With the simple flick of a switch or twist of a knob, a room can go from stark to cozy. By replacing an old light fixture with a new one, or by adding a simple accent light, an entire room can become more inviting.
Lighting is the single most dramatic, one-element makeover you can do to your home’s interior. “It truly pulls everything together!” says Lauren Cupples with Circa Lighting in Atlanta, who advises you to “let your lighting be brilliant and inspire the spaces in your home.”
Also dramatic is the difference lighting can make to your budget, depending on the energy efficiency of the fixtures you choose. With so much riding on your design decisions, we’ve compiled advice and recommendations from area experts to help guide you to a smart and stunning lighting scheme.
Layer upon layer
The key to any great lighting scheme is to involve several layers—namely, three: ambient lighting, task lighting and accent lighting.
Start with ambient lighting—“something overhead with a nice glow,” as Cupples describes. Essentially, ambient lighting is the base layer of light that generally illuminates the entire room. “Recessed can lights are our go-to for the first, base layer of light throughout the homes we design and build,” says Courtney Davis with TerraCotta Properties in Decatur.
According to Jennifer Holle with Progressive Lighting in the metro Atlanta area, “The most important choice you will make when it comes to recessed lighting is bulb type. Consider the beam spread, lumen output and color quality.”
Doug Root, CEO of Atlanta Light Bulbs in Tucker, agrees. “[Recessed can] fixtures typically use a 65-watt BR30 floodlight. Now, you can get better light and higher lumens with a LED replacement bulb, which lasts 40 times longer, is fully dimmable and uses one-quarter of the energy,” he advises.
“Also, keep in mind that you will reduce your cooling bill significantly, as 65 watts of heat is being generated by each fixture when it is on. Multiply that by 20-30 fixtures, and you have a large amount of heat being generated that needs to be cooled. Reducing the watts reduces the heat generated and power needed to cool your home and run your lights,” he says.
For workspaces, such as kitchen countertops and desks, task lighting—“something directional with higher wattage,” Cupples says—is an important element. LED is the recommended light source for these installations. “When working, we need lots of light that is precise and bright,” Root says. “We are not trying to light up an entire room, [just to] get light onto the work surface area.” One of the more popular task-lighting installations today is undercabinet lighting in the kitchen. These can come in the form of LED strips or halogen puck lights. “Work with a lighting designer before wiring is done to ensure there are no issues during installation,” advises Victor Herec with The Lighting Loft in Atlanta.
The final layer, accent lighting, is what “activates a space,” Cupples says. Holle describes this type of lighting as, “a great way to add drama in a room.” Falling into the accent-lighting category are any and all fixtures that spotlight specific features of the house, such as artwork, the inside of kitchen cabinets (if you have glass doors), a fireplace and architectural features like coves or barrel ceilings. “Accent lighting is enhanced by the ambient lighting of a room,” Root explains, “so being able to control your ambient lighting and accent lighting separately with dimmers and controls allows more flexibility with the room’s presentation.”
What’s a Kelvin?
LED is the new “little black dress” of the lighting-design industry’s “wardrobe.” And if you’ve been jaded by an experience with LED holiday lights in the past because the color wasn’t what you wanted, you should take another look at the LED landscape—the selection is so vast, you can get practically any color temperature you want.
“One of the most important factors in having good light is buying the right color of light,” Root says. Color temperature is measured on the Kelvin (K) scale, he explains, with warm and soft tones on the lower end of the scale, around 2,700K, and daylight tones (where you can see the full spectrum of colors) at the high end, 5,000-6,500K.
These temperatures apply to any type of lighting, not just LED. “In your kitchen, if you have a lot of wood tones and stone, then you would want halogens or LEDs in the 2,700-3,000K range,” Root recommends. “If you have white kitchen cabinets and stainless steel appliances, then go with bright white, which has a color temperature of 4,500-5,000K. This will bring out the whites and make your kitchen appear crisp and bright.”
Herec notes that the most common lighting mistake homeowners’ make is not paying attention to the Kelvin color of bulbs, so lighting schemes are too dim, too bright, or just don’t match.
Automation systems have changed the way homeowners operate their lights. These can be simple products such as timers on fixtures, occupancy sensors that turn lights on when you enter a room or a whole-home automation system that lets you control your lighting scheme through a central remote or mobile device. “Automated dimming/lighting systems can create lighting scenes and instant-on scenarios to help with security and simplicity of operation,” Herec says. “Many of these systems do not require any major rewiring and can be operated with a smart device or computer. Pricing depends on how many areas are added to be controlled and how complicated the owner wants the system to be.”
Root recommends Lutron’s new Maestro Wireless technology, a new product that offers wireless control and power-saving sensors that “give the system a lot of flexibility,” he says. “Wireless sensors can be installed without the need to pull new wires and cut holes into drywall. It is a great addition to any residence where you want to have sensors controlling the lights in a room, the ability to dim your floor lamp or turn your lights off when you leave the house.”
Perhaps the most encouraging—and intimidating—part of the lighting-design process is that there are so many options, customization is inherent. “There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to lighting,” Holle says. “When selecting the appropriate lighting for your space it is important to think about who is using the space and for what tasks. Consult a lighting specialist to help you determine your best lighting solution.” She adds that dimmers help to maximize the control you have over the lighting in your space. “And when it comes to decorative fixtures, pick something that speaks to you!”