The newest lighting options can add beauty and comfort for years to come.
Next time you’re in a spectacular space—a beautifully designed restaurant or a stylish friend’s home, say—take a moment to notice the lighting. Chances are, it’s not the first element you became aware of. Color, pattern, artwork, furnishings: these are the attention-grabbers in these rooms—as they should be. But without a well-planned and well-executed lighting scheme, none of those design features would shine. “The proper application of light will allow the room to be seen at its best,” says design-build contractor Ramsin Khachi of Khachi Design Group in Oakville, Ontario and Cambria Brand Advocate. “Good lighting design can dramatically affect the ambiance in a space, even taking it from a clinical look to a more seductive atmosphere.”
As powerful as it can be, lighting isn’t always simple. Not only does a lighting scheme depend on the right placement, but also on the right bulb. And there are more choices than ever before. As incandescent bulbs—or “lamps,” as designers and the lighting industry know them—have been phased out in favor of more efficient alternatives, we now have to choose between compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), halogen lamps, and light emitting diodes (LEDs). The clear favorite in the design world is the LED.
“LED lamps have so many benefits,” says designer Beth Whitlinger of Beth Whitlinger Interior Design in Foothill Ranch, California. “They’re more energy-efficient than CFLs, can last for decades [based on an average daily use of three hours per day; if you use them more, they won’t last as long], and when specified correctly, provide the crispest, cleanest light you can find.” While the advantages of LEDs are clear, Whitlinger does add some caveats. “Price is the big deterrent to using LEDs. Although prices are coming down, and you can certainly find inexpensive bulbs at the grocery store or at home centers, those tend to have a much poorer quality of light than the more expensive bulbs, which cost anywhere from $20 to $60 each.” Lower-end bulbs are typically only available in one color “temperature” (basically, where the light falls on a cool to warm color scale; see Glossary, p. 17, for more details), and tend to look very cold and artificial. “Most people are only familiar with that cheap, cold LED look,” says Whitlinger. “But when you pick a warmer LED, the effect is totally different.”
"LED lighting is still in its infancy, but already the possibilities are endless.
In fact, the only limitations are in our own creative restrictions.”
—RAMSIN KHACHI, Khachi Design Group, Oakville, Ontario
Besides energy efficiency and longevity, LEDs have another benefit that makes them particularly attractive to designers: They don’t get nearly as hot as incandescents or halogen bulbs. “The low heat emanation allows for creative uses that were previously difficult or even impossible to achieve in specialty locations such as display shelf lighting, backlighting, or even in wine cellars,” says Khachi. Designer Robin Rigby Fisher of Robin Rigby Fisher design in Portland, Oregon, agrees. “We use LEDs inside glass cabinets or as under-cabinet lighting all the time. Or, we’ll use LED tape lighting—a flexible strip of tiny LED lights—behind a cove molding at the top of the wall, or in a channel in the wall. The possibilities are nearly endless.”
“Because LEDs are more complicated than the lamps most of us are used to, it can really help to work with an expert,” says Fisher. “Your local lighting store is a good resource, or, if you’re hiring an interior designer, ask about his or her experience with lighting design.” Khachi takes special care to help his clients understand the power of lighting. “I walk around the interior with all the lights out and a flashlight in hand, shining it in different ways to show the different effects we can achieve simply by moving the source of light from one location to another,” he says. “It’s not the first thing most people think about, but the right lighting can mesmerize and impress.”