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IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS LIGHT.

29November12

Light is not only an expression of heavenly awareness, it is one of the designer’s basic tools through which architectural invention is reflected. Without light, neither the aesthetics nor the function of a room would be highly visible. Light, cleverly employed, can create subtle refinements of space. It is both direct and indirect, focused and ambient.

To begin, there are two basic types of light, natural and artificial. God supplies the natural, such as daylight and starlight. The sun is the main source of illumination during the day, and, clearly, we have been moved by such natural resources. The Pantheon, for example, with its light-bathed oculus, pays homage to the sun, by opening its eye to the sky.

In terms of artificial light, the designer/architect uses different types of illumination to create mood and purpose. Cove (or uplighting) and  downlighting are two functional and indirect types. Downlighting light, though visible, is recessed into the ceiling, casting a downward beam. Oftentimes, installed in a soffit, it is a particularly useful tool for displaying art. If used in a kitchen over the cabinets, it’s glow reflects upon the counters below. In the case of cove lighting, indirect light is bounced off the ceiling and then redirected back downward. It provides a more theatric, uniform, and subtle display of illumination and is most effective when the ceiling is polished or glazed, so that the light beams play cleverly upon it. Probably the most dramatic of these hidden types is backlighting, where a glow so uniform and subtle is created, it seems that the very thing it hides behind, is the light source itself.

For more decorative and ambient forms of light, sconces, lamps, tracks, and picture lights do the job. Track lighting, so popular in the ’60’s and 70’s, is task oriented. That is, it is focused on an object. As the humorist Thurber notes, “There are two kinds of light - the glow that illumines, and the glare that obscures.”  And, so it is here, where the track’s glare strikes hard on the eye. Task lamps work similarly.  Their beams of light are sharply focused on the subject at hand, such as the desk or bedside table lamp, casting a bright, concentrated cone of light. Last, a picture light throws it’s direct glow upon the picture above which it sits.

With ambient lighting, an overall glow of light is dispersed. Here, lamps, sconces, and ceiling mounted fixtures are most effective. Lamps provide a dispersed shed of light. As simple as a globe upon a pole or as ornate as a Tiffany creation, they light up a  room. So, too, with sconces where, with its even glow of light, they shed a wide array of light, like the sun. Used in pairs, they frame a mirror, adorn a fireplace, embellish a console.

Ceiling mounted fixtures are of a double variety: the surface mounted and the pendant/chandelier. The former is particularly useful on low ceilings where headroom is at a premium. The chandelier, most commonly used over dining room tables and in entry foyers, is equally decorative and functional. Usually the piece de resistance in its dramatic appeal and location, the chandelier can be like a starburst, shining brilliantly within the space.

So while Edith Wharton believed the two ways of spreading light was either “by candle or the mirror that reflects it,” the designer knows differently. To create light, for the professional, is a mix of passion and skill. Each light has its own place and, in that place, must serve a particular purpose - a highly illuminated form. As Aaron Rose notes, “In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” From nothing in the beginning to the extraordinary at the end, light is the designer’s luminescent carving tool.


Filed under: Design

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