The Importance of Light Layering
Too much dependence on recessed lighting can make a home look more like a museum.
This study has a good balance of accent, decorative and ambient light. People won’t have to compete with the art for attention.
Randall, since we are drawn to an Asian aesthetic that is simple, organic and serene, we decided to do our whole house with recessed lighting. We have an electrician starting this work today.
Thanks for the advance warning. I hope you don’t mind if I say that this is an awful idea. Not the Asian aesthetic part, I like that very much. It is just the way you have decided to light your home that is causing me distress. Using just recessed fixtures as the sole source of illumination, you will end up with uncomfortable lighting known as “the museum effect,” where the art and objects in each of the rooms will appear more important than you or your guests. And I just know that is not the case. First off, for those of you who have not yet finalized your lighting plan, I recommend using adjustable recessed fixtures, instead of fixed downlights, for accenting. I’m afraid that by the time this comes out in print, the deed will already have been done for the couple who wrote in. What I will need to perform for them is a bit of lighting triage. Luckily, almost all recessed housings are universal and can take a large variety of trims. So, for people who have already made the mistake of filling their ceilings with downlights, I recommend switching out the existing fixed trims with recessed adjustable trims. There are both line voltage and low voltage integral transformer trims that will fit into existing housings. Then you will have a lot of flexibility to focus light in different directions. And as I always say, good design is not static. The light should be as adaptable as the lifestyle of the homeowners. Next, make sure you have some ambient light (indirect lighting from torchieres, sconces, uplights behind plants, etc.) to add a layer of flattering illumination. It will help you look years younger and add to the serene quality of the interiors. Lastly, add some decorative fixtures, fitted with low-wattage lamps (bulbs) to create additional points of light. At a subtle illumination level, they will create the illusion of providing the room’s light without visually overpowering the rest of the room’s aesthetics.
Randall Whitehead lighting designer
Randall Whitehead, IALD

Randall Whitehead, IALD, is a professional lighting designer and author. His books include "Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide." Whitehead has worked on projects worldwide, appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN, and he is regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Visit his website for more information on books, upcoming seminars and the latest lighting trends.

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