How to Design With LEDs
September 21, 2012 - 9:19am
Lighting designer and ski buff Aaron J. Humphrey of Colorado’s Alpenglow Lighting Design lives the LED life.
Aaron Humphrey

Humphrey: So many good LED products are coming out that it’s broadening the palette to design more sustainably. I finished the drawings for a Vail, CO, house in October. It’s a 10,000- square-foot house with 10 distinct LED fixtures. Originally, I had 12 halogen fixtures, but by this January, 10 of the 12 fixtures became LEDs. The challenge with large, custom homes is that it may be a year between specification and product delivery. Product gets replaced, sometimes a couple times over, and I don’t always know what I’llI get on the job site. What, actually, will show up?

Right now, a 12-foot ceiling is the max of where I’m comfortable using LEDs. Beyond that, I haven’t found LEDs that give me a throw that I like. One recessed downlight I like is only 3½ inches deep. It’s 900 lumens. I can use it in showers, mud rooms, laundry rooms and garages. It’s inexpensive — $100 distributor net per sale — and builders like it because it doesn’t run into the framing, even though it’s insulated.

I’m getting a lot better performance out of coves using LEDs. I can get LED light fixtures closer to wood ceilings without worrying about drying and splitting the wood. I can do nicer designs integrated with casework. I can also do reading lights that are flush into a bedroom wall, instead of recessing them in the ceiling. The client gets an adjustable, gimbal-type spotlight, and they won’t burn their fingers when aiming it.

One thing I’m always pushing, and people are starting to become more receptive to, is color. I mean real color, saturated color. You can do some incredible stuff with color-changing LEDs, like coloring a wall in a media room or a dining room.

It turns my stomach to see high-end homes built with banks of light switches. Come on. Let’s catch up with what’s at least current. Controls coming out this fall will be basically an iPhone on the wall. They’ll have HVAC integration and metadata from your AV stuff. I always say the lighting control system is only as good as the last programmer. I don’t know how many projects I pick up based on someone else’s bad programming. I get hired to fix the presets, or scenes, so that they relate to how the space is going to be used.

Recently, I did some custom glass-and-iron pendants and sconces, working with an artist. The issue had been the heat from incandescent lamps was sometimes cracking the glass. We designed a system that uses all LEDs.

  • Aaron Humphrey
    Aaron Humphrey
  • LED cove
    LED cove
    Part lighting designer, part ski buff, Aaron J. Humphrey creates coves with saturated LED color.
  • LED cove bedroom
    LED cove bedroom
    For this bedroom, Humphrey incorporated LED cove lighting and custom LED decorative glass pendants and sconces.

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