The Latest Trends in Home Lighting

Posted by — May 1, 2005

The Latest Trends in Home Lighting

If you're planning to redecorate your home this year, perhaps the most important aspect of your project will be the decisions you make about lighting. It can dramatically influence the feel of a room, making it warm and inviting, cozy and comfortable, or cold and distant at the flip of a switch.

"Whether you decide to go with recessed cans, lamps, chandeliers, or pendants, decorative lighting is probably the most important accessory you can buy. If chosen correctly, it can have just as much influence on the look and feel of a room as your best piece of furniture," says Joe Rey-Barreau, an architect, educational consultant for the American Lighting Association and professor of interior design at the University of Kentucky. He travels the country tracking lighting trends and notes three major movements underway right now:

* Casual elegance: The creation of warm, relaxed and comfortable environments with casual lighting that is a little more upscale in design.

* Simplified traditional: Remove the excess and simplify. Decorative lighting here may be solid brass, but stripped down and rich with antique patina.

* Soft contemporary: Clean, modern and simple in style. While architectural in design, these fixtures are no longer cold.

"Lights that complement a home's architectural design are really hot right now," says Jeffrey Dross, trends analyst for Kichler Lighting in Cleveland, Ohio. "For example, there's been a growth in the availability of taller fixtures because homes being built today have higher ceilings. Eight feet used to be the standard. Today it's more like nine or ten feet and you need to find ways to fill the space."

Dross also notes a change in the materials of choice for those fixtures. "People are moving away from the plastic and resin look that used to be so popular in newer homes, and we're seeing a return in popularity of the old world look --  brass and copper, crystal chandeliers and things like that," he says.

Major changes are also noted in the way people are lighting up their dining rooms and kitchens. Over the past five years or so, the decorative trend in kitchens has moved more toward cherry and mahogany cabinets and away from the oak ones. To complement the look, lighting is taking on a redder tone.

"People are using recessed cans as a primary source; under-cabinet lights to brighten up areas where tasks, like meal preparation, are performed; and they're lighting up the toe space and top of the cabinets with ambient lighting that showcases them," says Dross.   "Fixtures, like mini pendants, are being added as decorative accents and they frequently match or at least complement the chandelier in the dining room, particularly if the rooms are close together."

The lighting industry is also directing a lot of attention at outdoor lighting this year. "These days, people are spending more time than ever before on their terraces, decks and patios, and since they've become an extension of the house, they need to be lit up," says Kathy Held, who is a buyer and vice president at South Dade Lighting in Miami, Florida. 

Realizing the emergence of a new market, lighting manufacturers are adapting their most popular designs to outdoor living, using materials that can stand up to the elements.  Chandeliers, wall scones and table lamps made of cast aluminum, which is more durable and won't corrode or rust, are now available in all shapes, sizes and colors. Portable lights and table lamps that need to be plugged in are UL rated so they won't short out or cause a fire if they get wet.

Landscape lighting is also getting more decorative. "The security lights leading up to your house used to be plain and unattractive. With all the decorative options out there today, you can use them to introduce your neighbors and guests to your taste before they walk through the door," says Held.

And don't forget energy efficiency. The industry as a whole is putting a lot of emphasis on that right now. "A lot of companies have brand-new decorative chandeliers, pendants and table lamps out this year that take fluorescent bulbs rather than incandescent ones," says Monty Gilbertson, a certified lighting consultant and manager of Lighting Design by Wettsteins in La Crosse, Wis. "Fluorescents last longer and are dimmable so they use less energy than your everyday incandescent."

Tips that Will Help You Light Your Home Up Like the ProsTo help you make the most of your decorative lighting, the experts at the American Lighting Association (ALA) offer the following ideas for illuminating your home.

* Don't Wait: It is important to plan your lighting even earlier than other decorating ideas because there are frequently decisions that need to be made relative to the location and type of electrical outlet installation during construction. You also need to consider lead time. "Consumers are surprised when we tell them it may be as long as six weeks to get their decorative fixture," says Kathy Held, a buyer and vice president at South Dade Lighting in Miami, Florida. "We don't keep every fixture in every finish in the showroom. Consumers need to start earlier and have patience while their fixture is built."

* Take Your Time: Give lighting as much consideration as other decorating decisions like flooring, wall covering and furniture. Create a master plan of how you want the finished house to look, and work at it over a year or two. For instance, do you want mini-pendants versus recessed lighting over the kitchen island, pin-point spots versus a wall outlet to illuminate artwork, or a floor outlet for a lamp in your seating area?

* Ask the Experts: To make the best decisions, embrace your lighting showroom personnel. Get information from them. "And bring them information," says Joe Rey-Barreau, educational consultant for the American Lighting Association. "Use your camera. Bring a digital image of the room and what is not working. If you are trying to create a decorative element, bring in swatches of fabric, pillows and paint chips. Make the fixture the statement to complement the room."

* Quality Counts: Opt for timeless materials like bronze and glass. Timeless designs in top materials will always look right and can become family heirlooms.

* Test It: Try before you buy. In most instances, you can take a lamp home, try it and bring it back if it doesn't work.

* Focus Pocus: Put lighting to work creating focal points. Add lights to direct the eye in a new direction by focusing on a piece of art, furniture or the mantel. 

* Dim Some: Dimmers are a handy trick-of-the-trade. They help set a special mood in the home by allowing you to manipulate the light. Install them at the wall for ceiling fixtures and even buy them for table lamps.

* Space Case: Add more drama to a space with accent lighting. By illuminating the top of a bookcase, adding under-cabinet lighting or hanging a colored pendant over the kitchen island, you can create islands of light that bring the grain of the wood, the print of the wallpaper or the color of a wall to life.


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