Jay Johnson - If you’re in the dark about today’s lighting trends—every pun intended—then this article is for you. Lighting is once again on the fast track, and homeowners will need a little educating to be more in synch with their evolving home lighting needs. I had fun researching this material with my design partner Irwin Weiner, and he summed up the topic with this observation.
Past Innovations: Our Lighting Heritage. To see where we’re going, let’s first look back at where we came from, shall we? Lighting consists of two different physical materials: the lamp and the fixture. Candles were our first “lamps.” They were great for atmosphere, but that’s about it. They did provide some light, but the quality was shadowy and murky. Candlelight was a poor way to illumine anything adequately, except a romantic dinner. It was terrible for reading, and you couldn’t light up factories so people could work at night or during the winter months.
Theaters using candlelight were filled with shadows, requiring actors to exaggerate their movements and encouraging the audience to talk and pay less attention to what was happening on stage.
Candle holders, reflective sconces, and candeliers (hanging lamps with multiple arms holding multiple candles) were the primary fixtures for candle-based lighting. Again, great for setting a mood, but insufficient for task lighting.
Different forms of oil, coal gas, and gas were used as “lamps” in the late 1700s and early 1800s, gradually replacing candlelight in homes, factories, public streets, and theaters. Theatrical stages were illuminated so well for the first time that audiences settled down and paid attention. Theaters became places of serious entertainment as actors adopted more natural movements because the illumination was so bright from the gaslights. But the fact that a few hundred theaters burned down in the U.S. and Europe underscored the safety sacrifice made in exchange for this lighting innovation.
Gas lamps, gas wall sconces, outdoor gaslights and gas lanterns, and gasoliers (hanging lamps with multiple arms sending out multiple gas jet flames within glass globes or shades) were the primary fixtures for gas-based lighting. And while the light quality was strong and even dimmable, the highly flammable nature of the lamps were potential fire hazards. There were fires that raged through Pittsburgh, PA in 1865, for instance, when the city switched from coal gas to natural gas without telling anybody; when people tried to re-light their fireplaces after they went out, the gas exploded and the city burned.
Edison’s improvement on the incandescent electric light bulb (he bought out a 50-year-old Canadian patent on the bulb and improved it considerably) was introduced to the public in 1880, and it soon became the lamp of choice.
Gas fixtures were quickly switched over to electricity, so sconces and chandeliers and outdoor fixtures were taken off gas lines and rewired for electrical current. In the case of many sconces and chandeliers, however, the light bulbs were shaped to look like the candles and gas flames from a bygone era.
Lamps didn’t have much innovation until the 1920s with fluorescent lighting, which became more popular in factories, offices, and certain areas of the home (kitchens, bathrooms, garages, and home workshops). Modern compact fluorescents have the advantages of fluorescents over incandescent lamps in that they are much cooler than the heat-producing incandescent bulbs, and they last considerably longer. But CFLs contain mercury, making them difficult to recycle. CFLs just haven't caught on.
Incandescents took a step forward with halogen lamps in the late 1960s and 1970s. They gave a brighter, dimmable light, but they still burned very hot and didn’t have a long operating life.
Today’s revolution in lighting dates back to the introduction of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) in the 2000s. LEDs are more expensive initially than other lamps, but they are safe, they burn cool, they are now able to turn on instantly like incandescents, they’re dimmable, and they last longer than any commercial lamps.
1. Watch for evolving fixtures. If you are decorating a period-based home, then it will fit the mood of your project to utilize period fixtures, like Rejuvenation’s Deco Lighting or Victorian Lighting. Contemporary designs, however, have a long way to catch up with the flexibility of LED lamps and their ability to morph shape and shine pinpoints of bright light in a tight directional spot.
But innovative products are available and the burden is on you and your designer to look for the innovations in a fast-changing product marketplace. The LED Revolution isn’t just about purchasing the usual fixtures and sticking an LED bulb into them! Great new LED products are just starting to launch, and you should seek them out and add them to your vendor resources.
The giant kinetic LED chandelier in Moscow’s Tsvetnoy Central Market shopping center is an excellent example of how playful lighting can become with this exciting new technology. Custom lighting designs are booming due to the LED craze, and you might consider an art/lighting project for your clients, too.
Dutch design genius Marcel Wanders introduced the Architectural Series Large Chandelier-Shower, an LED chandelier shower head for the bathroom from Italy’s Bisazza Bagno. There are now many LED showers on the market.
There are LED fireplaces that provide flame-like light shows and disperse heat into the room (look at the Platonic Fireplace Company’s Electroscape Fireplace, for example). Meystyle LED Wallpaper and Fabrics incorporate lighting into home textiles and wall coverings. What other areas of home design will LEDs invade?
The futuristic imaginations behind the lighting sculpture of Studio Drift are great indicators of how creative lighting fixtures will continue to evolve and become more imaginative. Lighting designers like Ingo Maurer and the individuals who have designed for Sweden’s Zero Decorative Lighting group are among many pioneers who have been pushing the envelope on where LEDs can take us.
2. Light up your home's details. LEDs have now made it practical to extend lighting to all parts of the home, and not just to fixtures where we can easily replace burned-out bulbs. There’s a big movement towards highlighting important interior and exterior architectural details with LEDs. Again, these new bulbs are energy efficient, they run completely cool, they’re brighter, they can dim, they instantly turn on, they can shine with any hue of the color wheel, and they last much longer than their incandescent predecessors.
People once feared swimming pool lights because they were almost impossible to change when they burned out so frequently, and outdoor lights were considered a pain to replace for the same reason. The better LED bulb has changed all that, so now there’s no excuse to light up and highlight details, provide safety in dark areas, and add decorative beauty.
With LED interior and exterior lighting solutions, you can highlight crown molding, backsplashes and tile installations, ceiling beams, exterior walls, trees and garden details, swimming pools, outdoor walkways, and other features. Look, for example, at Belwith-Keeler’s Light Integrated Trim (LIT), an LED-based decorative light strip that can be used as part of kitchen tile installations (lighted tile borders!) and on more traditional light trim applications like undercounter lighting, outlining patio decks and stair railings, running along baseboards, and lighting up the dark recesses of closets and cabinets.
3. Get used to brightness on-demand. We’ve noticed a huge lighting trend begin to develop with our clients over the past five years. It was once the rage to have less artificial light in an interior space, in favor of letting in as much natural light as possible. This is a huge element of many European interior design schemes, with the timeless interiors of Axel Vervoordt leading the way.
In the United States, however, our design clients want things on-demand, and they usually run contrary to the laws of nature. Have you noticed this at all? When it’s boiling hot in the summer, homeowners want icy winter temperatures indoors. When it’s freezing cold in the winter, they want the indoor climate to be balmy and warm, just like in the summer. When it’s daytime, they need to have room-darkening shades and screening so they can make their interiors as dark as night. And—you guessed it—when it’s dark outside, they want their interiors to be as bright as day!
Lots of recessed downlights and higher-wattage LED bulbs will give homeowners what they demand at night: brightness. Because LED bulbs are cool, you can put 100-watt bulbs in fixtures meant to burn a maximum of 60 watts in the old incandescent days. So you can go brighter with the light from individual fixtures, dim the light if you don’t want a “Broadway effect,” and give yourself the bright-as-day interiors you desire. And don’t forget smart systems like Lutron to automate a home’s lighting controls—and even connect home lighting to a pushbutton control in your car so you can turn the lights on just as you're pulling into the driveway!