Lighten Up

Men laying new hardwood flooring

You can picture your newly remodeled kitchen nowthe gleaming granite countertops, the polished mahogany cabinets, the top-of-the-line appliances. But many times the lighting plan for a new or redesigned space goes overlooked.

More often than not, the lighting plan is the redheaded stepchild of the remodeling process, says William Fadul, president and founder of The Building Firm, a full-service remodeling company in Atlanta. But if you dont consider issues like wiring, types of lighting, functionality and ceiling height before you begin, youve diminished the value of everything else you do.

[Lighting] can make or break a room, adds interior designer Linda Pittam of Pittam & Associates. She says there should be several types of lighting in a room, rather than one lone fixture on the ceiling. General lighting should be accompanied by lighting for specific tasks and focal points.

Photo courtesy of Vinings Lighting

Using different types of light (below) enables you to match light to mood. Pendant lights (above) should be placed out of the path of traffic in your home.

Photo courtesy of the American Lighting Association

Begin with the
end in mind

Experts recommend that you first evaluate existing wiring and create a power plan to serve as a basis for your lighting plan. Find out where your power is and what its going to take to get it where you want it, Fadul says. The last thing you want is to be pulling wiring or installing new circuits after everything else is in place.

Dont hesitate to involve an electrician right from the start, and work closely with your architect or remodeler to incorporate lighting into floor plans and elevations during the design process. Whenever possible, call on the talents of a lighting designer or certified lighting consultant from a local showroom certified by the American Lighting Association (ALA).

Dont just rely on your memory when you visit the showroom, says Adrian Thompson, ALA lighting specialist with the Progressive Lighting showroom in Conyers. Plans, photos, color chips and information about ceiling heights, cabinet finishes and countertopsall that makes it possible to better guide someone toward the right kinds of lighting, in terms of form and function.

Even if you have a strong lighting plan going into your remodeling project, be sure to keep an open mind as work proceeds. Re-evaluate your lighting plan when framing is complete, going so far as to tack up empty boxes so you can see exactly where lights, switches and wiring are going to be. Its far easier and less expensive to reconfigure your lighting plan at that point, rather than when the work is almost finished.

Know your options
Todays lighting possibilities extend far beyond the single light in the center of the room look, says Friday Shamblen, owner of Alluminare, a custom lighting store in Decatur. The three basic types of lightinggeneral, task and accentoffer a myriad of choices that can create different looks to suit your lifestyle, tastes and lighting needs.

For example, pendants can deliver both task and general lighting, Shamblen says. A pendant over the dining room table, coupled with a dimmer, lets you choose bright lighting for family mealtime or softer, more subdued lighting for creating drama at a dinner party.

Wall-mounted fixtures also can furnish general, task or even accent lighting. Sconces are often an excellent solution in rooms like the bathroom, where you want more soothing, less harsh lighting to create a spalike atmosphere, but where you also need good lighting for tasks like applying makeup and shaving, Shamblen says.

Recessed lighting also is a popular option, but one that requires careful consideration of factors like ceiling height and shadowy areas. Recessed lighting is inconspicuous, so its a good choice for general, task or accent lighting, Fadul says. But we steer homeowners away from installing multitudes of recessed lights, to the point where the ceiling looks pockmarked. And folks forget that those bulbs can generate a lot of heat, as well.

Photo courtesy of Alluminare

Light fixtures will add a decorative element to your home, so pick one that fits well with your furniture and accessories. Task lighting in the kitchen (below) is useful for focusing light on the job at hand.

Photo courtesy of William Fadul

Decorative touches
Changing the look of the lighting in a room can be as simple and affordable as putting a new cover on an existing wall sconce or chandelier. And light fixtures are available in a variety of decor-enhancing materials, including wrought iron, pewter, copper, crystal beads and blown glass.

Somelike an Italian blown glass sconce or a Swarovski crystal pendantcan be a decorative element in themselves, almost like a work of art on the wall, says Rob Bluestein, owner of Vinings Lighting. Simpler fixtures can become focal points, too. Two hot trends are simple, colorful pendant lights hung by themselves or in a series, and colored, click-on, track ceiling lights, says June Price, owner of Anew Design Inc.

Bluestein advises customers to know the function of the light before shopping. Is the pendant a focal point over a bar, or is it a spot to illuminate the copper fountain in the kitchen? Bringing samples of fabric, wood and countertops into the store will make for better lighting choices.

Shed light on problem areas
Low-voltage lighting and other lighting alternatives abound these days, giving homeowners greater freedom and providing solutions to lighting issues once considered problematic.

If you cant get power for a light fixture where you need it without tearing out the ceiling, a flexible low-voltage rail or cable system can solve your problem, says Kristen Howard, president of the newly opened Lighting Loft on Edgewood Avenue. Monorail and cable systems allow for numerous power-feed options to retrofit to existing power. Howard says these systems also are excellent choices for high-ceilinged spaces, since they can be installed at a lower height (which also makes changing bulbs easier).

If you have old recessed fixtures, typically 6 inches in diameter, you no longer have to choose between keeping what youve got and spending money on ceiling work. New trims that fit in the existing housings can now accommodate colorful mini-pendants or spotlights to highlight artwork and other focal points.

Photo courtesy of Progressive Lighting

There are tons of options to choose from when selecting light fixtures, from classic chandeliers (above) to more unique fixtures (below).

Photo courtesy of Anew Design

Its all about the bulb
No matter what kind of fixtures you choose, performance still depends greatly on one simple thing: the bulb. Incandescents are the most common general-purpose bulbs, readily available in a wide range of wattages and shapes. But today, other types of bulbs can set the mood, determine light direction, deliver big light in a small package and save you money on your power bill.

Nobody understands the significance of light bulbs better than Gary Root, owner of Atlanta Light Bulbs in Tucker and Marietta. Studies have shown that light affects the way people act, the way they feel, Root says. For example, color-corrected bulbs can make a big difference for people with seasonal affective disorder.

Whats more, todays fixtures depend on a vast array of lighting sources, from fluorescents to halogens to reflectorized bulbs. Some bulbs, like MR-16 mini-reflectors, provide good beam control, and their compact size makes them ideal for smaller lights, like tracks and recessed fixtures. Newer fluorescents are dimmable and come in a wide spectrum of colors, so theyre no longer limited to applications where bright, white light is preferred. And because fluorescents can use as little as one-third the electricity of incandescents, screw-in, compact fluorescent bulbswhich look far better than their earlier incarnationsare gaining in popularity for use in lamps and even in many ceiling fixtures.

No matter what kind of light bulb youre looking for, odds are youll find it on our Web site, Root says. With so many lighting choices available today, we carry more than 52,000 items, and were adding more practically every day.

Of course, as anyone who has ever wrestled with a light fixture can attest, finding the right bulb may not be your biggest challenge. Some fixtures are designed so that maintenance can be difficult, if not almost impossible, for the average homeowner.

Thompson adds that older homeowners may not want to purchase high-maintenance fixtures, such as crystal chandeliers that require frequent cleaning, especially in high-ceilinged areas that would require a tall ladder.

The critical element
Many designers say lighting can be the most important aspect of any remodeling project.

Your lighting can have as much impact on your finished room as your most expensive furniture, appliances, countertopsyou name it, Fadul says. And a homeowners biggest mistake can be an ad hoc lighting approach.

So when you start dreaming about your new kitchen, bath or family room, make a detailed lighting plan a top priority. Its impossible to overstate the difference good lighting can make, Fadul says.

Laura Raines contributed to this article.

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