- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

It was time for the kitchen lights — two fluorescent lights with a cracked plastic cover — to go.

Christine (Tina) Seltzer and her husband, Bradley Seltzer, updated the lights as they remodeled their Fairfax Station home, a four-year project.

Two pendant lights hang on satin nickel cable over the kitchen island, where Bradley likes to check the mail and read. The fireplace and the framed print above it are played up by a spotlight and two sconces with brushed chrome covers. Several spotlights in the basement show off hockey memorabilia.

“It’s very different lights in each room to accent whatever color theme we have in that current room,” Mrs. Seltzer says. “It not only helps us have a great look to the house, but it gives us what we need for lighting, depending on the room we’re in.”

Mrs. Seltzer got advice on decorating with light from her interior designer, June Shea, owner of Shea Studio Interiors, a full-service interior design studio in Springfield.

“A lot of people who are renovating or doing new construction are looking for function and the ability to change the mood of the room depending on what they’re using it for,” says Ms. Shea, a member of the American Lighting Association, a trade association in Dallas that represents the lighting industry.

Homeowners should consider how the space will be used and what needs to be seen in a room, says Carole Lindstrom, principal of ZLLA, which stands for Zuczek Lindstrom Lighting Associates, in Alexandria.

“It’s important to light the task. It’s also important to light for atmosphere and mood. What kind of feeling are you going for?” says Ms. Lindstrom, an adjunct professor of lighting design for the interior design program at Corcoran College of Art and Design, a part of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Northwest.

Layered lighting is a way to mix different types of lights in a room to vary function and mood. Dimmers can be used to change mood by adjusting the level of light from full use to soft lighting. They are preset or manually operated, such as with a button or level that the user taps or moves to the desired light level. Lighting control systems are a step above the dimmer to provide control over all of the lights in one room or the entire house.

“You can’t do a house without a dimmer. That’s what creates the mood,” says Giorgina Schnurr, buyer and designer for Dominion Electric Supply in Arlington. “Without a dimmer, it would be blah.”

Options for lighting the home, beside the traditional table lamp or ceiling fan, include pendants, sconces, spotlights, and recessed, track and undercabinet lighting.

A pendant is a ceiling-mounted light that hangs by a cord over a surface, such as a table or kitchen island, or in an entryway.

“It’s more decorative. It’s going to tie in more with your furnishings and style of your home,” says Michael Morris, specification sales representative for One Source Associates Inc., a Columbia, Md., manufacturer’s representative that serves the metro area for commercial and industrial lighting and lighting controls.

Shine Lamps, a luxury lighting company in San Clemente, Calif., introduced a pendant collection in January that is created from vintage cast-iron molds.

“The pendant is an expression of your style and connects to the overall look of a room,” says Russ Ortiz, co-founder and president of Shine Lamps with his wife, Susan Ortiz. “You want the pendant to be the glue of the room and bring it together.”

Sconces, which are smaller than pendants, are mounted to the wall with a shade over the lamp, the industry’s term for light bulb.

“Sconces are primarily used as an additional decorative element,” Mr. Morris says.

Sconces typically are not used for task and ambient, or general, lighting. Task lighting is geared toward a particular activity, such as an undercabinet light in a kitchen or laundry room that provides additional lighting for cooking and washing activities. Undercabinet lights are low-profile, hidden lights that illuminate a countertop.

Sconces have a functional use, however, when used in the bathroom, says Deborah Houseworth, owner of DLH Design Studio, an interior design firm in Chevy Chase.

“The best lighting in a bathroom is to the right and left of the mirror. It keeps the shadows and glares off of your face,” Ms. Houseworth says.

Recessed lighting is used to provide general lighting or directional lighting, which illuminates a particular surface or area of a room. The housing for the lamp is recessed into the ceiling with a cone or reflector on top. Track lighting is similar to recessed lighting, but the lamps can be moved along a track for more flexible lighting.

“With a track system, you have the flexibility to move the fixtures anywhere along that track,” Mr. Morris says.

Recessed lights are used mainly for function but do not work well for specific tasks, such as reading, Ms. Houseworth says.

“If you’re going to read, you need a lamp, not a recessed light, because the light is low down and directed toward the book instead of up in the air, where there’s more possibility for glare,” she says.

Spotlights can be used to provide accent lighting to highlight something in a room, such as a piece of artwork, a bookcase display or a wall hanging. Portable cans, a type of spotlight plugged into an outlet, and rope lights are other options to direct the eye to the display item.

Selecting lights depends, in part, on the decor in a room, Ms. Lindstrom says.

Decorative fixtures work best with traditional decor, while track and recessed lighting provide a sleek, clean look for modern decor, Ms. Lindstrom says. With the traditional, the focus is more on the fixture, and with modern, the light source can be hidden, she says.

“You can see the effects, but you don’t see the actual source providing the lighting,” she says.

A homeowner can spend money on different things within a home, but without proper lighting design, the architecture, finishes and items on display can get lost, Mr. Morris says.

“A lot of times lighting is neglected or an afterthought,” he says. “It’s hard to define a space without illuminating it, using light or the proper type of lighting.”

Using too much light, however, can create its own problems, Ms. Lindstrom says.

“When you light everything, you light nothing. Nothing stands out,” she says.

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