Shedding light on a key component of interior design

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MODESTO, Calif.- Once upon a time, installing interior lighting meant someone stuck a ceiling fixture in the middle of a room and called it a day. Often, that lone light was supplemented with a floor or table lamp.

Fast forward to today. Lighting has become an integral part of interior design. Not only is lighting practical, it provides needed illumination when sunlight is scarce and it can be used as a decor element, adding drama and visual interest.

“People are thinking about lighting more,” said Carrie Arnold, a lighting consultant at Phillips Lighting & Home in Modesto. “They realize lighting needs to be considered an important element in home design.”

Manufacturers have responded by offering a wider variety of lighting fixtures – wall sconces, chandeliers, recessed and track lighting – that can complement all sorts of interior styles.

Before buying any type of light fixture, consumers need to determine their needs. What is the room used for? Next, one needs to know the room’s size (including height) and layout.

The American Lighting Association, a trade group of lighting manufacturers, divides lighting into three categories: general, task and accent lighting.

General lighting: Also known as ambient lighting, it provides a room with overall illumination and is the foundation of the lighting plan. General lighting is typically done with ceiling or wall-mounted fixtures, recessed or track lighting or chandeliers.

Task lighting: This focuses light on a set area for a specific task, such as reading, writing, cooking or food preparation on a kitchen island, working at a desk, etc. Task lighting can be provided by portable lamps, recessed, track or pendant lighting. Task lighting should be arranged to eliminate glare and shadows and bright enough to prevent eye strain.

Accent lighting: As part of a decorating scheme, accent lighting is used to spotlight a painting, houseplant, sculpture or other item. Accent lighting can also illuminate the texture of a wall or highlight a stunning window treatment. Accent lights should be at least three times brighter than the general light used in a room.

Lighting needs vary depending on the space, and there are some general tips to follow depending on the room:

Kitchens

Kitchens have become the hub of many homes and are used for much more than preparing food. It’s where kids do their homework, adults peruse the Sunday paper and guests congregate during gatherings.

The kitchen’s lighting needs to be versatile as well. A small kitchen might require only a central ceiling fixture for general lighting and task lighting underneath cabinets to brighten a countertop. A larger kitchen with multiple features, such as a dining table, an island and a computer workstation, requires a blend of general, task and accent lighting.

Consider using recessed downlights over the stove and sink areas for cooking and cleaning jobs.

If a kitchen table is used, it is one of the room’s focal points and should be illuminated. A decorative pendant light or chandelier are two choices to provide adequate lighting.

Add lighting above and underneath cabinets. Above-cabinet lights emphasize high ceilings; under-cabinet lights brighten a countertop.

Lighting experts recommend zoning the lights in the room and placing them on separate circuits. For example: the light over the sink should have its own switch, while island and counter lights should be paired with their own switch.

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Bedroom

Know the dimensions of the room before you buy any lighting. Take the room measurements with you to a lighting showroom. It’s also a good idea to sketch where the outlets are located in the room, as well as furniture placement.

Don’t forget to measure ceiling height. Bedroom ceilings are typically 8 feet to 9 feet tall, so using a short fixture or one flush with the ceiling would be a better choice than a long one.

Reconsider having a light installed over the bed. Soft light at face level is better than direct overhead light.

Don’t forget about the closet. Light should come within 12 inches of a closet’s upper shelf or hanging rod.

A quick and easy way to add task lighting is to put floor or nightstand lamps on both sides of the bed.

Bathroom

Because the bath is where many people conduct their grooming, proper lighting is essential. Experts recommend starting with vanity lighting because it does the most work (offering lighting for putting on makeup, shaving, styling your hair, etc.).

Using layers of light is better than using one source. Layering also reduces glare.

Use frosted bulbs instead of clear ones to further reduce glare. For that same reason, avoid fixtures with exposed bulbs.

Consider using a recessed fixture to light a tub. Aim the beam toward its outer edge.

Dining room

Use layers of light. Place a chandelier over the table with accent lights on both sides. Accent lights such as wall sconces will help brighten the room’s perimeter.

If chandelier-style lighting will go above the table, choose a fixture with a diameter 12 inches less than the table’s width. It should hang about 30 inches above the table.

Consider using a dimmer switch with dining-room lights to help create ambiance.

Does the table do double duty as a homework area? Use a portable light to brighten the area.

High or vaulted ceiling? Consider a two-tier chandelier to help “fill” the space.

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