Editor's Note: This is the last of a multi-part series in which Dudics-Dean explains the most important concepts decorators need to know to make each interior project a success.
We use them every day and night. We use them everywhere: in the kitchen, bathroom, family room living room, dining room, bedrooms, in our cars, offices, telephones, computers, ovens, microwaves, airplanes, trains, every place. What has permeated our lives so totally that we take it for granted so easily? It is the electric light bulb. It is hard to believe that little more than a century ago this wonder did not exist. KEY SEVEN: Lighting
Thomas A. Edison's peers in science thought he was a fool and vowed that an electric light would never, could never, be created. And yet, after more than 10,000 attempts, Edison did the impossible. If he were alive today wouldn't he be amazed at how his invention has evolved and taken on so many shapes? So many, in fact, it can be a real dilemma just selecting one for use in the lamps in our homes.
Types of Bulbs
The original and still all-time favorite light bulb is the incandescent. This is what Edison created. Because of its tungsten wire filament this bulb creates a very reddish-yellow light, which flatters skin tones and wood surfaces. These bulbs are well placed in areas used for personal interaction. Bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and family rooms tend to be locations that use incandescent bulbs well. Do note that modern science has produced more cost-effective, longer lasting light bulbs, but none that give you this particular quality of light.
Fluorescent bulbs first came to use in those long tube forms that were used in ceiling fixtures. They are called cool white fluorescents and give off a very cool, blue-green light. Over time, further development has created a deluxe cool white, which is less blue-green; a warm white, which produces an even warmer light; and a deluxe warm white, which for a fluorescent produces a very warm light though not as warm as an incandescent bulb.
The energy crisis generated a need for manufacturing compact fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs come in specially designed fixtures, but also are available with screw-in bases to replace incandescent bulbs in regular lamps. These bulbs reduce energy consumption by 75 percent and can last more than 12 times longer than an incandescent bulb.
With the help of a lot of research there now are bulbs that have a color temperature much more similar to incandescent bulbs and have an improved color balance. These fluorescent bulbs are specified as SPX27 and should be asked for specifically at the lighting store.
Still, because of human affinity to warm light, these bulbs are best used in family rooms, play rooms, home offices, kitchens or laundry rooms. We tend to avoid them in living rooms, dining rooms and master bedrooms where the warm glow of incandescent bulbs is hard to replace when an inviting atmosphere is desired.
Finally, we come to halogen bulbs. There are many new lines of lamps, torchieres, etc. that incorporate these bulbs. They give off an efficient, bright, almost white light. These bulbs last longer than incandescents and can be more energy efficient. Another benefit is their tight beam spread. This means the light can be directed where desired, but it also may mean it creates even more contrast. Contrast would be good if you are trying to create drama, but bad if you desire coziness.
Because halogen bulbs create such a white light, they also can generate more glare. They work most effectively when used in reflected situations. Torchieres that light the ceiling are a great example.
Halogen bulbs now are made with screw-in bases for retrofitting into standard sockets. However, halogens get very hot. Do not place them in an enclosed fixture or where someone, such as a child, might touch them.
Types of Lighting
There are three basic types of lighting in any environment: General, or ambient; task; and accent. Every room will need two if not three of these present for a successful space.
General lighting is the type we are most familiar with and seem to incorporate into spaces almost subconsciously. Almost any overhead fixture creates general lighting. There are many kinds of general lighting fixtures. A bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling provides this type of lighting, but is rarely appropriate from an aesthetic point of view.
Some fixtures will direct all the light down to the surface over which it is suspended. The higher off the floor the fixture, the wider the circle of light. If the room has a very high ceiling and you wish the room to feel more intimate this style of light would keep the focus on the space below. Most people, however, need to have their rooms look as large as possible. Using a ceiling fixture that sends some light up and some down seems to lift and give the area a more spacious feeling. Because the light that fills the space is reflected from the ceiling, it is softer and less glarey.
Next, add task lighting to a room's decor. Consider the activities that occur there: reading, writing, television viewing, sewing or hand work, card or game playing, etc. To do each of these activities comfortably additional light will be needed. For activities such as reading, writing and sewing, a tabletop fixture usually is most appropriate although some floor lamps also will work.
On a desk, the light should come from in front and shed light down on the desktop. The fixture should be placed diagonally opposite of a person's writing hand. That is, a right-handed person would have the lamp to the left, a left-handed person to the right. Make sure that when the person seated at the desk looks up he can't see the bulb or bulbs in the fixture.
Reading, hand work or sewing require light to come over the shoulder. For reading, light coming from either side usually is comfortable, but for hand work or sewing it should come from the opposite side. Again, make sure the bulb cannot be seen in the fixture. Also consider fixtures with three-way switches so the amount of light can be turned up or down depending on the activity.
Game playing usually is done on a tabletop with as few shadows as possible. A ceiling-mounted pendant suits this need perfectly. Drop it low enough over the table to conceal the bulb from the eyes. If people of different ages or sizes use the table, try a pendant fixture that raises and lowers. A ceiling fixture in the form of a recessed can also could be used. These fixtures usually are flush-mounted in the ceiling itself. A baffle or lens can be added to focus the light, adapt the size of the beam spread on the table surface and conceal the bulb while reducing glare.
Finally, add accent lighting to create sophistication in the room. Highlight a special art piece, sculpture or other unique item by focusing a beam of light on it. Track lighting often is used for this function. Light a live or artificial plant or tree that has leafy foliage (ficus, palm, etc.). Light it up from the floor to create a dramatic pattern of shadow and light on the ceiling. Accent lighting also can be used to highlight architectural features such as crown molding, arches, niches, etc.
There are so many options now in lighting that it can become very confusing. If you have specific challenges beyond your skills it may be time to consult with a lighting designer or an electrician to answer questions and give you some options you might not have considered or even knew existed.
Susan Dudics-Dean is owner of Celestial Designs and an interior designer who has worked in the San Francisco Bay area of California for more than 11 years. She also is a newspaper columnist and seminar speaker.