Beyond the Bare Bulb

Beyond the Bare BulbEmerald Coast Designers Shed Some Light on Creative Yet Practical Home Illumination

By Jennifer Ewing

With the holiday season on the horizon, it won’t be long before an assortment of decorations festoons the outside of our homes. Soon, toothy jack-o’-lanterns will flicker on doorsteps, strands of colorful bulbs will brighten rooftops, and in some yards, glowing plastic inflatables will rise from the ground.

Yet with temperatures dropping and clocks falling back, most Floridians will be spending more and more time appreciating the interior of their homes. So before you illuminate a hand-carved pumpkin or extract a tangle of icicle lights from the attic, it might be wise to start thinking about another breed of lights. The ones that go inside the house.

A critical component of interior design, lighting shapes the mood, intimacy and functionality of a space. However, “most homeowners give their lighting plans very little consideration,” says Jason Gshwandtner, president of Innovative Sight and Sound in Miramar Beach.

“A typical set of house plans will contain a lighting design done by the architect,” he says. “And while these are certainly functional designs, they are not usually customized to the client’s specific needs.”

Builders regularly contribute to the problem by offering minimal lighting allowances, thereby compromising the quality and amount of fixtures throughout a home. Hence the standard, lone light in the center of each room — an option that is neither attractive nor practical.

Fortunately, there are many ways to overcome the pitfalls of these preconceived architectural plans, whether you’re building, remodeling or just looking to brighten your space.

Light Bright
The first step to creating a well-designed lighting plan for your home is to adopt the simple design mantra “Consider the task.” Envision the activities that will occur within each space, and tailor your lighting according to those needs. Usually, this requires a combination of multiple, strategically placed light sources throughout a room, including windows and skylights, overhead lights, lamps and accent lights.

Using these different sources, which is known as “layering the light,” allows you to transform the room according to your needs. This is essential, as lighting not only affects our ability to engage in visually demanding tasks, such as sewing and cooking, but also dictates how we feel in a room.

“Bright light gives us energy, while more dim light allows for internal reflection and calmness,” says Tallahassee based feng shui specialist Brenda PanTango. “The most common mistake homeowners make in selecting their lighting options is forgetting to keep a balance of yin and yang.”

In order to use this principle to your best advantage, opt for bright lighting in rooms where you will be working and collecting information, and choose dimmer lights for spaces where you would like to relax. The texture of fabrics and furniture also has a role. Mirrors and reflective, shiny surfaces can help to increase the brightness of a room, whereas rougher surfaces will absorb light.

Putting light fixtures on dimmers is another simple way to create a balanced, task-appropriate lighting plan. This painless adaptation creates an array of options to suit the mood, intimacy and function of a room on any occasion.

“I would put dimmers on all hardwired fixtures,” says Destin based Spa Lifestyle interior designer Libby Baker. While this suggestion may sound excessive, it makes a lot of sense. The advantages of being able to transform a dining or seating area from bright and airy to cozy and intimate are obvious, and dimmers also can be used in unexpected places with fabulous results.

Outdoor floodlights are often blindingly bright – wonderful for home security, but a bit harsh for a backyard gathering. Placing the floodlights on a dimmer allows the homeowner to lessen the intensity and create a more inviting atmosphere. The front porch light is another great place to use a dimmer. A brighter setting creates a welcoming entryway for guests, but Floridians know that it may not be the best for everyday use.

“A bright porch light at night is a magnet for bugs, beetles and other hideous creatures,” says interior designer Cara L. McBroom with Lovelace Interiors in Destin. “Therefore, a homeowner may prefer a lower default setting so that they can see just enough to get the key in the door when coming home.”

Then again, having too many dimmers throughout one’s house can get confusing. Fortunately, home automation systems can help to simplify lighting systems by unifying them from a single keypad, remote control or online source. This makes it possible to create combination light settings, or “scenes,” at the press of a button. Home automation also allows homeowners to know exactly which lights are on at all times, thereby cutting down on energy costs.

“By far the most popular feature is the ‘All Off’ button next to the bed that enables you to turn off all the lights in the house without running all over the place flipping switches,” says Gshwandtner, of Innovative Sight and Sound.

Light Switch
As demand surges for more environmentally friendly lighting, developers are looking toward incandescent alternatives such as LEDs and compact fluorescents.

In the distant future, organic LEDs could light carpets, window treatments and tabletops, completely changing the lighting system as we know it. To some extent, progress has already begun.

“They are getting closer everyday to producing LEDs with pure, natural white light, which is the most aesthetically pleasing,” interior designer McBroom says.

However, for energy-efficient illumination in today’s world, compact fluorescent bulbs are leading the way.

“Fluorescent lights have always been associated with an institutional look, because of the shape of the bulbs and the color they produce,” McBroom says. “Changes are being made every day, however, in the improvement of the aesthetics of the fluorescent bulb.”

The fluorescent tubes responsible for the sickly blue cast of hospitals and offices are very different from modern compact fluorescents that are designed for home use.

“There are now bulbous and globular-shaped fluorescent lights that look like traditional incandescent bulbs, and there are even fluorescent lights you can buy that are formulated to give off a warmer light,” McBroom says.

Fluorescent bulbs use 75 percent less energy than incandescents of comparable brightness, are long lasting and don’t give off significant amounts of heat, which can lower air conditioning costs. Ultimately, switching to fluorescents can lead to significant savings for homeowners and monumental savings for small businesses.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to fluorescent lighting. Fluorescents contain a minimal amount of the hazardous material mercury. It doesn’t generally endanger homeowners, but it does mean that tossing a burnt-out fluorescent into the wastebasket is a bad idea. For proper methods of disposal in Okaloosa County, call the local drop-off centers at (850) 689-5772 or (850) 651-7394.

To dispose of fluorescent bulbs in Walton County, residents can drop them off year-round at the Walton County Landfill. They also collect fluorescents and other hazardous materials at locations in North and South Walton County during Hazardous Material Amnesty Day, an event that happens twice a year (the next one is Oct. 3). Residents can call (850) 892-8180 for more information.

Another basic way to reduce energy expenditure is to maximize your use of natural daylight.

“If you have large windows, rely on natural lighting,” urges Spy Lifestyle’s Baker. “Pulling back window treatments and arranging furniture according to the way sunlight enters the room can help keep electric lights off during the day.”

In addition to the shift toward environmentally friendly bulbs, designers are noticing a trend involving minimalistic, novel light fixtures.

“Lighting choices are becoming more and more simplified and scaled-down,” McBroom says.

Baker agrees.

“People are gravitating toward more clean-line lighting fixtures,” she says, adding that consumers favor lights that are simple but maintain “their own unique look.”

Pendant lights and industrial, overscale fixtures are examples of fashionable choices. These types of fixtures create a subtle, contemporary look, in contrast to a more classic approach, such as using a single grand fixture or extravagant chandelier. In fact, even chandeliers are scaling back on ornamentation.

“Drum chandeliers are becoming very popular because of their clean simplicity and ability to translate into all styles,” McBroom says.

Homeowners are also opting for antique and patina finishes in contrast to the polished brass craze of the 1980s and ’90s. However, the single greatest trend in lighting is certainly diversity. Lighting has become more affordable, which allows consumers a greater variety of options.