The Importance of Lighting Design

Dianne M. Pogoda

Lighting is an intangible yet integral part of every design — and most people don’t understand it. Integrating the right light in the right ways can take a good design and make it great or make a great design spectacular. Conversely, a poor lighting layout can ruin the function and ambiance of a space. 

A short while ago, KBIS hosted a panel where lighting and interior design experts discussed strategies for using light appropriately and for talking to clients about it. Here are some of the highlights:

Pete Romaniello, founder of Conceptual Lighting, described lighting as a combination of architectural — the things you don’t want to see — and decorative fixtures — the things you do want to see. Lighting in a kitchen needs to perform in many different situations, from making coffee in the morning to kids doing homework in the afternoon to creating a mood for a party in the evening.

“LED technology allows us to do things we never could before, but technology doesn’t replace good design principles,” he said. He cited four things to be concerned with when it comes to LED: Color, dimming, distribution — how much light and the spread of the beam — and glare control.

Mark Langston, principal and chief lighting advisor at Light Can Help You, said most people don’t understand what lighting does.

“The purpose of lighting is to put light where it needs to be, for function and to show off the materials and textures in a space. The beauty of lighting is that we can control the emotion, energy, and flow of the space. We can get people engaged and excited or make them relaxed with lighting. You have to understand how people are going to use the space to understand the right lighting experience for them.”

He added that flexibility in any space is essential, and lighting helps people maneuver around the room to do different tasks.

“You want to use lighting to create an environment that’s dynamic. Lighting is the only thing in the space that changes, and we have total control of how we do that, using a blend of electric light and natural light to tie in the design and how people use the space.”

Kelly Finley, the CEO and creative director of Joy Street Design said interior designers approach lighting slightly differently, starting every project with function, space, and light planning — the things behind the wall or cabinet — then marrying it with design.

“We adjust based on having the lighting we need and the design we want. We also get to have fun with the ‘jewelry’ in the room — the fixtures, sconces, and lamps, which create the mood.”

Laura Van Zeyl, who manages the Dallas Market Center’s Lightovation residential lighting show and moderated the panel, asked each pro for their top three pieces of lighting advice.

“Don’t depend on overhead lighting; use layers of light,” offered Langston. “Don’t light the floor; light something. Lighting is complicated — ask tons of questions and get help when you need help.”

“Lighting is jewelry – if you do it properly, it’s what you see and notice when you walk into the room, so spend on it, make sure you have the budget for it,” said Finley said. “Make sure it’s interesting and reflects your personality. Use layers of lighting.”

“Don’t light the floor; light the perimeter and work your way in,” Romaniello concluded. “People look at walls, not the floor, so light the walls. Everyone has a specialty, and if lighting is not your specialty, don’t be afraid to reach out to a lighting specialist. Finally, lights installed in the ceiling are going to be in there for a long time, so don’t cheap out.” 

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