Switching on the Light

Switching on the Light

Creative lighting achieves its goal by blending function and form to enhance a design without drawing attention to the source, according to lighting experts.

By John Filippelli

Grosslight believes that when designers work with lighting, the primary goal is to emphasize the space without distracting attention from the overall design. 

Additionally, Grosslight sees lighting as a key element in any space in that it has a huge impact on both the mood of the space and the mood of the space's inhabitants. "How [the light makes] clients look is primary because they need to look good in order to feel good about themselves," she states.

For other designers, such as Charles Ward, CKD, and Lisa Anderson, CKD, ASID, of Omaha, NE-based Ward's Kitchen & Bath, the Frank 

Lloyd Wright mantra 'form before function' does not always work. Anderson believes that functional lighting has to be addressed first, "then we get into accent lighting."

To address the variety of lighting needs, Anderson notes, "We try to incorporate different types of lighting, and we usually switch them separately so the clients can meet different design [needs]." This type of lighting gives clients the option of choosing vivid light for entertaining, or soft, romantic lighting for quiet nights at home regardless of the design theme.

Types of lighting
When installing task, ambient and accent lighting, Grosslight recommends the light be very bright, such as incandescent open downlight. She notes that, since the purpose of task lighting is to help clients determine whether a dish is dirty or clean, or help them cut food or cook, it must be powerful enough to simplify performing these tasks.

Safety is another important consideration, and to that end, Grosslight suggests that designers install emergency back-up batteries for compact fluorescent or MR16 fixtures in kitchens for easy egress.

"I recommend that clients have an emergency light to allow them to get out of the house, using a recessed downlight or wall sconce with emergency ballast backup," she recommends.

While task lighting can offer safety, it is ambient lighting which allows designers to be creative, Grosslight believes.

"Ambience affects the mood of the design," she notes. 

She relies on natural lighting, utilizing sunlight and moonlight to create a warm ambience, but warns, "Beware of the glare in the kitchen; you don't want the skylight capturing the light where it will interfere with food preparation at any particular time."

Grosslight's recommendation to diffuse glare is to make the skylight with an opal lens on the ceiling. Similarly, moonlight on a mirror in the bath is acceptable, but she guards against letting sunlight hit the mirror in the bath, where it will create a glare. 

Ward, conversely, prefers toe space lighting in master baths. "Other than accent lighting, it can be used as a night light, so clients don't have to switch on 100 watts of light," he explains.

In the bath, Grosslight uses task lighting as ambient lighting. The key places, she explains, are the shower, jacuzzi and whirlpool areas. "Those are task areas that need lighting," she further describes. 

She also points out that lighting could be placed underneath a sit-down vanity overhang, which would light the area below and across the floor, or the area where there is a toilet. She also recommends using a downlight here, as long as it is not overhead.

"In most cases, you don't need ambient light in the bath because it can come from task and accent lighting," she 

Grosslight also offers a reason why she prefers fluorescent lighting in the bath. "I use fluorescent lighting because it offers a broad range of color of light," she says, stating that fluorescent light has the added benefit of being extremely energy efficient.

She further notes that designers should avoid hot, incandescent light sources in the kitchen. "It's already a hot space, and so is the bath," she explains, "[and] extra heat is usually unwelcomed in the bath and kitchen."

Proper light
The angle and heat of certain lighting choices can affect how cabinets, countertops and appliances are perceived, Grosslight notes. "If a cabinet is textured, for example, it's a good idea to enhance it with incandescent, rather than fluorescent light, because fluorescent doesn't create a shadow," she explains. 

She mentions that for cabinet lighting, 20 watts is too hot for the space, which should be kept cool.

Since most appliances come self-illuminated, lighting is not a concern, Grosslight adds, but she does point out that designers should be wary about lighting a wine holder, as "hot light" can dramatically deteriorate the quality of the wine.

Glare on countertop surfaces is also a concern for designers, she mentions, and believes that designers should never put a surface finish on the countertop or backsplash. 

Tim Aden, CKD, CBD, president of Sawhill Custom Kitchens and Design in Minneapolis, MN, agrees, stating, "Halogen is such a white, bright light that it can become very reflective and distracting especially on glossy surfaces." 

Grosslight also offers some insight into what she believes are some of the innovative lighting products for the kitchen and bath, stating, "a fun solution is end-lit fiber optics (called remote-source lighting, using one light bulb, a projector, and a carrier mechanism) in showers making the ceiling look like a starry sky." She adds that waterproof side-lit fiber optics could outline the skylight and at night, a soft glow will fill the shower. 

Another trend she sees is lighting fixtures being used less as a design element especially if the lighting designer has knowledge about the field of lighting. In contrast, she believes, if a builder is doing a spec house, there will more likely be many light fixtures.

Aden also mentions a trend he has noticed, offering, "I see a lot of people using more decorative pendant fixtures, which are used to help define certain work areas or work surfaces."

Grosslight offers several caveats when discussing lighting techniques. First among these is never to put an open downlight over someone's head. "That is a deadly mistake," she notes. 

Ward concurs, stating, "Never put a recessed light over a mirror, or have a single light" that can cast shadows in an unflattering or distorting manner. Rather, he suggests, "It should be a combination of light."

Grosslight adds that neither the kitchen nor the bath should be uniformly lit, stating, "Wall-to-wall lighting with ceiling recessed fixtures is not good; it creates ceiling acne." 

Concluding, Grosslight strongly recommends that designers do not work on a reflective floorplan, rather, suggesting that they work on a one- or two-perspective drawing instead. "That is the only way they can really design creatively," she states, continuing, "designing on a reflective ceiling plan is not justified, [and] if designers keep doing that, then they will continue to create what they already know. That is cookie-cutter lighting design." KBDN