Illuminating Possibilities

In today’s homes there is less emphasis on placing enough electrical receptacles around a room, more weight on installing the appropriate lighting and to some extent the controls to enhance their function.

Kitchen and bathroom lighting design is a high priority for many remodeling clients. Bellacor.com, Inc., an online showroom for the lighting and home furnishings industry, offers access to over 500,000 products from 700 manufacturers. In kitchen lighting design, Bellacor has seen people making them warmer, family-friendly gathering places. With bathrooms, the company has observed the whole spa trend taking off where there are fewer embellishments, but more of a sleek appearance. This creates a calming effect with less going on and a more relaxing environment.

A lot of remodeling that Lutron Electronics, Inc. has noticed with lighting design is in the kitchen or a media room, with kitchens as the No. 1 area. In kitchens and bathrooms, lighting can make a huge impact on the project.

Lighting Design


“We’re in an era that I think in the future we’ll call Pluralism, meaning that just about everything is going on,” says lighting design expert Joseph Rey’Barreau, AIA, associate professor in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. “There’s been just an explosion of design styles that began a number of years ago, and it seems to be increasing.”

According to Rey’Barreau there are some unique trends, but in the big picture it seems the American public has opened up to a lot more possibilities. Ten to 15 years ago we were rather conservative in terms of the lighting options that were available and what people were willing to buy.

“Today that has really gone to the extremes,” adds Rey’Barreau. “On one extreme we have very large, decorative, heavy and ornamental. It’s what some manufacturers are calling Old World fixtures. Those have become very popular. On the opposite end of the scale, it’s very modern and small — for instance pendants that would hang over a center island. In between all of that there is every conceivable type of shape, size, form, texture and color that you can imagine.”

Within that big picture, there are two specific lighting design trends that Rey’Barreau points out, in addition to scale size and variety of styles.

One trend is the use of chandeliers and decorative hanging fixtures in many different places throughout the house. Fifteen years ago it was popular to have a chandelier in the dining room and maybe the entrance foyer, but now it is literally anywhere. Hanging fixtures are found in master closets, kids’ rooms and there are many options in terms of style.

Phil Scheetz, Lutron’s residential systems marketing manager, indicated that there were two trends moving lighting design into the future. The first is a continuous drive to make lighting more efficient. He indicated that this includes dimmable compact fluorescent bulbs and a greater use of Light Emanating Diode (LED) lighting.

“LED lighting is starting to make its way into the market, but more on a decorative level where color light is desired to light an object or area,” says Scheetz. “But at this point LEDs are still not as efficient on a lumens per watt basis.”

The second area Scheetz spoke about was a greater variety of lighting in most homes, not only to create better aesthetics, but also more specialization in lighting design. Baby Boomers, being the most affluent segment of the market right now, have aging eyes and are demanding more task lighting in areas to help them clearly see what’s going on.

“Fifteen years ago there were few recessed lights, generally just focused on one certain spot in a home with them either all on or off,” says Scheetz. “Today lighting is task specific. It’s a matter of functional vs. accent lighting.”

It is still possible to have energy efficiency and still have great lighting design in a home. Adjustable controls allow lights to be dimmed and set.

By focusing on the optimal levels of lighting needed and using only what is necessary, less energy waste is developed while creating savings for the homeowner.

“We’re seeing energy efficiency becoming more and more popular if not required,” says Frankie Cameron, account manager for Bellacor.

“With Title 24 in California and other states enacting similar laws, we’ll see [efficiency] as more of a trend as it becomes mandatory in both new construction and remodels.”

Bellacor has seen an increase in use of glass. Clear glass that has an etched pattern to it without adding color is becoming bigger vs. the colorful Murano glass which is a trend in itself. Pattern-etched glass allows homeowners who are looking for more ways to play with lighting design to subtly introduce texture in their home.

“Simpler lines are big, too,” says Cameron, “less embellishments in lighting with a more transitional appeal vs. contemporary or traditional. Something that is more middle-of-the-road. Contemporary is still on the upturn and I think we’ll see that for another year or two, but then there will be a movement away from that back to a more traditional look.”

Light It Up

When considering lighting design, one can not overlook what really makes lighting light up: the bulbs. There are opposing forces in the bulb market right now. On one end there are inexpensive compact fluorescent bulbs that are motivated purely by energy savings. But the light it gives off isn’t as desired and there isn’t a lot of adjustability for dimming. On the other end we have incandescent that gives off a variety of colors, but aren’t nearly as efficient.

“My best advice is to have someone go to a lighting store that can better illustrate the different light bulbs and see the different light it gives off,” advises Rey’Barreau. “New lights on the market make claims that are accurate, but the way it is perceived by people isn’t the same. It’s hard to tell from a box how different colors appear.”

We are finally starting to see some fluorescent bulbs with more pleasing color rendering. Fluorescent fixtures are becoming more attractive. As the demand is made, sooner or later the technology will catch up. Ten to 15 years ago things were still pretty conservative in this country and you had one or two options for light bulbs that could be used in a chandelier. Today it isn’t endless, but there are certainly a lot more options.

“Compact fluorescent light bulbs are multiplying the options that are available,” adds Rey’Barreau. “The colors of these fluorescent bulbs are good and in a shaded lamp are almost impossible to tell. A 13-watt fluorescent is equal to a 60-watt incandescent making it about four times more efficient and last about 10 times longer. This gives homeowners years of usage rather than months.”

The good news is that Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL) products are already making a leap into the future. GE Consumer & Industrial announced several innovations in its compact fluorescent line including the GE Energy Smart Dimmable Spirl CFL for use with standard household dimmer switches. These will come in 15- and 26-watt bulbs to replace 60- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs. These new bulbs will dim to 20 percent of their maximum output.

GE is also launching pink CFL bulbs that have a soft pink light for a warmer light. These GE Energy Smart Pink R30 Reflector CFLS are guaranteed for six years. On the other end of the spectrum are the GE Energy Smart Daylight CFLs to create a cool daylight color in the home. These bulbs will come in 15-, 20- and 26-watt bulbs and are guaranteed for five years.

Lighting Style

“Homeowners want lighting to disappear,” says Scheetz. “They want to be able to control the focus of the room like making crystal vases sparkle in a dining room. People really don’t understand what’s possible until they see it for themselves.”

For 45 years Lutron has been helping and educating contractors match the right lighting controls with the best lights. It holds seminars for builders and remodelers where they can learn about lighting design and how controls work. At the Experience Centers that Lutron runs, contractors can see what different lighting can do.

“The light bulb goes on and they get it,” says Scheetz. “They understand what great lighting design can do — that better lighting control means better lighting.”

While helping out a friend with his media room, Scheetz noted some of the important questions that a remodeler must consider before plunging into a project’s lighting design. How will the room be used? Does it need different lighting groups at the same time? What are the demands for these spaces? Are different lighting zones needed? For Scheetz’s project, the room needed lighting for guest entry, kitchenette/bar, seating and had to take note of the lights coming in through the windows in order to avoid washing out the TV screen. Other questions contractors need to ask themselves before recessing lighting is: How high is the ceiling? How much light does it put out? This can be important for successful lighting design.

Bellacor is helping remodelers build their business as well with its Virtual Lighting Showroom. With this, the product from the Bellacor.com website is branded on a new website for the remodeler with their corporate logo. Remodelers then have the ability to set their pricing — their markup — and invite their customers to shop online where they’ll see all the retail pricing. All the information on the remodeler’s site as far as lead times and more is up-to-date just like Bellacor’s and contains the same products.

“It alleviates them from sending their customers away to a lighting showroom and perhaps sending a sale away,” adds Cameron. “It allows them to keep it all in-house and allows them to keep controls over the aesthetics of the project as well as the sale and profit margins. This is a great area for them to increase their profit margin.”

What’s Next

“Putting more controls on lighting, not just dimming, but whole house control systems will be a bigger trend,” says Rey’Barreau. “For the remodeling market there is a whole new system using infrared wireless technology. You can basically replace all the switches and plugs in your house. When you leave the house you can have the system do multiple things as if you weren’t gone.”

Lighting is certainly flourishing in Bellacor’s eyes. It predicts lighting design heading in a direction where people are more comfortable expressing themselves through permanent lighting. Homeowners are more comfortable using color and things that are more stylistic.

“People were hesitant to put something that permanent into their homes and instead focused on Plain Jane lighting,” explains Cameron. “Today people aren’t afraid anymore to express their own style.”

It’s important to know what is involved in lighting design. Visiting a lighting showroom is a great first step. It is also important to know the electrical contractors giving the extra level of service. There is a difference between an electric company doing service work and a lighting design company that offers design services, fixtures and service work.

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