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At Home: Go to the dark side when designing lighting

Marni Jameson and David Martin share tips and principles of lighting.
By Marni Jameson Published: October 1, 2012

I am in the dark about a lot of subjects, and light is one of them. But the dark is a great place to start when seeking enlightenment on lighting, said at least one lighting expert.

“Without the dark to play against, light would serve no purpose,” David Martin told me. Martin is an architect and product designer for Hubbardton Forge, a Vermont lighting manufacturer.

Lighting principles

Create places in spaces. Anyone can fill a room with boring light. But the drama happens when you layer light and don't make it uniform. Having lights that highlight some areas and cause others to recede lets you create places in spaces, Martin said. A nicely appointed coffee table, for instance, can go from static to dramatic by hitting it with a pool of light.

Employ high and low lights. Certain activities, like cooking and homework, need more light than others, like entertaining and sleeping. Thus, dimmers are useful everywhere. Adjustable lighting can take a dining room from homework station to romantic dinner.

To see or not to see. Some light fixtures are meant to be seen. They're sculptural elements and look beautiful even when not illuminated, Martin said. As important, however, are less visible fixtures that don't call attention to themselves. Recessed can lights, art spots, under-cabinet lights, or soffit lighting that wash a wall can be invisibly gorgeous.

Tips for spaces

Dining rooms. Light them like a theater, Martin said. The table is center stage, but the surrounding room should have secondary stages to give guests other places to feast their eyes. Lights over a buffet, spots highlighting art, cove lighting or recessed cans on dimmers introduce other layers of light for the dark to play against. “All can combine to make a flexible lighting scheme.”

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