Home & Design

Expert Advice- The Right Lights

A good lighting plan plays up the drama in your home

Expert Advice- The Right Lights

Hinson's plan created a niche in which glass shelving was
suspended by cable that is also hung with lights, "creating a
piece of furniture in what was a dead space." Three
hand-spun copper pendants hung from the same cable
system add a jewel-like element over the table.
Interior lighting has come a long way since Thomas Edison lit the first electric bulb. But surprisingly, most homes—even in the highest price brackets—feature only the most basic lighting plans, with one lone fixture or randomly placed recessed lights illuminating voluminous spaces.

Without a carefully thought-out lighting plan, says lighting designer Wayne Hinson of Washington, DC-based Hinson Design Group, you probably aren’t playing up the drama in your home to its fullest potential. “Lighting is very frequently overlooked,” Hinson says. “I work regularly with a lot of designers in the District because they recognize the need for a good lighting plan.”

A good lighting plan delivers multiple “layers” of light to a room, each individually controlled layer serving a different function. Layers might include overhead downlights, spotlights that highlight art, uplights that wash a wall with light and lamps that provide ambient light.

Hinson finds that many of his clients’ homes have only one layer of light in the form of recessed lights in the ceiling. “These lights really don’t function beyond putting light in the room,” he says. “To create interest in any space, you have to have contrast. When you light with one layer you’re basically doing the same thing as creating a cloudy or an overcast day because there is no shadow.”

Part set designer and part illusionist, Hinson can create a mood, accentuate art or architectural elements and even mask design flaws through the use of strategically placed lighting. Just as interior designers use color to lead the eye to a focal point such as an accent wall in a room, lighting can also perform a similar function. “If you add color to an accent wall and then wash it with light, even better. That wall will have much more interest,” he says.

“You can use lighting to create effects that alter your perception of a space,” Hinson adds. “For example, if you have a narrow hall you can make it seem wider by washing one of the walls with light.”

In a typical dining room project, Hinson might employ anywhere from three to six layers of light. One accent layer would highlight art on the wall or the texture of a fireplace. Another layer over the table would encompass two “pin” lights—1.5-inch spots in the ceiling that make flower centerpieces “pop” and add sparkle to crystal chandeliers. A third layer, two downlights equipped with flood distribution bulbs, would light the table surface so that guests can see what they’re eating, independent of the chandelier. The chandelier, Hinson says, should be lit dimly to simulate the soft, warm glow of candlelight. Barely discernible to the eye, these various layers interact to create an ideal mood in the room.

All of the layers Hinson creates are on dimmers, to allow homeowners to customize a room’s mood even further. Many of the new systems he installs are automated to allow users to select pre-programmed “scenes” in each room. He almost exclusively uses low-voltage lighting in all of his jobs. “They’re so efficient, you save a lot of energy and they provide a much higher quality of light,” he says. “They’re much better at accenting things and they render colors perfectly.”

Hinson replaced randomly placed track lighting in this living
room with a two-circuit monorail that adds visual interest
and provides a source of accent lighting for art.

To add drama to a loft space with 16-foot ceilings and
exposed ductwork, Hinson suspended a cable system from
four corners of the room to highlight architectural elements
such as the new concrete fireplace surround, the antiqued
mirror by Niermann Weeks and the homeowner’s collection
of art and artifacts.

Track lighting in this lackluster den did little to illuminate the
existing shelves. Hinson’s plan re-purposed the track
lighting with new low-voltage fixtures to highlight the
bookcases and new fireplace surround. Two new lights in
each niche spotlight art.

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