Sunday, August 16, 2009

Living Room Lighting

Sitting, talking, entertaining, listening to music, reading, writing, and watching television are normal accepted activities in most living rooms, and therefore the best kind of light is a good measure of general or diffuse light with a play of light and shade. There should be adequate working light where necessary, and well controlled highlighting for the more interesting display of art, plants, objects, and arrangements.

Most lighting designers agree that the best sort of general light is the reflected variety – light bounces off a wall – because it gives the least glare. This is obtained either from indirect sources like more or less concealed uplights, or from light concealed behind coves, or from wallwashers of one kind or another: or from direct lighting like table or floor lamps.

Whatever happens, do not let general light be all at one level of brightness. Our eyes see by means of contrasts, and nothing makes a room so flat, even boring, as bland light. Dimmers are a great help here with their easy going control of intensity. And dramatic light can be provided by a mixture of judiciously placed downlights and uplights, with highlights from spots.

Reading lights should be at a reasonable distance behind anyone reading, or if the light is a downlight, about a foot in front of the book or work; otherwise, the light on the page will be too bright. For writing, light should fall over the left shoulder of a right-handed person and vice versa. Alternatively, a portable desk lamp or adjustable wall mounted light should throw light onto the work.

Looking at television in an otherwise dark room is a strain. As a light near the viewer will reflect in the screen, a dimmed light behind the set is best if the set is on a shelf. If the set is free standing, use downlight or a floor lamp shining at the wall or down to the floor.

Dramatic lighting can be provided in storage units and on shelves or in alcoves. Collections of glass and ceramics look their best in front of translucent wall of light (made by fixing vertical strips lights to the wall behind the shelves and concealing them with panels of pearly Plexiglas, acrylic, or glass), or with a spot shining down on them from an angle. Single precious objects like a piece of sculpture, or even a plant or arrangement of flowers, are best served by a single downlight set above them, and other shelves can be lit up by the sides by baffled vertical strips. Objects on shelves can be picked out with tiny portable spots, and deeply recessed sections of wall units can be similarly treated.

Conventionally, paintings are lit from above by so-called picture lights, but they are better lit by spots fixed to the ceiling or walls, and better still by specific spots for the purpose, such as the parabolic variety with inbuilt transformers, or framing spots which can be specially adjusted to the size of the picture. These particular spots also make a dramatic job of lighting foliage, plants, or objects. An entire wall of paintings can be beautifully lit by plug-mold or a wash of light from recessed strips. This has the advantage of staying beautiful however much the paintings are juggled out.

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