Casting a glow on the effects of lighting


June 13, 1999|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

KAROL'S MOTHER, who was 90 years old last weekend, spent much of her early life in rural Kansas. Then it was rural enough that farmhouses didn't have indoor plumbing (a great-aunt had an outhouse in the 1950s), and the arrival of electric lighting was still cause for amazement.

What Florence White Menzie recalled most vividly about the advent of good, bright electric light in her parents' generation was that a lot of people were astounded to find how dirty their houses were. "They never had light good enough to clean them before," she said.

We take electricity for granted -- flip a switch, it's there. But lighting can be used as effectively as color to make the interior and exterior of a house stand out.

Here are some tips, some of them from Osram Sylvania, which makes lighting products, and some from us:

Low-level exterior lighting is the most effective way to showcase a house. Light entries, architectural features and outstanding bits of landscaping, such as a magnificent tree. If you use walkway lighting, keep it focused downward and use only as many light fixtures as you need. (Too many too close together can look commercial.)

Lighting a garden outside a dining room or living room can visually expand the living space to include the outdoors.

Most people know that outdoor lighting provides safety and security. But did you know those two factors are important in indoor lighting as well? A study at the Yale School of Medicine, and reported in the New York Times, of people 72 or older living in New Haven, Conn., found that next to objects on floors that could cause tripping, too-low lighting was the biggest home hazard that caused falls. Stairwells should have nightlights, even in the daytime, with light switches at the top and bottom of staircases, the study said. It also implicated too-low lighting and hard-to-find switches in bathroom and kitchen accidents.

Besides being safer, good lighting can have a beneficial effect on the mood of those within the house. Sylvania surveyed customers about their "feelings" about light, and found most people called it "revitalizing," "energizing" or "warm." And most people want more of it, both natural and electric.

If your house is on the market, the brightest lights should be in the kitchen and bathroom. Prospective buyers seem to believe that if these two rooms are in good shape and presented well, the rest of the house will measure up.

In interior lighting especially, three things should be considered when positioning lighting: color, coverage and type of lighting. Basically, two types of light bulbs are available: incandescent and fluorescent. Most homes have incandescent lighting, perhaps with fluorescent in the kitchen, bath or basement. Most commercial buildings have fluorescent lighting.

The type of bulb determines the "color" of the light. Incandescent light tends to be yellow; thus that warm honey glow that lamps can give. Halogen lights are generally whiter, but are considered "warm." Fluorescent lights range from warm to cool. Incandescent lighting, especially halogen, provides the best rendering of perceived color.

Do you want to highlight a precious object, or provide ambient light for several people engaged in different activities in the same room? The use of diffused light, such as from flood lights, gives the widest coverage and creates softness in a setting. Use of spotlights gives the narrowest focus and creates drama.

Karol's mother was an avid housekeeper. Surveying the home of one of her less-than-avid daughters, she mused, "I don't know what it is you and your sister have against dust." Maybe it was the lighting.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and former president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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