Review of "Residential Lighting, a Practical Guide, Second Edition"
March 7, 2012 - 4:18pm

Green design gets its day in the sun, courtesy of Randall Whitehead, author of Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide to Beautiful and Sustainable Design.

Whitehead, who also writes a monthly column for Residential Lighting magazine, has refined his seminal treatise on illumination design by adding new tips about the energy-efficient lighting industry. A second edition of the book is available now from John Wiley & Sons Inc. -- publishers of the infamous “For Dummies” series of instructional books.

Whitehead's book deserves no such category, as it is very much geared toward professional lighting designers. The author's specialty is his use of light layering -- that is, using different lighting elements to assemble an overall illumination plan for a room, leaving no detail untouched. This creative spirit infuses Residential Lighting, which includes chapters dedicated to the unique lighting needs of the home’s primary rooms: kitchens, foyers, living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, home offices and the exterior of the home.

But this second edition of the book also takes its cues from trends and technological advances that have come along in the last few years. Whitehead devotes considerably more attention to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs), as these two different technologies have been at the forefront of energy efficiency and legislative compliance across the country. With the same mirth and charm that he brings to his monthly magazine column, Whitehead cuts through the hazy misinformation surrounding CFLs and LEDs, offering up concise dissertations on the benefits -- and drawbacks -- for using these lamps. A typical passage about CFLs admonishes consumers who still doubt their effectiveness: "People need to get over their fear of fluorescents. The moment they see a bulb that looks like swirly soft ice cream, they instantly hate it without even giving it a chance. Try getting your clients -- and yourself -- to try them out in the garage, basement, closets and outdoor lanterns first."

Perhaps the timeliest element of Residential Lighting is Whitehead's acknowledgement that the frenetic homebuilding era of years past has come to an end, and most lighting designers will be working on remodeling projects in existing homes. As a result, he offers up tips on how to best approach a remodel, from how to choose fixtures to the best way to add lighting to an existing room. Whitehead identifies the current trend toward open floor plans, noting that oftentimes the designer will be asked to light a living room/dining room/kitchen combo space that demands nuance and attention to detail.

And lest readers think that Whitehead is only concerned with electric lighting, he devotes a full chapter to natural daylighting. Moving far beyond simple skylights, Whitehead shows how to use a variety of design tools to capture, sculpt and enhance the sun's light.

Residential Lighting is a book that has certainly benefited from its second-edition treatment. Lighting technology -- particularly as it pertains to energy efficiency -- has moved at a breakneck clip for most of the last decade, and Whitehead’s astute pen chronicles these changes and offers a hint of sensible prognostication about what the future holds. His verdict says as much about the potential talent of the design community than it does about the tools of their trade.

"In just the last ten years, a broad spectrum of lamps has been developed or refined that we can incorporate into our designs. Still, you must understand that there is no one perfect lamp. Even though there are thousands of lamps to choose from, you will find that there will be favorites that you use again and again because they work well for your particular style of lighting design. We can offer guidelines, but what you ultimately do will come down to your skills as a designer."

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