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Enhancing Your Space: The Impact of Thoughtful Lighting Design

I've always loved to take long walks in old urban neighborhoods, the sort that evolve through decades of architectural, cultural, and economic change. Quirky cottages and stately manor homes share garden walls. Every block offers the opportunity to appreciate a range of architectural styles. My favorite thing about these walks, though, is the light.

Around dusk, as the sky turns pink and purple, front-room lamps and sconces begin their evening's work and the streets of these neighborhoods give the impression of string lights. A whole city feels like a cozy den as you travel the sidewalks, catching glimpses of glowing gilt framed portraits, crimson walls, smart furnishings, cherished heirlooms, and overflowing libraries.

In our home, I jokingly call dusk illumination, "Bourbon lighting." A diffuse, warm glow washes the back of our kitchen island. Aged brass sconces accentuate the rich colors of the art pieces on the walls. Scattered lamps with linen shades emphasize the honey and amber tones of the wood-lined den. Bourbon lighting sets the tone for long evenings of storytelling and memory making and it didn't happen accidentally. It resulted from an intentional and thoughtful design process aimed at achieving a specific function and feeling, the same feeling I get on dusk walks in old urban neighborhoods.

There is a a substantial body of scientific literature exploring the human need for light.  The quantity of our light exposure and quality of our light sources impact mental health and sleep. Despite this, lighting scheme is one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of the residential design process. Whether you’re planning the construction of a new home, a major renovation, or a small interior update, we recommend that a comprehensive natural and artificial lighting scheme be part of that plan.  In today’s blog, we provide a brief review of the critical aspects of a comprehensive lighting scheme.

The Lighting Concept

The lighting concept considers the desired feeling and planned function of a space.  It then establishes how natural and artificial lighting might be used to accomplish that feeling and support that functionality.  You might want a den to feel cozy and function as a home library. The lighting concept would include warm, diffuse light sources and strategically placed task fixtures to support the activity of reading. You may want a kitchen to feel bright and airy, functioning for homework hour as well it functions for formal entertaining. This suggests the need for ample natural light supported by a variety of artificial light source types. In the modern family home, many rooms need to perform multiple functions and evoke different feelings throughout the day.  The lighting concept must be equally adaptable.

The Lighting Plan: Natural Light

The lighting plan outlines the specifics of how the lighting concept will be executed. Edith Wharton said, “In the decorative treatment of a room the importance of openings can hardly be overestimated.”  A great lighting plan begins with the thoughtful placement of architectural openings like windows and skylights.  These elements should be sized and placed in response to climate, site, sun angles, and the desired impact of a space.

East-facing windows bring in direct morning sun.  Direct sun casts shadows and creates dynamic natural lighting throughout the day.  West-facing windows bring in direct setting sun.

South-facing windows avoid direct sun all Summer long but get direct rays mid-morning to mid-afternoon in the shoulder seasons. North-facing windows provide diffuse light most of the year except occasional glancing direct rays in Summer mornings and evenings. If you are counting on diffuse Northern light to provide natural light in your space, you must plan for a lot more glass.

Skylights are an excellent way to bring natural light into interior spaces and spaces that require more privacy.  Skylights placed in the ceiling plane provide more direct light while the use of a skylight shaft allows light to bounce around on its way into a room, introducing diffuse overhead light.

The Lighting Plan: Artificial Light

The lighting plan should also consider the placement of artificial fixtures. This includes ambient, task, and accent categories of lighting.  Ambient lighting involves the overall illumination of a space and is frequently provided by ceiling fixtures. Task lighting supports a specific activity and may be provided by fixtures such as reading lamps or under-cabinet lighting.  Accent lighting serves to highlight a particular feature - a fireplace, art piece, or book collection.  A mixture of these light source types situated at different heights in a space is the key to a successful lighting scheme.

When installing fixtures, one should pay careful attention to vertical placement in relationship to the finished floor and any associated furnishings, such as a bedside or dining table. Color temperature should match from bulb to bulb within a space and the lower Kelvin ranges are almost always the most appropriate in a residential setting.

The Design-Build Approach to Lighting

The planning and execution of a comprehensive lighting scheme can be a daunting task. A design-build firm is well suited to guide clients through this process. Our CW Design Works design process takes a thoughtful approach to both natural and artificial lighting. We consider site, sun angles, function, and feeling as we plan for siting, architectural glass, and placement of fixtures. During the construction process, we work closely with our clients, framers, suppliers, and electrical team to ensure that the final built environment achieves the desired effect.

If you're considering a the construction or renovation of your home, we'd love to hear from you: .

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