MERRY & BRIGHT: Everyday Lighting Strategies

collage of various interior lighting samples Lighting is one of the fundamental aspects of interior design—whether it’s a senior living community, educational facility, hospitality venue, office, or really any type of occupied space. Lighting strategies are especially important now that most of the country has moved back to standard time. Those of us living in the northern hemisphere are experiencing reduced natural light and likely getting outdoors less than usual.

As we move into the darker days of winter and the sparkling lights associated with the holiday season, it’s a good time to devote our attention to everyday lighting strategies.  We’ve asked a few of our interior designers and lighting design consultants to share their thoughts on various aspects of lighting.

contemporary lighting trends include geometric shapes
Current lighting trends are very contemporary with geometric and linear shapes.

What are some of the current lighting trends as we move toward 2021?

Jacqueline Fox, IIDA:  Lighting has become a great tool for helping us create unique spaces. In the educational markets, we are seeing a lot more fun shapes, including linear light fixtures that provide whimsical patterns and textures. We often are working with multi-story architectural elements with tall glass walls to the outside. Lighting creates sculptural artwork to highlight that volume in a way that can inspire and enhance the learning environment.

Jennifer Harrington, P.E., LC, LEED AP, Barton Associates:  Eco-friendly LED technology is a true mainstay trend in the lighting industry.  But, that’s not the only reason for its popularity!  LEDs have inspired many new lighting trends that would never have been possible with traditional lamp sources.  Tunable-White LED technology brings the beneficial biological effects of sunlight indoors even on the darkest of days.  Color-changing LEDs provide an effective visual display for promoting specific branding or offering awareness to a worthy cause.

LEDs have literally reshaped our idea of what lighting can be.

Gone are the days of chunky forms, straight lines, and set lengths.  LED lighting allows us to push our imaginations to the limit.  Delicate form factors are expected.  Zigzags, swirls, and rings are now common shapes.  Infinite lengths of lighting running in every direction do not pose a challenge.  The lighting industry has only skimmed the surface of how LED technology can enhance everyday lighting strategies and ultimately the places we live, learn, work and play.  But most importantly, it has opened our eyes to the fact that lighting can do so much more than just help us see.

Contemporary lighting options paired well with modular wall panels
Contemporary lighting options pair well with modular wall panels, another trending interior design feature. This example is from Terramai.

Lisa Cowan, AIA: The newer lighting options are very contemporary looking, like the example at right from a wall cladding manufacturer.  This type of linear, statement fixture is typical of what we’re seeing when exploring current lighting trends. These types of fixtures are a great option for statement lighting in lobbies or other common areas of senior living communities.

Glass fixtures with exposed bulbs are also trending right now. We are seeing that trend in resident apartment units for pendant lights and other fixtures.

Blair Malcolm, P.E., LEED AP, Reese Hackman:  Current lighting trends are moving toward exposed light bulbs, often with visible filaments as a design element.  We need to be cautious about creating glare, especially in the aging eye, and may have to use lower output bulbs with supplemental coves or downlights to compensate.

Another growing trend is the use of circadian lighting (i.e. a range of white from candlelight to sunlight), especially in specialized care residences for people with dementia, to reset the day and night cycles of the occupants.  Early studies show promising results with lighting as a non-medicative tool to improve sleep cycles and reduce depression and agitation.

Lighting strategies at RiverMead in Peterborough, NH
Lighting strategies for dining venues typically require multiple layers of light with dimming capability to create the desired aesthetic and functionality throughout the day. These examples are from RiverMead in Peterborough, NH and York College of Pennsylvania.

How does our interior design team interact with lighting designers/engineers?

Lisa:  Since lighting plays such an important part of the bigger picture – the design as a whole – we typically like to select the fixtures. Our lighting designers can take those initial selections and tweak them for function, light levels, durability, and other technical considerations. It’s definitely a team effort.

Blair:  Lighting is integral to how we express architecture and interior design. It creates the visual interaction between the inhabitant and the built environment. Working with Interior Designers is the highlight of my day; I enjoy the back and forth when reviewing their concepts so I can help render the desired atmosphere.

in-process photos of interior renovations to the Historic King Mansion fireplace
These in-process photos of interior renovations to the Historic King Mansion in Harrisburg, PA illustrate how lighting, finishes and architectural elements work hand-in-hand for a dramatic transformation.

Jacqueline:  Our interior design team works with the architects and engineers to make sure that we do not create glare or shadows in our spaces when selecting fixtures and incorporating decorative lighting elements. Our goal is to have an even spread of ambient light in a space.

We collaborate with lighting designers to define the right color temperature, depending on the function of the space and the materials we will be using.  We review the best color temperature for the selected finishes with the lighting design engineer. Color temperature will also define the mood in your space. If the temperature is too high, it can feel cold and institutional; too low it can create a yellow cast on the space.

Different types of lighting can dramatically change the perceived color of paints, fabrics and other finish materials.

Jennifer:  Lighting and interior design truly go hand-in-hand. As a lighting designer, one of my top priorities is to establish a close working relationship with the interior designer on a project.  This relationship, built on mutual respect and a trust of each other’s expertise, ensures a successful collaboration and cohesive overall interior design.

color temperature chart
The color temperature of daylight changes during the day, from 2000K at sunrise and sunset to 5500-6500K at noon. In the shade it can even go up to 8000-10000K. Source:

How do we merge the technical aspects of lighting strategies with the aesthetic requirements?

Blair:  Color temperature is a discussion we need to have at the beginning of each project.  For senior living projects, 2700K and possibly warm-dimming capabilities are better for independent living, resident rooms and community dining facilities.  We tend to use 3000K for assisted living or skilled nursing residences, except for resident rooms where we’ll consider tunable LED lighting that adjusts throughout the day to match natural circadian rhythms.  That said, if some of the decorative fixtures are only available at a fixed color temperature we need to match that (whether 2700K or 3000K).

Green wall strategies
Green walls are another example where form and function must work together. It is important to consider not only the best lighting for plant health, but also for aesthetics in the space.

Jennifer:  For educational facility projects, a 2006 study found that schoolchildren performed significantly better in reading tests at 5500K. The high color temperature lighting helps students see more clearly and allows their brains to better focus on instruction and testing.  With Tunable LED Lighting, the color temperature can then easily be moderated to a warmer, 3500K, for general activities and group discussion or to an even warmer, 2700K, for a calming effect after high-energy activity.  Each change in color temperature throughout the day provides students with a visual cue to begin transitioning to the next activity.

Stacy Hollinger Main, IIDA:  Color Rendering Index (CRI) is another important consideration to make sure that colors and finishes are accurately portrayed. A CRI value of 80+, determined by comparing the appearance of a colored object under an artificial light source to its appearance under an incandescent light at 100 CRI, will work for most spaces. The conference room in our own office is equipped with lighting that can be adjusted to different levels so that our designers can review how various material options will be portrayed under different types of lighting.

Hibiscus Dining Room at Village On The Isle; Venice, FL
The Hibiscus Dining Room illustrates the importance of layering light in space. Accent lighting showcases signage and artwork; while large pendants are used for adjustable light levels at the tables to provide a comfortable dining experience. Village On The Isle; Venice, FL

How do interior designers handle layering of light?

Jessica Jack, IIDA:  I like to think of lighting as the jewelry for a space. In the same way that your outfit is not complete until you add earrings or a necklace, lighting can be a statement that defines the look of the space while also setting the tone for the user experiences—whether dining, socializing, learning, and so on—with the appropriate light temperature and lighting levels.

By layering ambient, task, accent and decorative lighting, we can provide appropriate light levels for various functions and experiences. For example, accent lights create a subtle wash of light over a surface to add dimension or showcase design features or artwork.  Pendants often provide more direct task lighting, but can also be used for ambient or accent lighting.  Ambient light serves as the foundation because it sets the tone and provides appropriate light levels for using the space comfortably and safely.

Jacqueline:  Different areas of buildings require different light levels and it is best to have a range of light levels throughout. If you stare at a black dot on a white piece of paper for a period of time and then close your eyes you can see that image. That is eye fatigue. Lighting levels can have the same effect if not handled correctly.

Take a work surface in an office. You want a brighter work lamp that highlights your worksurface/ desktop and reduces eyestrain. When you look up, the ambient lighting should be softer so your eyes can have a rest. This allows your eyes to focus on your task, but have relief when you look away.

lighting as art
These recent lighting installations at Cokesbury Village in Hockessin, DE and Phoebe Berks in Wernersville, PA, illustrate that function is just one part of the lighting equation.

Why Everyday Lighting Strategies Matter

Effective lighting design is integral to end user experiences. It’s a powerful tool for setting the mood and drawing attention to specific features or assisting with wayfinding. Equally important, it helps us to comfortably and safely navigate through the many interior spaces in our everyday world.

That is why our interior design team collaborates with lighting engineers for everyday lighting strategies.  Whether designing for a retirement community, school, commercial or public space, our goal is to create inspiring and appealing spaces that are equally functional and effective.

Thank you to our guest contributors this month!

Jennifer L. Harrington, P.E., LC, LEED AP, is Director of Lighting Design at Barton Associates.  With over 17 years of experience in the engineering profession, she is responsible for overseeing the development and production of architectural lighting designs in all of Barton’s locations and markets.

Blair Malcom, PE, LEED AP, is Director of Lighting Design for Reese Hackman. He has over 25 years of experience in the lighting industry. His responsibilities include interior and exterior lighting design, luminaire selection, circuiting, and illuminance calculations, as well as lighting controls selection, layout, and sequence of operation.

Blog Editor:  Jodi Kreider, LEED-AP