What You Light Determines What You Will See

<i> Newsday </i>

Let there be light, but let it make sense and suit the mood or task at hand.

Too many people take lighting for granted (a floor lamp here, some track lights there), and illuminate the home as an afterthought. They don’t plan lighting like they plan, say, window treatments.

But lighting is an integral part of a home and more a factor in how you feel than drapes or swags will ever be.

“Lighting affects the way you perform tasks, how you feel and how you look,” said New York lighting designer Francesca Bettridge, of Cline, Bettridge and Bernstein Lighting Design. “Especially in interiors, in apartments, for example, it’s artificial light that creates the environment.”


Proper lighting is important “because what you light is what you see,” said New York lighting designer Ann Kale, of Ann Kale Architectural Lighting Design.

“In the daytime, we rely on the sun. But as soon as sun goes down, the world belongs to light. It’s the only thing that surrounds you completely.”

Improper lighting can have a subtle, but very negative impact on attitude.

“You may feel uncomfortable or get headaches” and not know why, Bettridge said. “Glare can make you so irritable or fatigued you turn around and snarl at the dog.”


And if your meals sometimes look less than appetizing, your kitchen’s lighting may be more to blame than your culinary expertise.

“Always use incandescent light in the kitchen,” said Gary Gordon, a designer for Architectural Lighting, a New York company. “Fluorescent light makes food look appropriate.” And stay away from track lights, warns Gordon, because they cast shadows on counters that make it difficult--and dangerous to chop, dice and pare.

If your makeup never looks the same in the rear-view mirror as it does in the bathroom mirror, your light is probably all wrong. “Women who make up under one light and work in another can look green,” Gordon said.

A common lighting mistake people make is putting a light up in the center of a room and expecting it to do all the work,” Gordon said.

When you put up an overhead pancake light, you haven’t considered how everything in a room is affected by it, Bettridge said.

Another mistake is thinking more is better. “A lot of light is not necessarily good light,” Kale said. Well-placed light is always better.

When choosing lighting for the home, it is wise to consider how your rooms are used. “Ask yourself, ‘What am I lighting?’ ” Bettridge said. “It’s the most basic question. Is it a task in the kitchen . . . artwork . . . or your dining table?

“Think of the activities that will take place in a space and what kind of background setting you want,” Gordon said. “If it’s your dining room, is it a formal space where people sit up straight in chairs, or a relaxed casual space? Or both?”


Consider colors and surfaces, too. Are the walls, floors and ceilings light or dark? “If they’re light, you won’t need as much illumination because the light will bounce. If they’re dark and you’re faced with lighting a clubby atmosphere, you have to create more glows--or change the surfaces,” Bettridge said. Keep a room’s architectural integrity in mind. “You can’t just slap a piece of track up and say that will do the trick,” Gordon said. “It can alter one’s perception of the space. A traditional room can never look traditional with modern fixtures.” Think about where light will go and how it will fit in.

Finally, consider cost and do not shudder at the thought of spending some money to light your house properly. “People understand why it’s necessary to spend two thousand dollars for a sofa, but they rarely understand how it could cost two thousand dollars for recessed lighting--not the fixtures alone, but the fixtures and the contractors it takes to put them in,” Kale said.