Daylight savings time has cast welcomed additional light on most winter-wearied Canadian communities, but there is still room for better interior lighting in Canadians homes, condominiums, schools and workplaces.
Poor interior lighting undermines mood, strains eyes, increases fatigue and causes discomfort which, in turn, leads to lowered satisfaction, productivity, and efficiency. The resulting mistakes and accidents, whether in the home or workplace, are expensive on many levels.
Too often, illumination decisions are last-minute reactions to construction or renovation deadlines imposed by electricians and other trades people. Lighting is rarely considered as an essential system unless professional designers are involved. Even then, cost overruns on other systems may take a bite out of lighting budgets with the mistaken belief that cheaper fixtures are adequate substitutes and will not detract from the overall decor.
Good lighting does not mean using the brightest light that can be installed, but it does involve positioning light and shadow where they are most effective. Visibility is only one goal. Quality lighting should ensure shadows, glare, and other negative elements do not obstruct activity or overwhelm those in the room and detract from the tasks they undertake. Since lighting determines what can be seen, it has great impact on the final product of redecoration, construction and renovation. Lighting can improve a buyer's perception of value, reduce energy-consumption costs for owners and enhance curb appeal for property managers intent on attracting new tenants or clients.
Quality lighting enhances the mood and desirability of interior spaces and contributes to a sense of well-being and relaxation. This is achieved through effective design that integrates natural daylight and electric light. Well-lit environments are created by strategically employing a variety of light sources, and room surfaces, to provide and distribute light, reduce glare, eliminate shadows and ensure uniformity for relevant tasks.
Research from the Cost-effective Open-Plan Environment (COPE) Project, overseen by the National Research Council's Institute for Research in Construction, revealed that occupants are most satisfied in work spaces that have lit desktops and vertical surfaces, some daylight and a moderate degree of lighting variation. Although COPE deals with open-plan offices, many individual-use issues are similar to those in the open-concept home designs popular today: meeting overall budgetary and design requirements while creating environmental satisfaction for individual users, especially in specific work and computer areas.
The vast array of fixtures from chandeliers, sconces and ceiling fixtures to recessed pots, track lighting and dimming systems can leave consumers wondering where to begin.
Andrea Obront of Toronto's Union Lighting & Furnishings explains that overall design should precede fixture selection. According to Obront, effective residential design combines four complimenting illumination layers that focus the right levels of light in the right places. Creative, eclectic or even exotic combinations of these four distinct lighting layers make the dramatic difference:
- Decorative - Beautiful fixtures that add sparkle, glitter, pizazz, e.g. chandeliers, wall sconces, table lamps
- Accent - Highlights that illuminate an object but not the fixture (usually 3 to 10 times ambient levels), e.g. spotlights, potlights
- Ambient - Subtle low-level lighting that unobtrusively creates a warm, flattering glow, e.g. wall sconces, torchieres, indirect pendants, cove lighting
- Task - Illuminates work activities such as reading, sewing, cutting, keyboarding with a light on either side to prevent glare, e.g. table lamps, pendants, potlights, track lighting
Superimpose decorative, accent and task lighting over ambient lighting to create the distinct drama and utility that interior design dictates for each room. Dimmer switches can allow some fixtures such as chandeliers and pendant fixtures to fulfill more than one function, but usually a different light fixture will be necessary to serve each need. For instance, in a diningroom, a chandelier on dimmer and accent lighting at either end will ensure everyone can see and that the light is flattering. Add sconces for ambient lighting, include decorative lamps as accents, and the ambience is enriched.
A specific lighting configuration may be necessary to illuminate different activities. Increasing the flexibility of a room means incorporating a range of lighting to create multiple work, conversation and relaxation areas. Lighting can be instrumental in enabling a room to smoothly transform from a sewing centre, to a conversation hub to a home theatre with the flick of a switch.
Whether building a new house or renovating an existing condominium, design and decor decisions can be overwhelming. Unless proper lighting is incorporated into interior design from the beginning, the finished effect will be less than stellar. Before you begin your construction or renovation project, bring yourself up to date with the types of fixtures and their costs so that you will not be forced into poor decisions. Specialty lighting stores are usually prepared to generously contribute expertise and product knowledge to help you create affordable spectacular results that light up your life.