Imagine buying a new house with ceiling lights in some rooms, wall lights in the bathrooms and a pair of outdoor fixtures flanking the front door.
Sounds like a Spartan lighting plan? That was the norm just 20 years ago, when lighting was an afterthought and "lighting plan" was an oxymoron.
Along came home tours, the Internet, HGTV and a flurry of home magazines that enabled consumers to, literally, see the light. Manufacturers multiplied their light-fixture offerings, lighting plans were attached to architectural plans and home buyers upped their lighting demands. Big time.
"What used to be 'upscale lighting' has moved down even to tract homes, too," reports Debbie Kosters, vice president of Inland Electric in Shorewood, which supplies builders, architects and homeowners. "Consumers want it and the builders are giving it to them. It's not necessarily that lighting is a bigger part of the house budget because there are just so many more products, with better finishes, available now at all prices." Ditto for lighting control, adds Kosters, which now routinely includes such features as motion sensors and dimmers, at least.
The notion of hiring a lighting designer, once limited to builders of pricy residences and commercial buildings, has trickled down also.
"I'm not just working with the very high-end buyer anymore," says Peter Hugh of Hugh Lighting Design LLC in Oak Park. "Even if the client doesn't hire me to do his whole house, he may ask me to do a special room such as a media room. And you'd be surprised what you can do on a modest budget."
For those with tight budgets, Hugh recommends concentrating on the kitchen and the master bathroom, if the latter is your retreat. When a client shows him magazine pictures of a room she likes, he asks her to describe what she likes about the room's lighting, not the specific fixture featured. "Is it romantic? Spa-like? Exciting?" he asks. "You can achieve these things with different fixtures."
For a multipurpose room such as a great room or a finished basement (lighting designers' greatest challenges), Hugh helps a homeowner design lighting that can break up the room into different zones. Then the homeowner can program the correct ambience for each zone.
For Paul Girard's South Barrington house, for example, Hugh specified one pre-set control that sets the great room stage for dinner preparation, with light from pendants over the island and fixtures under the cabinets. Another sets the stage for dinner time, lighting the chandelier over the table and soft accents on the kitchen cabinets. Another lights the family room end of the room for relaxing, with accent lights on artwork and lamps for reading.
Hugh says homeowners are more likely to scrutinize their new home's lighting for several reasons.
"One, the buyer is more sophisticated and is no longer willing to settle for one-size-fits-all lighting the builder is offering. Two, he wants to save energy and is looking at energy-savings options. Three, he wants to 'age in place.' So he wants better light and less glare," said Hugh.
Those who have lived with a poorly lit house know it can get better, Hugh added. That includes Vicky Bush-Joseph of Hinsdale, who hired Tiburon Homes LLC to build her house in 2006.
"In the kitchen, for example, our old house had one light overhead and one over the sink," said Bush-Joseph. "This time, we knew we needed more."
Bush-Joseph's new kitchen has hanging lights over work areas, the table and the island; under- and inside-cabinet lighting; and cans that illuminate the sink and the kids' artwork wall. The rest of the house is equally well-lit. With her interior designer's lighting plan as a guide, the whole family joined her shopping for fixtures. Her son chose a bedroom light/fan combination that resembles airplane wings, while her daughter surfed the Net for her bedroom fixture, then found one with just the right amount of sparkle at a local shop.
Arch Ahern admits he spent lots of time shopping and combing magazines before choosing the lighting for his new townhouse in Libertyville, built by Ferris Homes in 2005.
"This is my fifth house, and I've learned from each one," said Ahern. His lighting includes everything from down-lit stairway walls to up-lit bathroom vanities to cans aplenty that showcase his art collection. The most practical: a coat closet light that turns on automatically when you open the door.
Every lighting plan takes into account natural light and that, too, is expanding.
"Now you hear the term 'windowscaping,' which just means using different window types and the right window placement to get the enough light," said Mike Elliott of M. Elliott Architects in Geneva. "Even at modest price points, you can do this, especially if you have an architect help. If you have a bad view but want the light, you can use high windows or frosted glass."
Thanks to new coated glasses and fade-proof upholstery fabrics, buyers are opting for more windows in their living rooms and family rooms, Elliott said. In the kitchen, more buyers are ditching at least some of their upper cabinets in favor of more windows.
Even buyers of multifamily homes can find some with abundant natural light. That's what sold Diane Oshlo and her husband, Victor Ashcraft, on their new loft by Bigelow Homes in Aurora. Although it is an inside unit, which means it has only two outside walls, 14-foot windows in front and 5-by-6-foot windows in the back provide plenty of light. Three tubular skylights bring sunlight and moonlight into the interior spaces.
"Not only do we save on electricity, but having sunlight is just nicer," said Oshlo.
To preview lighting in tomorrow's new house, look to top-dollar high-rise residential buildings such as the Mandarin Oriental Tower, slated to open in Chicago in 2009. Its lighting contractor, Ken Johnson of Premiere Condominium Technologies in Chicago, will include a light-emitting diode lighting system as an upgrade.
"Instead of a bulb, the LED is a little semiconductor that produces light," explained Johnson. "It lasts for years, so you don't change bulbs, and it uses much less electricity than bulbs. Until recently, these weren't used in residential buildings because they weren't bright enough and they cost too much. But that's changing. Now we can use them anywhere we'd use a traditional fixture."
Another advantage of LED, said Johnson, is its adaptation to automation, which saves even more energy because lights are only used when needed.
"Now we'll start to see people use LED not just for its coolness factor but because they are more practical," predicted Johnson. "It won't be that long before we're telling our kids about the old days when we changed those hot light bulbs."
Also on the horizon, say builders and designers, is a greater use of whole-house, automated lighting controls. ART-Allsmart Residential Technology Inc. in Lake Forest, for example, offers a system that enables the homeowner to pre-set the house's lighting for "vacation," "entertainment" or "sleep," for example, and to control any light from any room so a homeowner can, say, turn off the kids' bedroom lights from her bedroom. While these systems are too pricey for homeowners of modest means, they are already popular among high-end buyers.
In the meantime, lighting contractors tell home buyers that it costs much less to include lighting during construction than to add it later.
"One thing I've learned is to do as much as you can upfront," said Ahern. "Even then, you will think of something else you left out."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times