Renovation Design Group
The placement of lights can change the function, ambiance and decor of a room.

When it comes to remodeling, sometimes it is the little things that can make all the difference. Today the influential detail we want to discuss is lighting.

Changing lighting fixtures as well as their placement can drastically enhance architecture, give character and individuality to a space, and set the tone for a room.

When lighting a residential space, it is important to consider the lifestyle of its occupants. What are their hobbies? How do they entertain? What is their form of recreation? What are their ages? All this can impact the decision of what kind of lighting would work best for them.

Obviously, you need different lighting in the workshop than the hallway. Different spaces require different lighting design to balance function and visual comfort. The right lighting is important in spaces designed for activities such as food preparation, workshops, laundry, grooming and home study. This task lighting should help the occupant enjoy the activity, contribute to the decor of the space and support the general lighting when necessary.

Think about the bathroom or the powder room. This is usually the space where the day begins. Proper placement of the light above the sink and alongside the mirror is crucial to proper grooming. Every woman has probably experienced the frustration of putting on makeup in bad lighting.

General lighting should enhance the space, making small spaces appear larger, while emphasizing the spaciousness of large rooms. General lighting should balance brightness for task lighting and visual comfort with a variety of incandescent and/or fluorescent fixtures.

Lately, there has been an environmental push for fluorescent fixtures because they last longer and use less electricity, which means — at least in Utah — less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants. The only environmental faux pas with fluorescent lights is in the disposal. Florescent lights have a small amount of mercury in them, so they need to be taken to a toxic disposal site rather than just tossed in the garbage.

Although they are the greener choice overall, some people don't like fluorescent fixtures. The fluorescent bulbs of yesteryear gave off a cold, blue light and came with noisy, humming ballasts. Today, you can get a much warmer light and less noise from fluorescents, but the brief delay between when you throw the switch and when the light comes on still bothers some people.

Foyers, hallways and stairs can be illuminated using ceiling mounted fixtures, wall sconces and recessed downlights. When lighting hallways, it is best to locate fixtures about 10 feet apart. For stairs, well-shielded lighting fixtures should be placed both at the top and bottom of the stairs.

The right placement of downlights, wall washers, portable lamps, wall sconces and pendants can drastically change the feel and function of room. A chandelier placed over the dining room table will add a touch of elegance. Recessed low-voltage downlights over the place settings will provide sparkle and compliment each grouping. Wall sconces and wall washers on perimeter surfaces will offer visual comfort and add to the ambience.

The lighting fixtures should also compliment the decor of the space and the style of the entire house. A Renaissance style pendant will not work well in a Cape Code cottage!

It is best to determine the lighting plan in the design stage of the remodeling process. You should expect to discuss lighting placement and specify fixtures with your architect. The right lighting can be one of those small details with a big impact on your finished project.


Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founding principals of Renovation Design Group, renovationdesigngroup.com. Their local architectural firm specializes in residential additions and remodels.