Most of us, when we hear the word “lighting” imagine a cool fixture in the entry of a two-story house or a great lamp on a table next to the couch.
Once I started calling on architects, I learned that if an element won’t enhance the architecture, a designer would just as soon leave it out. Nothing irks a space planner faster than smoke alarms and sprinkler heads on an otherwise clean ceiling line. Same is true for lighting. Hence, an architect’s favorite way to provide ambient light (that layer in the ceiling where most people stop) is through recessed cans, flush with the ceiling line. They come in a variety of circular or square trim configurations, and depending on how much light is required, the opening will get bigger.
Most of the big-box stores carry inexpensive 6” diameter white stepped-baffle trims, suitable for use with a standard incandescent or PAR (parabolic aluminized reflector) bulb (we call them lamps in the business). I could write a book on recessed cans, but it would put most people to sleep. There is a reason, however, that they range in price from fifteen bucks (for an inexpensive remodel can with built-in trim) to over $600 for a precision beam LED architectural model.
Over the years, I have gone from a lamp on every table and no light in the ceiling to 3” adjustable recessed squares in the ceiling and no table lamps. By using a can with a lamp I can position, I can highlight art on the wall or aim it straight down over chairs, for reading. I have one little pendant next to the front door as a welcome light and space divider above what used to be a planter right at the entry of so many homes built in the 60’s. In my 11 x 14 living room, I have 10 recessed cans that used to use 50W PAR20 lamps providing 500 watts of illumination. Before you wonder whether I also use it as a landing strip, let me explain why.
1. On those rare occasions where I need full light (only when I’m cleaning), I have enough to spot every cobweb and dusty baseboard, thereby making that chore a breeze.
2. Most of the time, I have them on a preset dimmer at 50% (using 250W of energy). I get even illumination and light overhead for reading or other tasks, since I placed them strategically, knowing what kinds of activities take place in here. By using a dimmer, I get exponential lamp life, so I change a bulb about once every five years. And now that I have upgraded to LED, even at full brightness, I’m only using and paying my utility for 50W (they use 1/5th of the energy) and they have a 25,000 hour life. Do the same equation by adding a dimmer—if you dim only ten percent, you double the life—and I will NEVER change a bulb again. Even if I live to be 100.
3. I have no table lamps to take up space, need dusting or not be the right height to provide adequate light. Hence, I have clutter-free surfaces and a sleeker, more architectural looking living room. And that leaves the eye free to look at art!
The advent of LED(light emitting diodes) has made it possible to highlight objects like countertops or cabinet interiors, or architectural elements without showing the source of the light (photo). And because of the low energy consumption and long life of the product, it really is a one-time investment. Now you can put light only where you want to make a statement. And—best of all—it is cool to the touch, even after being on for hours—so you don’t have to worry about it starting anything on fire.
4. No cords to hide or (worse) require an extension cord to reach the plug.
Designers have painted with light for a long time, using linear fluorescent and cold cathode, but short life made maintenance a nightmare. Now we have it all. And from a residential perspective, it’s relatively easy to create some gorgeous visual effects fairly inexpensively. All these tiny upgrades will help you love your house. I can’t tell you how comforting it becomes when home isn’t just an address.
You can visit my Pinterest page to see more of my favorite lighting.