Many people cannot immediately identify why they may like or dislike a particular room or interior. Proper lighting and illumination is the single most critical factor in designing a pleasing interior environment. A successful lighting design is pleasing to the eye, focuses attention on key room features and eliminates shadows and "hot spots". There are several lighting applications that can be used to meet specific lighting needs or to achieve a desired special effect.
GENERAL or AMBIENT LIGHTING refers to an even overall level of light provided to make a room or space comfortable and safe for its intended use. Recessed lighting is very popular as a general lighting source. Recessed lighting may be in the form of 3" to 8" diameter "can" type fixtures consisting of a "trim" and a "housing.” Recessed "trims" are the visible portion of the recessed light fixture and are available in hundreds of styles and colors to control the spread of light, reflect the light and/or match a particular decor or theme. The "housing" is the actual enclosure that is installed into the attic and connected to the power system. Different housings are available for new construction and remodel construction where attic access is difficult. Where recessed lighting may be in contact with building insulation, an "IC" rated housing is required to prevent a potential fire hazard. In may office environments, general lighting is provided in the form of luminous fluorescent ceiling panels.
TASK LIGHTING typically refers to the higher level of light provided on work areas such as kitchen islands, countertops and desks. Additional light is directed to these areas using recessed, track or pendant fixtures. Concealed under-cabinet lighting is also frequently used by lighting designers to provide task illumination without seeing the source (fixture). Fixtures with either low or line-voltage halogen or xenon bulbs provide a whiter, warmer light than fluorescent under-cabinet lighting. 5 watt xenon or halogen lamps spaced 6 inches apart are suitable for most task lighting purposes where the fixture is within 24" of the work surface. Whether recessed, track or under-cabinet style, low voltage halogen or xenon lighting fixtures are smaller than line voltage lighting but require a transformer to change the voltage from 120 volt to 12 volt. The transformer is included inside many low voltage fixtures but is also sometimes separate depending on the particular fixture and style.
ACCENT LIGHTING. To be effective, accent lighting should be approximately four times the level of ambient (background) light in an area. Focusing light on an "accented object" or "area" draws attention to a picture, vase or other focal point. Here again. Halogen lighting type fixtures provide a whiter, brighter appearance than standard incandescent or fluorescent type fixtures. The selected fixture should be directional, either a swivel or gimbal type fixture to aim the light exactly where it is needed. Adjustable surface mount fixtures, track fixtures and even recessed style fixtures are available with "aimability" in mind. For a dramatic museum-type effect, some fixtures can include a focusing lens for pinpoint accuracy. The "Lighting Illumination" PDF attached to this file is a good guide for estimating the illumination or brightness of various bulb types and wattages.
WALL WASHING is a type of Accent Lighting that creates an area of uniform illumination that may desirable for a series of photos or artwork. Wall Washing reduces the texture of the wall surface. Often the reflected light can create ambient light in the remainder of the room that is pleasing and restful. WALL GRAZING is opposite from Wall Washing in that it creates a dramatic highlight and shadow effect on surfaces such as draperies, stone or brick. Ceiling light fixtures for Wall Grazing are placed closer to the wall than Wall Washing in order to highlight the three-dimensional effect.
DISPLAY LIGHTING consists of small low voltage lighting fixtures to illuminate cabinets displaying keepsakes, ornaments, dinnerware etc. Many under-cabinet fixtures (as described above) are suitable for display lighting. Small space xenon fixtures used on a "Mini" or "Linear" track have unparalleled design flexibility. Tiny fixtures may be spaced anywhere along the track making it possible to create an even distribution or highlight task areas. Lamp choices from 3W to 20W allow illumination levels from a subtle glow to a brilliantly lit area. A "Light Baffle" often serves as a holder for the track and as a visual shield, concealing the halogen or xenon bulbs. An innovative use of the baffle is as a rigid support, such as spanning the edge.
COVE LIGHTING gives a room a more open appearance by illuminating the perimeter of the room where the walls meet the ceiling. A large crown mold or soffit is built around the perimeter of the room providing a concealed space for a continuous halogen or xenon track lighting. Cove lighting looks best with a smooth, even wash of light. Fixtures should be placed at least 4" from the wall with 6" to 9" being ideal to minimize scalloping. The ceiling height above the lamps should be not more than twice the distance from the wall. The lamp spacing and wattage will depend on distance and brightness level desired. For a medium light level, a good starting point is with 5-watt lamps spaced 6" on center, with a track spaced 6" from the wall and 10" from the ceiling. From this reference point you can design the light level up or down as desired. A room with a dark ceiling, or a brightly lit room may need a higher light level.
Lighting that is thoughtfully considered can make a world of difference and will be an improvement that lasts for many years. Many home improvement stores include sample displays of the various lighting systems and fixtures mentioned above. As with most appliances and electronics, there is a wide variety in the quality of lighting fixtures available. Be sure your purchase is from reputable well known company with fixtures that are either UL or ETC listed. There are numerous online retailers that offer name brand fixtures delivered to your door at very competitive prices.
About the Author
Brian Starr owns a company that is in charge of WAC Lighting products, including transformers and dimmers.