enLIGHTenment – The Lighting Industry Trade Publication

Layer It On

The benefits of dressing in layers aren’t limited to apparel; every room in the home can be enhanced this way — especially in the kitchen and bath.

We’ve all experienced that jarring moment when we stumble in the dark, searching for the light switch in the kitchen or a bathroom only to wince when the overhead light comes on full blast (more scientifically explained as light and dark adaptation). On a lesser nuisance scale, we don’t always want full brightness in each room at every moment. When watching movies or TV, trying to unwind at the end of the day, entertaining with friends, or going to sleep at night, softer light levels make us feel comfortable — and that can’t be achieved with only one ambient light source.

Lighting designers immediately understand the advantages of having several layers of light, but consumers need to be shown the benefits; it’s not a concept they instinctively grasp. When assisting customers with new lighting for their home, demonstrate some of the effects that will add to their enjoyment of each room.

First and foremost, the ambient lighting in each space should be on a dimmer. Unfortunately, what should be an easy add-on product is often forgotten about when the customer is selecting lighting. Since the digital age has made consumers more comfortable with the idea of “scene setting” and “play lists” using their smart devices, there is much less resistance to using lighting controls that dim as well as offer pre-set scenes.

Accent lighting is the key to providing multiple light levels within a room, and these elements should operate independently of the ambient light source. Examples include using portable lamps in living rooms and bedrooms, decorative lighting fixtures over a kitchen island or table, undercounter lighting for tasks at the countertop, and tape light for highlighting toe kicks, the inside of glass-fronted cabinetry, and cove/soffit lighting.   

One of the biggest trends at recent builder and home shows has been the use of accent strip lighting inside kitchen drawers and pull-out racks. It’s an effect that is relatively inexpensive to do yet makes a desirable visual impact. 

While island lighting is nothing new, the shape of the fixtures chosen have changed. Instead of one oversized decorative fixture suspended over the island, designers are opting for a series of pendants often in groups of three or four. The vertical lines of the pendants reportedly underscore the clean look of today’s open kitchens. Whether it is one large fixture or separate pendants, illumination for the island is typically downward to serve as either task lighting or to provide softer accent lighting when the ambient lighting – usually recessed fixtures – is off.

Just as with today’s kitchens, in both master baths and powder rooms, designers are adding touches of accent lighting to enhance the room’s ambiance. Dimmers are essential here as well, along with layers of lighting to avoid the sudden bright glare of an overhead fixture when entering the room in the middle of the night. 

Strips of vanity lights above the mirror at the sink is still a common request, however, installing sconces – or even pendants – on either side of the mirror is growing in popularity among designers. There are also mirror and lighting manufacturers who are combining both in one product, with backlit and inlaid illumination along the mirror surface for a Contemporary look.

A shower light is another amenity that is becoming more common in renovation as well as new construction. Just as with dimmers, it’s a product that the consumer typically doesn’t think of automatically until its usefulness is pointed out by a designer or salesperson. Plumbing manufacturers are also keying into the emotional effects of lighting. For several years now, Kohler has offered its “chromatherapy” option for tubs and showers where homeowners can select either one color or a mix of several to create “warm” tones (said to help the body awaken) or “cool” colors that reportedly provide a calming effect.

For those clients who like to read or soak in the tub, the addition of an adjustable, glare-free accent light to highlight that area is a much-appreciated touch. With accent lighting and the concept of layering levels of light, the benefits are best realized by customers when they are shown the possibilities by a lighting designer or showroom salesperson. Your resulting sales will be proof of the adage, “Seeing is believing.” 





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