At home, where we cook and eat, sleep and dream, read and entertain, lighting has to be flexible, unlike the purposefully soft, romantic lighting in a restaurant or the dark, dramatic lighting in a nightclub.
"You can't borrow ideas from the commercial and apply them" wholesale to residential settings, said Linnaea Tillett, the principal of Tillett Lighting Design in Brooklyn. "In a private space, you expect to have flexibility." Generally speaking, lighting designers strive for a certain consistency in lighting.
"Our eyes don't like to deal with extreme contrast," Tillett said. "A lot of contrast creates eye exhaustion. You want to diminish contrast in a room that people will be in for a long time."
To eliminate contrast and create balanced light in a room, there should be at least three kinds of lighting, according to lighting experts like Randall Whitehead, the author of "Residential Lighting: A Practical Guide" (John Wiley & Sons, 2004).
Soft, indirect ambient light should illuminate the whole room with a glow, and task lighting should be positioned (usually between the top of the head and the work surface) to enable working or reading.
Accent lights should be used to highlight artwork and decorative objects. (A decorative light like a chandelier is a fourth, not necessarily essential, component of lighting design; it should never be the sole source of light in a room because it throws everything else into darkness.)
But some rooms call for creative solutions that go well beyond the basics. Particularly in deep winter, when days are at their shortest, homes that do not get lots of natural light (and darker rooms even in those that do) can benefit from clever lighting design.
In the examples that follow, designers have come up with an array of tricks, from a glowing interior landscape with walls of backlighted onyx, to a scheme that mimics the grand lighting of Radio City Music Hall.
Even the smaller-scale solutions, such as artificial skylights and lighting built into furniture, offer new ways of thinking about the traditional trio of ambient, task and accent lighting.
No reflective glare
When Dr. Louis Aledort, and his wife, Ruth, bought their six-room apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 2001, they interviewed several architects, and mentioned to each of them that they had an art collection. Only one architect, Richard Lavenstein, a partner at Bond Street Architecture & Design in Manhattan, asked to see the collection.
"No one else said, 'What kind of art? What period is the art?' " Aledort said.
Lavenstein was hired.
The Aledorts, who own mostly lithographs by Robert Rauschenberg, Elizabeth Murray and Jasper Johns, not only wanted to light their art well, they needed to compensate for part of the apartment facing a courtyard and having very little light.
They could have lowered the 10-foot ceilings to put in recessed lighting, but Aledort, a hematologist, and his wife, who works with breast cancer patients in a support group held at Mount Sinai Medical Center, didn't like that solution. Instead, their architect collaborated with lighting designer Francesca Bettridge, whose firm handled lighting for most of the public spaces of the Time Warner Center.
Bettridge designed a lighting scheme that is "relaxed," she said, and that "makes people comfortable." She washed the walls gently with light, using tiny but elegant fixtures to create museum-quality lighting. Because most of the couple's art is under glass, she took care to minimize reflections.