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Lighting: An Overview

If there's one aspect of your home's design that cannot be overstated in its importance, it's lighting! Good lighting can make or break your enjoyment of the space. No matter how much you love your living, bedroom, dining room, if the lighting isn't right, you won't feel right!

There are several different types of lighting: ambient, task, accent and decorative. Our rule of thumb is that a space should never rely on just one type of lighting in a room. Instead your space should combine two or three different types of lighting.

Ambient lighting is a good general wash of light throughout the entire space. Ideally it replicates a cloudy day inside your home; there is no source of harsh directional light but instead has a gentle well-lit glow. It's an ideal light. Often we see recessed lights as the answer to creating ambient but recessed lights are really meant for task lighting or highlighting a specific area or 'task'. Putting multiple task lights together creates a wash akin to ambient. This is why you'll walk into a basement or home and sometimes see LOTS of recessed lights in a ceiling. Cove lighting or centralized ceiling fixtures with a diffuser or milky globe are other great options for creating ambient light.

However, our favorite type of ambient light? Sconces! Sconces bring light down at face level so harsh shadows (like the kind you see on your face in a Target dressing room) are gone. Sconce lighting can be particularly important in areas like bathrooms, where you want excellent lighting right at your face level.

Aptly named task lighting is just for that: highlighting a specific task or activity. Sometimes it's an outdoor sconce shining on your house numbers so people can find your home at night. Sometimes it's a pendant over a kitchen island, illuminating the space for cooking & prep.

Accent lighting is similar to task that it has a specific job but it's a little looser in its requirements. It can be a way to highlight a piece of art on a wall or sculpture on a shelf. Accent lighting can be decorative outdoor lights, serving as a wayfinding element to outline your back deck. It can be a recessed cove fixture, hidden in your skylight to bounce artificial light around in the evening.

Our last favorite type of light is decorative. Often the light it provides isn't a ton but its personality and charisma is a welcome addition to the space. It's a place for fun and an opportunity to bring your own style into your home.

The stunning Gaia fixture from Ochre light in our Irvington Foursquare project is almost mobile-like. It's a piece of art to gaze at and feel meditative, exactly the intention with this living room. Lighting isn't always hardwired! The large drum floor lamp in the corner provides ambient light for the living room, combining the two types of light together: decorative and ambient. The overall effect is cozy, low lit and peaceful.

However, the elephant in the room is the sun. Sunlight and your home's positioning as well as the vegetation surrounding your house has a huge impact on how the space will feel and the types of lighting required. Because the Irvington Foursquare living room has south and east facing windows, there is strong natural light throughout the day so the need for additional ambient lighting isn't as great. North will be your weakest but most consistent light, often the type most preferred by artists due to its lack of variation. West light is the harshest, though it provides the most opportunity for summer sunset views.

The Mt Tabor Basement project has limited natural light due to it being a basement, however, it combines all types of lighting: ambient in the wall sconces and recessed lighting in the ceiling, accent over the bookshelves by the fireplace, task/decorative for the game table and strong south-facing light through their windows.

Placement of lighting also makes a big difference! For the game table above in the Mt. Tabor project, we knew our clients would turn it on in the evening for a soft glow rather than for full illumination. The fixtures serves as task lighting to highlight a winning hand of cards and also as an accent to make the space feel extra cozy. It was hung slightly lower over the table to create more of that late-night feel.

As a good rule of thumb, we recommend...

  • Dining Lights: Hung 30" to 36" from the top of the table to the bottom of the light fixture. It's very important to mock this up before purchasing to determine your individual comfort with the placement. The lower the light, the more intimate but also more intrusive with across-the-table conversations.

  • Pendant Lights: Over a kitchen island or peninsula, 32" to 40" from top of the table to the bottom of the light fixture. Again, very important to mock up and depending on the type of fixture, the height of your ceiling, how you use the kitchen, what other lights are in the space, it all has an effect on pendant placement.

  • For hallways, bedrooms: Semi-flush to Flush mount fixtures are recommended but this can vary depending on your ceiling heights. Typically we like at least 7' of height or more from the top of your head from the bottom of the fixture. The last thing you want is for you to worry that you'll hit your head while walking around your house!

In our Council Crest MCM project, a longer pendant light from DWR was hung in the primary suite. However, even with the 8' ceilings, we knew this light would be positioned over the foot of the bed so there were zero concerns about bumping into it. The ambient light as well as the era-appropriate drama it provides, makes it a perfect addition to their bedroom.

The kitchen pendant in our NW Nob Hill House project was hung above their peninsula which contained a range and downdraft vent. When in use, the downdraft vent rises up from the countertop almost 24" above the counter so we didn't want any sort of interference, physical or visual, with the light. The light was hung well above, making it more of a centralized ambient light than task.

The sconce and stairwell pendant in our Hawthorne Modern project were two unique pieces, selected for their organic shapes and interest, making them both decorative light fixtures as well as accent. The Humanhome sconce is used for a low source of light during family movie nights, allowing just enough illumination to munch on snacks. It was placed high enough on the wall where our clients wouldn't bump their heads sitting in the sofa corner but not too high to lose its light. The stunning pendants from Bocci offer some gentle ambient light and are hung centered in the large stairwell window for a perfectly framed exterior view.

Our Bend Mountain Home project has a huge oversized chandelier in their vaulted living room, matching the stone fireplace by drawing your eye up towards the ceiling. The ambient light is low but combined with natural light from the south and west exposures, the space is appropriately light filled. A reading lamp and a large drum floor lamp provide supplemental task and ambient lighting for when needed on one of Bend's less sunny days.


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