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In the Spotlight
By Tracy Dickinson
KITCHENS & BATHS April/March 2017
home :: home & garden :: kitchen & bath

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Putting together a lighting plan requires an ensemble approach.

Putting together a lighting plan requires an ensemble approach.

For most homeowners, a lighting plan is not the first task on the list when considering a kitchen or bath design. Like many other aspects of home construction, when it’s done well, no one notices. However, when it’s done badly, everyone notices.

Figuring out how to do it well can be a daunting prospect. So we asked some local professionals to shed a bit of light on the subject. Here are their bright ideas.

What’s the big picture?

Although you don’t have to select your fixtures immediately, don’t wait until the home or remodel is nearly done to start thinking about the lighting.

“Once you have the blueprints or you’ve started demolition, before construction even begins, you should be talking to an electrician,” Rob Walker of Beisser Lumber advises. “Walking through the plans with a professional ahead of time and talking about how you’re going to use the space is crucial.”

Discussing the layout and how you plan to use the space helps the electrical and construction team determine wiring needs and appropriate placement for outlets before any walls are in, which saves time and money later.

AIM Kitchen & Bath’s Corey Gersdorf says, “You can do your lighting layout after you have your final cabinet plan, but it’s always good to keep that in mind with any other features planned so you can make sure it fits your budget.”

What’s the key part?

Cabinetry, countertops, and appliances may get all the glory when it comes to kitchen and bath design, but understanding how you want your space to function makes all the difference in how well the production comes together. That means planning the task lighting first.

“The kitchen should have plenty of light so you have an adequate work space,” Gersdorf says. “Whether you’re prepping meals or entertaining, you want to make sure the space is properly lit for the task.”

Walker adds, “Different homeowners have different needs, and understanding what they want for the space determines how you design the lighting. Do they like to entertain? Are they budding gourmet cooks? Do they dine and entertain in the kitchen? Is the bathroom used by the entire family or just the adults? Do they need separate lighting for applying makeup and getting ready in the morning?”

“A lot of bathrooms don’t have a good source of natural light, so adding decorative lighting and good task lighting is an important option,” Gersdorf says.

What’s center stage?

In addition to the right task lighting, a good lighting plan does more than highlight the work at hand. It can spotlight artwork, a beautiful backsplash design, or the dishes displayed behind glass-front doors.

“Lighting has changed a lot over the last 10 years or so,” explains Gersdorf. “With LEDs becoming more and more popular, you’re getting a lot more energy-efficient options for fixtures, recessed, and task lighting.”

Walker says, “Undercabinet lighting is still popular, but the LED options now are much nicer than the old halogen style. They can be hidden better so the focus is on the design feature and not on the lightbulb.”

Another advantage to the newer LED products is their size. “Sometimes, with a remodel, it can be difficult or expensive to install can lights because they would interfere with existing plumbing or ductwork,” Walker explains. “The LED can-style lights are no deeper than the framing or drywall, so they can be installed just about anywhere.”

What’s the theme?

Once you’ve set the stage and created the framework for a good lighting plan, you can start dressing it up to suit your style. “Decorative pendant lights and LED lighting are very popular, and more lighting companies are coming out with decorative glass options, too,” Gersdorf says.

The lighting possibilities for bathrooms are growing as well. “We’re designing baths with bigger showers, zero-entry showers, and more spa-like features,” says Walker. “This can create the necessity for having lighting right in the shower, and manufacturers are offering lighting that makes that possible.”

From waterproof options to can lights with exhaust fans built in, these new products allow designers to create a plan that’s both functional and beautiful, even if it’s for the bath.

Both Walker and Gersdorf say it’s important to put a little of yourself into any design, and that includes the lighting. “LED lighting has come a long way in the last few years,” says Gersdorf. “There are a lot of style options to choose from. For any lighting design, adding dimmers is always a good way to change it up, depending on the activity.”

And having a little fun with the accessory lighting is an easy and less expensive way to change up the style in the future. Walker says, “I’ve seen homeowners use Mason jars as globes for light fixtures and backlight signs and artwork for decorative lighting. Planning this early on with your designer allows them to wire appropriately and gives you the freedom to add some fun features later.”

The decorative lighting may be the part of the ensemble that gets star billing, but the behind-the-scenes planning makes the design a success.

Kitchen vs. Bath

For both spaces, lighting fixtures should be scaled to the size of the room—generally larger for a spacious kitchen or dining area and smaller for a bath. But there are other factors to consider specifically for each area.

  • Kitchen
    • Task Lighting: Meal prep, Washing dishes, Dining, Cooking
    • Ambient Lighting: Entertaining
    • Special Considerations: Accent lighting, Decorative lighting
  • Bathroom
    • Task Lighting: Makeup application, Washing and shaving, Showering and bathing
    • Ambient Lighting: Relaxing in the bath
    • Special Considerations: Lack of natural light, Humidity

More expert advice

The pros at Kline Electric specialize in the behind-the-scenes staging that makes a good lighting plan come to life. Following are some questions they recommend keeping in mind:

  • What kind of light do you need in each location? “It’s important to understand that different types of fixtures have different requirements,” says Kline’s Zach Bolin. “Are you installing a single- or multiple-bulb fixture? Is the fixture replacing a different type of fixture? Knowing this helps us create the right plan.”
  • What type of light do you want to create? “If you’re installing task lighting,” Bolin says, “that will require brighter output than if you’re wanting to create some mood or ambient light.” This may also determine whether the system should incorporate dimmer switches and where.
  • If the installation is a remodel, what is the existing wiring? “Older homes often aren’t wired for the circuit amperage that more modern fixtures and appliances demand,” explains Bolin.
  • What type of fixtures are you considering? As mentioned in the article, standard lights and bulbs require more space and use more wattage. If you opt for LED products instead, you save in multiple ways. “A standard 65-watt bulb not only uses more wattage, it produces more heat,” Bolin says. “That’s why traditional can lights are so much larger than LED can-style lights—they have to be larger to compensate for they heat the produce. But an LED light that produces the equivalent of a 65-watt bulb only uses about 15 watts of electricity.”

    This not only saves electricity, the lights last longer—which saves replacement costs, and these lower watt fixtures can often be run using low voltage wiring, which is smaller and easier to install than standard wiring.
  • Are you designing for the long-term? “We always like to plan ahead,” says Bolin, “so if a homeowner thinks they may want to add equipment later or make more changes in the future, we advise wiring for those future projects now, while it’s accessible.”
    In addition to installing wiring for possible future projects, Bolin says opting for LED is an investment in the long-term as well.

    “As the price, quality, and design options for LED continue to improve,” he explains, “it becomes accessible to more homeowners. There’s concern that power supplies won’t be able to meet demands if they continue at the current rate, so more homeowners opting for LED fixtures can dramatically reduce that demand and potentially eliminate that risk.”


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