Some designers -- I among them -- regard lighting as one of the most important but least understood elements in interior design. Almost everyone knows that ample amounts of natural light make a room a pleasant environment. Consequently, a good deal of thought is usually given to how daylight can enhance the look and feel of a particular setting. But far fewer people give the same degree of attention to artificial lighting. And only a very small number know how to integrate the two types of lighting so that they best serve the functional and aesthetic needs of an interior design.
The complexity of the field is one reason why more people are not better acquainted with residential lighting techniques. Several factors are involved, and technological advances are constantly introducing new possibilities. But a good beginning can be made simply by visiting a local lighting store and asking questions about the various fixtures and lamps on display. It also helps to know a bit about the basic types of light bulbs.
Most of us are familiar with the quality of light emitted by incandescent and fluorescent lamps. The halogen bulb, however, is still underappreciated, even though it is one of the most effective new light sources for residential use.
Halogen bulbs produce a whiter and brighter light than does the incandescent kind. Because of its intensity, looking directly at this type of light can be uncomfortable. Halogen bulbs thus need to be partially shielded with an opaque shade so that the light is directed downward, as with a task lamp, or up toward the ceiling, as with a torchier. Either way, directional lighting of this sort will bounce off the surface at which it is aimed and reflect all over the room.
To accentuate a specific object or to spotlight an artwork, a low-voltagehalogen bulb may be what's needed. These small bulbs can operate on a regular line voltage but they do require a transformer, which is often supplied as part of a halogen lamp.
That's the case with the fixtures shown in the photograph. These models, part of the Luxo Halogen Task-Lighting System, are new versions of the famous Luxo articulated adjustable lamp, which for decades has been standard equipment for drafting tables and for desks in designers' offices.
With a low-voltage halogen bulb, the lamp has now taken on a high-style look that can complement both the home and the workplace. The small lamp head can be turned a full 360 degrees, and there is an in-line transformer with a quick-connect plug for easy installation.
While I'm obviously taken with this high-tech lamp, my general rule is that it's the quality of the lighting that matters most -- not the appearance of its source. I also think it's silly to reject a certain type of fixture solely because it may not be strictly consistent with a room's overall design. Artificial lighting is, after all, a modern invention. One can cogently argue that its sources should therefore have a modern look as well. Even in traditional interiors, there's no reason why a light source has to emulate a candle in its design and scale.