Monday, March 8, 2010

Lighting Tips From Nashville Interior designer AMANDA BURDGE

For those of you who follow this blog, or for those who know of this blog (thanks to the tens of you that actually read it) you know that I don't claim to be the brightest bulb in the lighting department. Im EASILY distracted by shiny, sparkly things (like light bulbs) that put a twinkle in my eye and a wink of joy in my step. Sprinkle in a basket full of crayons, spongebob stickers, a little candy, and a 1.75 bottle of flavored vodka and Im destined to lead a charmed life. Yes this may seem a bit unvarnished to most people, but frankly I find the basics in life to be THE most rewarding. Take the lightbulb for example. Edison invented the first lightbulb in 1879. A man after my own heart, he started his first entrepreneurial ventures selling CANDY!!(it has sugar in it!) We take for granted this simple but revolutionary invention, that is still used today.

Lighting has come a long way since it's original start in1879. Today many lighting engineers and designers manipulate lighting to create a spirit, or state of mind. Lighting can add drama, excitement and create all sorts of fun sensations (without alcohol, or overdose binges of sugar)

Lighting can dramatically affect a space's atmosphere and comfort level, so it is very important to consider it when remodeling or building a home. There are three types of lighting:

Task lighting-this is used to read guilty pleasures, dial 411 for take out, so we can pretend we actually  cook food, and many other visual tasks that we will profess we can do like sewing, and doing office work (is that really necessary?) Task lighting is generally lighting that is focused directly onto a work surface.

Accent lighting-Similar to task lighting, due in part to its directional purposes, but it's used primarily for decorative stuff. Like artwork, architectural features, and sets "moods"(dammit I left my mood ring at home!)

Ambient lighting-This is the most common of terms in our industry. Everyone throws this word around like it's a politician at a bunny ranch caught on tape. This light is appropriate for hall ways, entertaining, watching TV and any other areas needing privacy control for unmarked cars. (a-hem.. bunny ranches) It is a soft level of light that diffuses the spread of illumination with a soft wash or kiss of light to the point of velvety darkness: 

As a big "D" (DESIGNER for you laymen's) I often have the opportunity to work on homes that start in the blueprint stages. This allows me to draw in a beautiful lighting plan (note the need for crayons, preferably the 96 pack with built-in sharpener) that takes advantage of all the lighting discussed above and take in to consideration all the homeowners good loot, I mean VERY expensive art. Some of the more common fixtures are:

1) Wall washers: ( no these won't be doing ANY of your dirty work!)
 Wall washers are an incredible work horse. They create fantastic, dazzling patterns on the wall, (remember shiny, sparkly things excite me) and they are the best at accenting and highlighting surfaces and artwork. Generally they are placed on the ceiling 12"-24" from the wall. BUT a word of caution, if you have high ceilings you may have to place these suckers as far as 8 feet out to get the correct angled direction for the wall, or art you are trying to highlight. 
Here is an example of wall washing:


2) Standard recessed can. 

Another work horse, this standard fixture can be found in every home. What makes them different and perform different are the trim's. They are available with reflector trims, black alzak, black or white baffle and various others. Black and white baffle are by far THE most common recessed fixture in America, in a good Ol standard 6" size. I do not recommend these BIG OL' honking things. Here is one example (they are few and far between) where GO BIG OR GO HOME, does not apply!! The smaller the fixture (3"-5") the better.

Standard recessed can with reflector trim:(shiny and sparkly)

This is a great example of Standard recessed can lighting, in combination with accent and wall washers. This also shows why smaller cans are better. Lighting puts a lot of holes in the ceiling. Smaller less obtrusive is better.

3) Pinhole aperture

Pinholes trims are great for direct down light. These can be used to highlight art or create a dramatic lighting effect in a niche, or corner. This pic is a great example of genral down lighitng and pinhole niche lighting.

In this entry, Rosemary placed a beautiful sculpture at the base of the stairs. The mood and drama of this space is created with the help of a spot downlight on the sculpture art, making the piece come to life with lighting high's and lows. (and after two shots of vodka, and a bag of M&M's, you can move the sculpture and pretend you are trying out for American Idol!)

4) Slot aperture

These fixtures are ideal for controlled lighting. They not only create a spot, they give you flexibility. The trim has a 35 degree rotator inside the trim that allows precise placement of light.( we designers like OPTIONS!) They are typically used for art and places that movement and correction are needed, but are typically found in dining rooms on either side of the chandelier and hallways.

Lighting can make or break a space. I don't care if your furniture is made of cardboard or candy (do you mind if I gnaw on your furniture, I LOVE candy!) Lighting can make EVERYTHING beautiful. Of course the booze can accomplish this too, but it requires unlimited consumption. At some point you have to show up to the office and pretend to work!

The BEST Home lighting book for layman's by far is Sunset's Home lighting book
Home Lighting (Home Basics)

It is very easy to read and understand, and it is an inexpensive introduction to the basics of lighting! Shiny, sparkly things!

Don't forget to FOLLOW US on Twitter
And Don't forget to join our facebook fan page

Need more info, want to offer me some loot, or throw a tomato at me? Email me!

Additional images courtesy of homehues, woova,, and


  1. How did you know that I was trying to find out about different lighting techniques?! This post is perfect! I am planning a 'gallery' room when we move.I also intend to incorporate a library,sectioned off at one end. I have always wanted somewhere in my house dedicated to displaying nice things - artwork, sculptures,antiques. I love the lighting in the Rosemary Bellinger picture.That Home lighting book is a must.
    Thank you.

  2. I love the example pictures you used here, Amanda. I have to say that many people do not take into account the different lighting available. Most just have a ceiling fixture and call it a day. I've had more jobs where I've had to bring in lamps more than any other item.

  3. You forgot to mention how well lit you can get on that vodka...

    Lighting was one one of the publicist's most troubling issues. She has 9' walls in a yurt with an 18' ceiling.
    She has some pendants in her kitchen but had to go with ugly track lighting elsewhere.
    It didn't turn out as badly as she thought it would...

  4. Love that Rosemary Bellinger foyer, your right, the lighting really adds to the drama!

  5. Great Lighting Lesson! What a perfect mini refresher course. :)

  6. And now I want to redo ALL the lighting in my house! Wow.

  7. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I'm glad you are enjoying it! I liked the lavender color room above-pretty. :)

  8. i feel like i'm in a mini-interior design class when i read your blog, which is a good thing. this was a great, very informative post--too bad i had to learn this the hard way when i installed this beautiful ceiling fan with a god-awful light in my bedroom. it's horrible. now i have to change it AGAIN.

    i also love how you're always dishing the 411 on the best books. i'm putting them on my list!

  9. Gorgeous! Those spaces are massive.

  10. Lighting is sooo important...I only found that out by suffering from having lighting I hated. Thanks for visiting me and commenting.

  11. Wonderful blog!

    Please visit this post of mine and let me know from your interior expertise what you think??? xo

  12. Now that my kids are a little older I feel like I can add lamps to the living room. I have lived with just the overhead lighting for so long. It is such a nice change of mood for the living room too!

  13. "Everyone throws this word around like it's a politician at a bunny ranch caught on tape."

    Funny and educational post. Thanks for the laugh.

  14. Great post really. Not only instructional, but it pulled a few laughs. :)

  15. Nice I love the idea of being able to personalize and customize your home decor. The result is having something unique that no one else does. Recessed Lighting

  16. Nice blog…. It isn't easy to choosing that perfect Kitchen Lighting. It needs to be ergonomically viable and superior when it comes to comfort

  17. Wow! Great lesson about lighting. The effects of wall washers are gorgeous and dramatic :) They give a sudden elegance to a house and a hotel-like ambiance.

  18. Being practical is strongly encouraged these days because not only are we going to be able to save money but we are helping out in the conservation of energy.

  19. I had no idea there were so many different types of lighting fixtures, and their uses! Thank you for sharing! This was very informative! The rooms look great and they really help visualize the effects of each light.