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Light Touch 

Lighting fixtures can define the design of a space or disappear into the background while lighting up other features.

Lighting is an essential part of every home, allowing us to function in our living spaces around the clock. It's also an integral component of a home's aesthetics and can provide design solutions (for instance, making a space seem larger or more cozy). Whether renovating, building a new home or simply lighting a space to serve a need or aesthetic, here are some basics to make the task easier.

  There are three basic types of lighting: ambient, task and accent. Ambient light is the overall light in a room and commonly is provided by ceiling fixtures such as recessed cans, a chandelier or track lighting. Task lighting is used for specific activities and includes lights under kitchen cabinets or at a desk. Accent lighting creates visual interest and includes lights to highlight a piece of art as well as fixtures used to spotlight columns across the front of a house.

  "All three types can have a decorative element," says Adele Abboud, a representative at Bevolo Gas and Electric Lights, which offers complimentary design services. "The best rooms have all three. They have different layers of light and they take advantage of natural light."

  Fewer rules apply when choosing interior light fixtures today than in the past, but some basic info and a few tips can help guide your choices.

Chandeliers — "Chandeliers are no longer confined to dining rooms," Abboud says. "They're seen everywhere from entryways to great rooms."

  One of the newest trends she has observed is using combinations of different but complimentary chandelier designs in open-concept floor plans.

  Shea Bowers, a client services representative at Ferguson Bath Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, says that in New Orleans, where historic architecture is abundant, traditional styles such as crystal chandeliers are popular. Chandeliers with natural elements of wood, twigs, shells and basket weaves are a trend as well, she says.

Lamps — These portable furnishings are an easy and affordable way to change how a room looks and add a personal expression to a space. They can provide ambient or task lighting or both and change the mood of a room. "People look good in lamp light," Abboud says, "and [lamps] make spaces warm and inviting."

  Michael Ber, co-owner of Lighting Inc., says his customers have moved away from traditional styles such as brass candlesticks and ginger jar bases toward lamps that capture contemporary design trends such as mixed metals and glass.

Ceiling fixtures — The two main types of ceiling fixtures are flush, which sits against the ceiling, and semi-flush, which hangs slightly away from the ceiling on a short stem. Bowers says ceiling fixtures often are overlooked as design considerations because they commonly are viewed as more functional than stylish.

Recessed cans — These fixtures, which are placed within a ceiling, are most easily installed during building or renovation, but sometimes can be added later. Advantages include a clean, discreet appearance and evenly spaced lighting. "They are the best type of lighting you can put in your house," Bowers says. "They put out a lot of light."

  Ber says a new development is cans that are smaller and even less obtrusive but still provide plenty of light.

Track lighting — This versatile option is an alternative to recessed cans for providing overall ambient lighting in a space that isn't undergoing renovation. "They're easily connected directly to the ceiling and can be adjusted to fit the space," Abboud says. Track lighting provides a contemporary look. Rail lighting is similar but can have pendants or spotlights hanging from it.

Sconces — They can be used in a variety of places — flanking a fireplace, illuminating a work of art, around a vanity mirror and at the head of a bed, as well as in hallways, living rooms, dining rooms and elsewhere — and can be wired inside or outside a wall. When used to light a vanity mirror, it's recommended sconces be placed at eye level on either side (instead of above the mirror, which can cast unflattering shadows on the face). Because sconces should be placed at eye level, they're one of the first things a person notices in a room, Bowers says. "They draw your gaze," she says. They also can accentuate a focal point.

Pendant fixtures — These elements, which feature a globe suspended on a cord, chain or rod, are available in a wide variety of designs and prices. They are good for task lighting over an island or bar, for example, and can make a big visual impact for the cost.

  Abboud suggests using pendant fixtures in kitchens, powder rooms (with a dimmer), outdoor kitchens and grilling areas. She says industrial and retro-industrial styles are hot at the moment, as is hanging multiples of the same pendant fixture. Something new she's seen: artistic installations comprising three to five pendant fixtures hung at different heights.

  Ber says customers at Lighting Inc. are using pendants for other applications as well — over sinks, nightstands and bathtubs.

  Bowers says the staff at Ferguson has coined the word "pendalier" to describe a new category of chandelier/pendant hybrid. Such pendants are larger than the typical pendant fixture (ranging from 15 to 20 inches in diameter), use two to three bulbs instead of one and are ideal for foyers.


Kenny Rabalais, a landscape designer at the Plant Gallery, says there are three priorities when making an outdoor lighting plan: accenting plants and architectural features so you can enjoy them at night, illuminating dark walkways and doorways for security, and setting a mood that reflects how you use your outdoor spaces. There are different types of lighting available to achieve those goals.

Gas lighting —The timeless appeal of a gas flame makes it ideally suited to outdoor entrances such as doorways and gateways, where it provides an inviting glow. Because gas lighting provides a minimum of light, Rabalais says, it typically is combined with other types of landscape and security lighting.

Electric lights — New electric lighting, like LED, uses less electricity. Rabalais says LED fixtures have the added advantage of not dimming over time like standard electric bulbs.

Freestanding lights — These normally are installed on stakes in the ground and are easy to move around. They are good for lining pathways and flowerbeds, and are portable enough to take with you if you move.

Wall-mounted fixtures — Installing a wall-mounted light fixture doesn't require hiring a licensed electrician; all that's needed is an outdoor plug. They are a good option for do-it-yourselfers and renters who don't want to invest a lot of money in lighting the outside of a property they don't own.

If in doubt, consult a professional. "Go to a showroom where the people have the expertise to sit down and explain what you want to know," Ber says.


LED lighting has been around for years (mostly used in elec- tronics like clock radios), but there are more forms of LED lighting today than ever before. Here are the basics:

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode and its bulbs are electrical and emit very little heat. Most conventional light bulbs are filled with gas and contain a filament that lights up; they get very hot.

LED bulbs are more energy-efficient than conventional lightbulbs.

LED bulbs are appropriate for most lighting uses.

LED bulbs cost more but last longer, making them more convenient and economical in the long run.

Most manufacturers guarantee LED bulbs for three to five years (after that time they produce only 70 percent of the light emitted when they were new).

LED lights are available in a variety of color "temperatures" ranging from cooler to warmer.

LED bulb styles range from candelabra to vintage Edison.

Some new LED fixtures have adjustable color ranges and beam spreads (a measure of the angle and width of the light emitted).

The range of LEDs is greater than that of standard bulb fixtures, so do some homework or seek advice from a lighting professional.


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