a rich texture.

Instead of using direct lighting, one can use indirect lighting or a mixture of direct and indirect. Such lighting illuminates a space by reflection off of a housing or surface. Indirect lighting is softer and is diffused, giving a more even light with less contrast between light and shadow. There are many types of indirect and direct-indirect lights, but these are all very good for visually intensive tasks, such as reading or sewing. However, the quality of light for these tasks will improve with greater illumination or intensity to allow visual control with little glare.

Lighting does not have to exist only on the ceiling. There are many other types of light fixtures, such as spotlights, grazing lights, sconces, and uplights. These use different types of bulbs with characteristics that add warmth, correct or enhance color, or highlight features. To select the appropriate type of light and bulb, it is important to understand how the space will be used. Almost always, a space has many functions—not only one. No light is perfect for all tasks, so a combination of lights is usually suggested. Furthermore, the lights should be placed on separate switches to allow the homeowner to control how the room will be lit, according to use. The byproduct of such a strategy is a very dynamic space that can change throughout the day and year—one space seemingly becomes many, defined by illumination.

For more information, please see:

International Association of Lighting Designers
Lighting at New Buildings Institute
Lighting Design Glossary


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