Ambient LightingThe selection of ambient lighting sets the framework for a lighting plan, and when working with builders and contractors, ambient lighting is a significant portion of our overall design plan. And remember, establishing the ambient lighting plan at the beginning of the design process, as with so many elements of design, will reduces costs. During the planning phase, we plot out overhead lights, chandeliers, sconces and other hardwired elements. Standard recessed lights/pot lights have a lighting arc of 9 feet and, to avoid lighting “hot spots,” I like to have the arcs overlap; so plan on laying out your pots every 5-6 feet based on a standard 8-9 foot ceiling.
Task LightingSpecific lighting, or task lighting, not only serves the function of allowing particular activities to occur, like cooking or reading, it also serves as an opportunity to put in “functional sculpture,” which is how I look at lamps and sconces. When hanging pendants in a kitchen, I like the pendant to be 36” to 40” above the work surface. It allows for adequate lighting with head clearance for people less than 6 feet – there’s nothing worse than banging your head when you lean across your kitchen island! When placing lamps in a room, I like to use dark shades, which allows me to direct the light downward where it is needed. The size of the lamp will depend upon how the lamp’s intended use, but I tend to like lamps around 30” – visually they are substantive but they still cast enough light downward to illuminate. Sconces should be at eye level or 3” lower, otherwise they are too high and their illumination is lost.
SpotlightsHighlighting specific pieces of art, objects or drawing the eye towards a particular view are all characteristics of “spotlights”. The main rule in choosing spotlights is to avoid creating harsh shadows, so avoid lights with lower wattages. I personally like 40-watt bulbs and lower for this type of lighting. While halogens and LED lights have become industry standards, look for options that are frosted or have a “soft glow” feature. These options temper the blue-white light that can distort color perception. Choosing the proper lighting for a room doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Choose wisely using the tips above and it can be a truly transformative experience for your space. Courtney Lake is a Bay Area based interior designer and blogger behind the popular lifestyle blog, Courtney Out Loud. His work has appeared in print and television including Life & Style, Dabble Magazine, House of Fifty and the Nate Berkus Show.