Aesthetic Lighting Help

ICFF 2023 (Non-Lighting Observations)

I was happy to experience an elevated level of excitement this year at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) held at the Javits Center in New York.

ICFF 2023 – Crowded aisles and lots of interest.

Overall, I think we are seeing more complexity being added to products. At a macro level, this makes sense. Design was pared down to bare minimums in the 2010s and we are seeing that inevitable trend swing back to increased levels of detail and a higher appreciation for craftsmanship.

Wall coverings and floor coverings were uniformally more complicated. Furniture moved away from straight lines to added layers of detail. We have not yet returned to the nouveau European product of the early 2000s and I don’t believe we will reach that far, but an increased appreciation for a more deliberate approach to design is blooming.

Following are observations on non-lighting elements that caught my eye as indicators of design direction or unique approaches to complex solutions. In the next post, I will cover lighting and combine it with the few interesting things I saw at LightFair 2023, held concurrently, upstairs at the Javits.

Floor Coverings

If the interior rugs are headed in a specific direction, rest assured exterior rugs are doing the same. The Brazilian company Tidelli offered a nice assortment of patterns and shapes that will enliven outdoor living spaces.

ICFF – Tidelli outdoor floor coverings

From a distance, the rugs created by Auda Sinda appear to be simple tweed weaves. Upon closer examination, they are handwoven by artisans located in the Pacific Northwest and include leather strips, fiber, fabric and any number of linear strands. These were beautifully complex, bespoke pieces made in the United States.

Wall Coverings

60s walnut paneling never looked this good. Evove sculpts the panels with cut patterns. When washed with good lighting (it all comes down to good lighting!) a wall takes on added meaning and interest. With the use of Mid-Century and Art Deco showing only minor deterioration, these are going to be meaningful now and should easily carry into more involved design trends.

ICFF 2023 – Evove wall panels


My father was an upholsterer. Creating good tufting was always a challenge and as a kid, amazing to watch. The “buttoned” center of the pleat was installed first, so while the whole piece of furniture was naked, a blossom of rows and columns was developing across the chair back. A similarly complex set of deliberate steps allowed for the creation of pleated arm fronts. Decorative nailhead placement is also another near-lost art. All of this came back to me looking at the beautifully crafted headboards and seating at Fleming & Howard. This step back in time did not seem dated, but instead, the rediscovery of a lost art.

ICFF 2023 – Fleming and Howard

As we slowly add detail back into design, finesse is a key. Wooliv, a Portuguese furniture manufacturer really showed an adept hand. Meaningful design elements were carefully added to create some of the cleverest pieces in the show. I wish I was redecorating now!


ICFF 2023 – Wooliv

Almost as a definition of the transition to more detail, Serafini showed a solid brass block table. As a way of defining the shift, a marble overlay with snapped and natural edges clung to the corners. The cold, hard brass was softened by the warm embrace of marble.

ICFF 2023 – Serafini

Liro from Brazil displayed split-back leather chairs. To differentiate, the “split” was filled with a tweed fabric or a rattan fiber. Adding this alternate material to the cool leather softened the look and elevated the interest.

ICFF 2023 – Liro

I fell in love with the Mozea asymmetric dining table and especially the Locus chairs with tri-sided legs. Everything about this work of art detracts from the norm. Great lines, a different approach and how it will fill a room.

ICFF 2023 – Mozea

The Bernhardt display is often the largest at the show and they always feature a nice variety of new lines. I liked the small barrel chairs, Janeiro designed by Pedro Villar. Like the dual materials of the Liro pieces, they used a mix of fabric and a formed walnut slab. I also look forward to the new Terry Crews design, a reoccurring feature each show. His RKC chair has beautiful lines with a base that solidly connects the piece to the floor, but doesn’t feel weighed-down, probably because of the reduced seat height.

ICFF 2023 – Bernhardt RKC by Terry Crews
ICFF 2023 – Bernhardt Janeiro by Pedro Villar
ICFF 2023 – Bernhardt

My favorite student, or emerging designer piece of the year was by David Hwang. Curv has a beautifully curved base that just barely connects to the pencil legs, all holding an oval clear ribbed top. He also showed an amber top. This is a young person with a future.

ICFF 2023 – David Hwang

Raising sustainability to new levels, Model No is 3-D printing furniture from biodegradable, plant-based material. The whole process is also net-zero. While some of the product was interesting, the company was more important because of their manufacturing direction. I suspect we will see more of this in the future.


There is only one overarching trend I see in plumbing. Tenzo Fine Plomberie is the latest to show decorative knurling details on the handles and faucets, but I’m more interested in the impact of matte white.

For a few years, most of the manufacturers have been offering matte white tubs and sinks as an alternative to the ubiquitous glossy white porcelain. A few years ago, Jason Wu, who really started the Matte Black trend at Brizo, showed matte white on plumbing hardware. This year, Watrline featured some of the same. I think we need to pay attention to this. We are seeing an uptick in white accessories throughout the house, including lighting, probably as a balance to the more involved and detailed other furnishings that complete a room. I also believe that Matte Black, very popular now, but must be nearing an end. Since 1960, black as a finish has never lasted this long. Matte White will be a nice transition from the density of Matte Black and a good compliment to the brass tsunami that will dominate finishes for the next decade.

ICFF 2023 – Watrline

The Wetstyle tubs sort of bridge the gap between this post and next week’s. They are now embedding their tubs with LED to highlight the sides and serve as toekick accents. This is such a natural use of light.

ICFF – WetStyle


No, I’m not talking about the late 60s song by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. There was, however an equal fascination with the subject matter at the show. Fire pits are hot (no pun intended) and some very creative options were on display. The Lumacast line is a much more refined than the chimineas we saw a decade ago. These are cast concrete in a stylish, sleek design. The “pit” area is filled with an equally appealing group of stone or glass. We have come a long way in the creation of exciting outdoor environments.

ICFF 2023 – Lumacast

Focus suspended a fireplace from the ceiling, but perhaps more interesting where the sphere-shaped fire pits for the outdoors. The Bubble is a great shape for contemporary exterior spaces and different from the majority of what is currently offered.

ICFF 2023 – Focus fire pit

My favorite fire feature in the show were the Le Feu “pots.” Somewhat reminiscent of the 60s suspended fireplace, (see Focus above.) but in an ellipsoid, oval shape. They are also quite compact in size, making them very usable in a number of applications. They use bioethanol to create the flame. As explained, bioethanol is made from agriculture waste and claims to be more sustainable than other options. This combo of a trend and sustainability is exactly the type of product that could “catch fire.” (Pun intended?)

ICFF 2023 – Le Feu
ICFF 2023 – Le Feu

The Rest

Reduxwood has discovered submerged forests of trees in Central American lakes. They rescue these water-infused skeletons and use them in furniture. The years of water apparently alter the grain and color making them stunning “live-edge” tabletops. Live-edge is not new, but the influence of decades-long submersion add an element of interest here that is quite unique.

The show featured two suppliers of “live walls,” essentially plants arranged on a wall surface in patterns, using different species to present multiple colors.  Wildleaf Design and Garden on the Wall showed this biophilic solution but I wonder if this has staying power. Does the maintenance warrant the end result?

I didn’t know this was needed, but Trova sells biometric-access safes. Rather than a key or combination, they allow access via a combination of secure app and biometric scanning. Only “you” can open the safe making it easier to use and more secure.

Why don’t we decorate corners? There aren’t a lot of options. Elizabeth Lyons showed some nice choices using her glass creations, combined with organic-inspired wrought iron, filling an unused space is now possible.

ICFF 2023 – Elizabeth Lyon

What Does This Mean?

Beyond aesthetics, it was easy to see the growing value of sustainable products. More respect was given to biophilic solutions, locally sourced goods and low/no waste production. As I listen to future concerns and worries, the climate and the way in which humans have negatively influenced it has reached a point where a lack of response is unconscionable. As is always the case, smaller manufacturers and designers are always at the forefront of new solutions and fresh ideas. Eventually, this will trickle up as demand increases. This is a great thing for the future of design, but an even better thing for the future of the planet.

Lighting Commentary

Is Solar Lighting Ready for “Primetime?”

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On a recent webinar I delivered covering exterior lighting, I was asked about the validity of solar. My unfortunate response, on residential-sized products had to be, “Not Ready for Primetime.”

That weekend, I watched a documentary on Mária Telkes, a pioneering biophysicist who made research into solar energy her life’s work, so much so that she was eventually nicknamed “The Sun Queen.” Unfortunately for her, she was a woman in science in the 40s and 50s and oil was becoming the “Big Oil” behemoth we now know. Because of that, her vision was never nurtured and the potential of solar was never allowed to be realized.

When talking with people who are knowledgeable on solar today, the reason continually stated for its stagnation is “energy storage” and the measured distribution of that stored power. I was struck, while watching the documentary to learn that these were the same challenges she faced and she was attempting to address, while also fighting the patriarchy and the small mindedness of male colleagues. If she was concentrating on these problems in the 1950s and had been provided with a modicum of support, my answer to the designer’s question might have been substantially different today.

I have been attending the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) for about twenty years. The reason this blog post is a day early is because I am on my way to New York for the next installment of this show. A great feature of this show if the “Student/Emerging Designer” section. Clever, interesting and relevant new ideas created by new, recently graduated or emerging product designers are given a prominent, underwritten stage. Many of these ideas are fun, exciting and thought-provoking. A decade or so ago (could be longer!) I talked with a young guy who had developed a solar landscape lighting path light. Rather than the solar collection panel being a wart on the top of the luminaire, he had integrated the panel into the contour of the fixture head. He likewise integrated the color and tone of panel with the finish. It was a beautiful product. I talked to the student/inventor about the solar capabilities. I asked about the storage and distribution of power. He, like Telkes was optimistic. This is a problem that will be solved soon.

Exterior lighting and landscape lighting in particular is a natural for solar. It is the reason this particular question comes up almost every time I talk about outdoor lighting.  As we strive for more energy independence and look for more ways to reduce our carbon footprint, it sure would be nice if we would have supported a person who had different ideas, alternate vison and unique viewpoints. Think about that as you witness governmental mandates against people, lifestyles and education that does not conform to the “norm” (whatever that might be.) Supporting those who think differently might in-fact be the most substantial move we make to insure a better future.

Technical Lighting Help

Please Read the Instructions!

I learned something this week.

I’ve always thought it odd that instructions on whether or not to shake a product before use were buried in the fine print of a label on the back of a container. I thought it had reached the height of lunacy when I grabbed a can of cooking spray and “read” that I should aim the nozzle, THEN shake the can. It irritated me so, I sent a photo (below) to a friend. In the nicest way possible, he told me, I hadn’t read the instructions.

Did you notice, “…toward red mark on can?” I didn’t!

Instruction step #1 does in fact instruct the user to point the nozzle, but I apparently did not read the remainder of the sentence, “…toward the red mark on the can.” My friend helped me understand that inside the can, there is a hose that brings the cooking spray up into the nozzle and it has been intentionally engineered longer, to extract every last drop from the corner, when the can is tilted during use. By aiming the nozzle toward a red mark on the lip of the can (that I, for the first time found) the entire content of the can will be consumed.

Why didn’t I take as much care with the instructions as my buddy? I was in the middle of making dinner, quickly grabbed the can while the other hand was likely balancing some other part of the meal. A quick glance and bang. I’m done. He saw the second part of the sentence. He also went online and researched the exact reason why it was so important to align the nozzle and the now completely visible “red mark” on the can.

In the process of writing the many blog posts here, I’ve made a big deal out of the importance of doing things according to “best practices” and in accordance with what experts have found to be the most efficient. I have essentially asked each and every reader to “Read the Instructions!” but haven’t been following that same advice when I am dealing with a product that isn’t my core competence.

Likely, we all do this. The plumber probably rolls his eyes when he sees yet another clogged drain and the electrician shivers when he sees an extension cord plugged into another extension cord, under a rug with a splitter on the end. My friend spent a career that included among other things, technical writing and editing. He has been trained to actually read, and actually write (not glance!) at what the author intended. He quickly picked up on what I missed. The rest of us want everyone else to be as sensitive as we are when it regards our knowledge specialty. That typically doesn’t happen.

I was asked by an artists to visit her studio and provide comment on her lighting. She had a feeling something was “off.” As soon as I walked into the space, I cringed. She had replaced all of the lighting with “daylight” LED lighting bulbs. Daylight sounds great to everyone who is not a lighting person. Mother Nature has determined that daylight will be VERY blue, so her studio was extremely blue. All was still not lost. I asked if the bulk of her work was installed in exterior locations. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Most of her work was traditional in nature, warm in color and typically found itself in interior locations. I suggested better lamping options.

Before leaving, I asked how she came to buy these particular lamps. They were on sale. She has the room illuminated for long periods of time while she works. LED consumes less energy. She followed all the instructions, except for those dealing with the color of light. Like me and cooking spray, she knew what a light bulb did and she knew she was consuming more than the average amount of power. She also understood she should find a more efficient way. As I ignored or overlooked, “…toward the red mark on the can,” she glanced over the Color Temperature and Color Rendering Index on the light bulb carton.

Saying “read the instructions” sounds a bit pedantic, but it does make a difference. It’s the reason you are reading a blog post about lighting and probably a reason I have a job. From this point forward, I will try to be more understanding toward those who fail to aim the LED nozzle toward the red mark, as instructed.

Now I just need to get manufacturers to more prominently place “SHAKE” instructions on cans.

Lighting Commentary

The Shape of Light

Photo by Dhivakaran S on

Artificial light has been around since some caveman figured out how to create, or harness fire. In those early days, the shape of light was roughly equivalent to the pile of combustible material gathered to keep the fire functioning. Those early Neanderthals quickly learned that if the material was tightly packed, the burn was much more controlled and consistent. A heap of wood created a heap of light.

As we moved from caves to constructed dwellings, fire was now allowed inside, the fire transitioning from outdoor pits to fireplaces. Human demand for a more controlled application led us to create lanterns fueled by oils and candles supported by wax and wick. The candle and the lantern were no longer associated with its byproduct of either heat, or food preparation. Its sole reason for existence was illumination. Humans have been stuck with that shape ever since.

Stuck? What?

As interiors transitioned to gaslight, hanging lights, chandeliers and sconces retained the same basic shape and size of candlelight and oil light by forcing the gas to similar delivery shapes. A gas stopcock was added to form a flame that replicated the wick created fire. Barely a change in size is evident in the diffusers. While all of the creators of incandescent light started with a variety of proportions and dimensions, the eventual shape of electric light was finessed into the parameters established by flame and gas. The luminaire industry STILL to this day uses gas pipe thread as a standard across the industry and many of the components of a lighting fixture carry gas or plumbing names along with their odd thread sizes. Some of the most popular incandescent light bulbs are those shaped to replicate a flame. They fit nicely into chandeliers that replicate candle-holding lights of the past.

New York Magazine recently featured a reasonably well-researched article about the writer’s beef with LED. (There’s Something Off About LED Bulbs by Tom Scocca) He does makes some mistakes about CRI. I’ll reserve those for another blog post. The bulk of the content contains some of the typical complaints people have with LED, many of which I have addressed in previous posts relating to our desire for “cheap” and then being unhappy with the results; blaming it on the supplier who gave the consumer what they wanted. If you’ve ever seen the political cartoon “Tammany Ring” by Thomas Nast, you’ll understand this circular argument. Don’t give the customer what they want, because they don’t know what they want. Throughout the article he relates problems with LED because of shape.

Regardless of technology, consumers seem to want light in the package to which they have become accustomed. We want our LED to be shaped like incandescent, which was shaped like gas, which was shaped like a candle flame. Unfortunately, that is where science is having a bit of a problem. That problem is fodder for writers like Scocca.

When LED were new, cost was of secondary importance and the new light could be formed into whatever function was required. Form follows function was a principle attributed to Architect Louis Sullivan that states the item should in some way relate to the purpose. LED are not well suited for the confining shape of an incandescent envelope and screwshell. They must be kept cool and the narrowing screw-thread section of a light bulb provides so little space for cooling, as the article title intimates, they do some odd things. Function can’t (shouldn’t) follow form.

I have continually promoted and pushed fully integrated LED luminaires in opposition to retrofit LED lightbulbs for this very reason. Our kitchen was remodeled at the very early hours of LED. EVERY light in the room is LED. Almost all of them were “the first” LED products developed by companies like Cree, Philips and Kichler. They were also substantially more expensive than their incandescent counterparts at the time. None of the luminaires were “stuffed” into incandescent lamp enclosures. All of them are still functioning. I have had no problems with any of them and performance has been excellent.

As consumers, we can get what we want, but we should instead take what experts suggest. There is the old line about the first automobile that remains valid today. If asked, customers did not want a car, they just wanted a faster horse. Closer to today, no one ever asked for a mobile phone. Life today without a car or a mobile is almost inconceivable. Possible, but unlikely.

The same should be considered with LED. Eventually, engineers might figure out how to stuff LED into hot tiny confining places and maintain their performance characteristics. In the meantime, look to integrated luminaires as the later-day automobile or mobile phone. You’ll get what you do not yet know you want.

Lighting Commentary

Different Materials

I read recently that nature artist and designer, Paul Cocksedge created a new piece of art, now on view inside Liverpool Cathedral. As is the case with so much of his work, it is based on natural materials and in this instance, provides a commentary on the world’s fossil fuel dependence. Cocksedge has arranged 2000 pieces of coal, weighing a half-ton, into a sphere. The amount of coal used is apparently equal to the amount needed to keep a 200W light bulb illuminated for a year.

After looking at the images, I realized it created the illusion of a chandelier. He has arranged downlights around the piece to reflect the luminous surface of the type of coal he used, anthracite. This look is every bit as engaging as crystal and gold.

This got me thinking. Why do luminaire manufacturers stay with the same materials? Brass, glass, steel, aluminum and some resins are pretty much the pallet from which they work. Occasionally, we see alabaster being used. Mica has had a place in mission style lanterns. Corten® steel is occasionally employed. Lead crystal and now optical crystal have gone in and out of fashion. The same can be said for wood. Could we think farther outside of the material box?

Anthracite really does deliver a beautiful look. Where could we unearth the next material that provides the same unexpected result? Would formed, thin wall concrete allow for simple shapes to be created? I’ve just read about a new translucent concrete used for lighted park benches. Is there wider application?

A couple of years ago, dichromatic glass became popular with artists and craftspeople. You couldn’t toss a hammer in a summer arts fair without hitting a booth employing this material. I wonder why it did not translate to lighting. Just prior to that, the same could be said of hematite. Its lustrous black finish would probably work today as we enjoy continued use of matte black in so much home fashion.

I remember an early trip to the Philippines where artisans were fabricating fossil stone (Mactan) into lamp parts. It was exciting to see something new being tried. It had a nice run for five or six years. Capiz Shells, made from the windowpane oyster, likewise could be found “everywhere” for almost a decade.

I’m waiting for the next new material. What could it be? When will it arrive? How will it get here? If you’re trying to determine “what’s next” like me, look to artists and artisans, find out what they are creating and how they are making new things. Understand the medium they use. Seek out those that are striking a new path.

Perhaps this is the reason societies have artists. They are trained to look at thing differently. That different outlook can lead to materials that will find their way into every-day products…and perhaps, lighting.

Lighting Commentary

No More Moore’s

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Gordon E. Moore, a giant behind the silicone computer chip, but perhaps better known for his conceptual predictions of growth trends known as “Moore’s Law” died last week. If you’re unfamiliar, he observed that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit double every two years. As this overarching observation turned into reality, he further added two corollaries. Evolving technology would make computers more and more expensive to build, but consumers would pay less and less for them because so many would be sold.

The rise of LED followed a very similar path of better and better output and lower and lower costs.

In his New York Time obituary, they indicated that the end of viability for Moore’s Law was imminent. Recently, similar predictions have been made about LED. With efficacy in the 200 lumens per watt range, only incremental improvements have occurred lately. The plateau we all expected is here. The LED version of Moore’s Law has come to a close.

Both silicone chips and LED diodes are the result of creative engineers pushing the edges of their respective specialties. No doubt, gathering momentum and strength from the successes of the other.

I have recently listened to two extended interviews with music producer, Rick Rubin. He is promoting his recent book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being, about the creative process. He is a fascinating voice and yet another book has been added to my growing list. If you don’t know Rubin’s work, listen to the Johnny Cash “American Recordings” They are quintessential examples of a career coda. A summation of a hard scrabbled life by an outlaw musician coming to terms with his mortality and his faith. The reason Cash was able to create these masterpieces was Rubin.

In his book, Rubin postulates that creative people build their work on the shoulders of other creative work. He rejects the idea that creatives should ignore other creatives. Seeing other good work does not mean it will be mimicked or reproduced into yours. Instead, creativity inspires creativity and the unique skill of one only heightens the output of another.

With that in mind, I like to imagine that the creative minds that transformed the lighting industry were looking across the imaginary Silicon Valley and upon seeing their success, were motivated to work harder and better resulting in the lighting we know, today. Creativity begat creativity. Thanks Mr. Moore for better lighting.

Lighting Commentary

What’s Next For Lighting?

Let’s call out the parade! We won. LED is now the official light source of the world. We’ve saved lots of money. Energy use is down. Wo-Hoo! We’re done!

Photo by Vlad Vasnetsov on

Or, perhaps, we are not. If you’ve noticed a lull in new lighting product innovation you’re not mistaken. I believe however, it would be wrong to assume this to be a permanent state. Instead, we need to keep our eyes open for the next innovation that will rock the lighting world.

Advances in Integration

Over a decade ago, the “Lighting For Tomorrow” competition instigated new and exciting energy efficient products into the market. Initially, products were created to prove that fluorescent didn’t need to be ugly, but LED appeared quickly thereafter and the whole landscape changed. Because we are fully enmeshed in the use of LED, that competition has been abandoned in favor of the “Integrated Home Competition.” By seamlessly linking HVAC, controls and lighting, the next level of energy savings might be met. Finding a system that is easy to use and requires minimal education for the consumer can take us to the next level of energy savings.

Cutting Bait on Existing Technology

Perhaps you noticed the news that Canada and a few states in America are considering a ban on HID, high-pressure sodium and Metal Halide lighting. The US got rid of Mercury Vapor a number of years ago. There is also a growing band of government entities who have already ended, or are in the process of ending, the use of fluorescent. LED is now the only real game in town. I have even seen OLEDs on a list of possible elimination in Europe because of its lack of efficacy. Ultimately, this means that the desire for increased energy efficiency has NOT disappeared.

Most industry experts and utility concerns understand that the next generation of energy savings will come from more effectively applied controls. Occupancy sensors, motion sensors, zoned lighting controls and a more generous collection of dimmers will all result in reduced lighting power demand. This may seem awfully incremental, but a study done by Pacific Gas & Electric in 2013 on an Ace Hardware Warehouse illustrated the impact controls could achieve.

The original fluorescent and HID lighting was swapped for, at the time, “new” LED luminaires. That move reduced energy consumption to 80% of original. By adding, dimming, daylight sensitive switches, occupancy controls, course zoning and fine zoning controls, the end result brought energy consumption to an incredibly low 7% (a 93% reduction of energy) of the baseline! If even a portion of that can be achieved in a residence, it must be considered a win.

You may read the entire PG&E report here:

Sweat Energy

The scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst have created a biofilm that sticks to the skin and creates electricity from sweat. They imagine it to be used for all types of electronic wearables and electronic health devices. Combining this invention with the recently discovered need to have light delivered to our bodies in various angles and directions and the whole concept of how we use light and how it is powered might be upended.

The researchers further believe that additional energy could be extracted from the naturally occurring process of evaporation. Apparently, half of the sun’s energy is lost in its transition to the earth. They believe they can capture some of that loss and turn it back into a usable resource. Yes, I know. This is wild. It seems so odd that we could extract energy from sweat and evaporation, but back in 1917 the concept of electroluminescence from solid-state diodes led us to LED today. With that as a baseline, almost anything is possible.


I have been saying for years that I didn’t understand why integrated LED recessed cans have maintained their 6” size. There is no reason for such a large hole in the ceiling now that diodes are delivering illumination. At the very least, I assumed the industry would swap to 4” as more of a standard. A number of smaller pieces have shown up on the market, but their output have been closer to recessed MR16 performance than the larger units.

Imagine my delight when I found the new CSL Whisper. This is a trimless ½” diameter recessed downlight. Checking out the specifications, it looks like the 50° optics deliver excellent light amounts. (A center-beam candle power of 1398.) While no recessed light placement is “rule-of-thumb,” numbers like this should work great in 10’-0” ceiling heights. A tighter 30° beam angle will be effective in tall locations or in areas with lower reflectance. Because of the extremely small size, glare should be very low. Checking out the installation instructions, it shows a very simple task. Clearly easier than installing that huge metal box in the plenum. This appears to be exactly what I had hoped would happen once some smart engineers started to think outside the 6” can. I have not yet seen the unit installed, but I sure am encouraged!


Perhaps these aren’t the paradigm shift we experienced with LED, but they do continue advanced movement and fresh thinking. It also suggests that lighting will not fall into another 130-year incandescent rut. We will, however need to expand our concept of light and energy savings to include some advances. Controls, sweat and ultra-tiny luminaires will make our exit from existing technologies easier. It also bodes well for a more planet-friendly, sustainable future. We should all feel good about that.

Aesthetic Lighting Help

It’s a Semi-Flush World, After All

Ceiling semi-flush lighting has been reasonably popular. Coming into heightened demand when builders started to increase ceiling heights around fifteen years ago, these have been an easy way to bring the lighting deeper into the room and deliver more illuminance for a reasonable price. Flip through a couple dozen luminaire catalogs and you will see scores of units in the 13” to 15” size. They have become somewhat ubiquitous to the industry.

I’ve always wanted more from a semi-flush luminaire. If sized appropriately, these could grow into a much more aesthetically desirable option. A 13” diameter is fine when running down a hallway or filling a pantry, but why can’t a grand-sized semi flush take center stage? My vision was piqued at the January Lightovations show when I saw a healthy 22” piece offered. (Image below.) Now here was a semi-flush that demanded respect. It had come to play with the big boys.

Eurofase – Jalore Semi-Flush 22″ diameter – Introduced January 2023

This piece was perfect for a single story foyer. I wanted it to also command a smaller dining room. Simply employing a semi-flush lighting fixture in these key spaces would set them apart, force attention and demand reckoning.

But wait! There’s more! How about three or five of them in a pattern over a larger dining room? If a second size was available, think about varying sizes AND elevations dotting the ceiling! If no added sizes are offered, could a larger chandelier size be hung with little or no chain or stem and achieve a similar look? Wow! My head was spinning with ideas.

I thought my fever dream of semi-flush lighting was singular. I was singing solo in the Mohave. “Table for one, please!” Then, the new issue of Architectural Digest arrived. (Crowning Glory – February 2023) In a home designed for a couple of worldly software engineers/investors the Interior Design firm, The Archers placed a goliath semi-flush light/sculpture over their 10-seat dining room table. “Alas, I am not alone!”

Nacho Carbonell’s oversized semi-flush

This piece was designed by Spanish designer, Nacho Carbonell and introduces us to a place where centerpiece lighting is destine, a position that straddles art and luminaires. As we use fewer decorative pieces and more functional lighting to answer multiple demands, such as sustainability, functional light will carry the bulk of the luminance weight, while centerpiece lighting will provide a glow and an aesthetic punch to the space. His work does that and in this instance, it forgoes the expectation of a chandelier and affixes the light, tight to the ceiling. It will be hard for me to forget the look created here.

A Few Asks

To join me in this requests, let’s all row together in the same direction.

Manufacturers, how about a few more oversized semi-flush pieces? If that isn’t feasible, how about an occasional application photo where a large chandelier is hung tight to the ceiling as an alternative to “every other set-shot in the world” where the chandelier is located at the prescribed 30” from the tabletop.

Designers, let’s step off the green and into the rough. Suggest a showpiece worthy, semi-flush luminaire as a way to create a unique look. Remember too, most large chandeliers and pendants CAN easily be hung close to the ceiling. Be sure to select a piece wisely, some will not adapt to this position, others may not look “right.” Those that do can excel in this alternate configuration. Think differently as you plan a space.

Consumers, you don’t need to hang a chandelier in a dining room! There is no such thing as The Lighting Police…yet. (I would however like a position of authority when it is established!) If your friendly neighborhood lighting salesperson suggests a semi-flush, don’t lift your nose in disgust. Relax and say, “Yes!” Your visiting friends and family will be envious! You’ll be the talk of your posse. It is, after all, a semi-flush world.

Technical Lighting Help

Switch Placement

Photo by Andrea Davis on

When my wife and I were first married back in the Paleolithic Age, we rented half of a duplex in Shaker Heights, OH. To turn on the light that illuminated the pantry area of the kitchen, you had to slide your hand sideways between the wall and the refrigerator side. The switch was located unusually high on the wall surface and access was only achieved via fingertips. Clearly, not the best placement, but in a century old home, light switches were often placed in peculiar, inconsistent spots.

I recalled this after publishing my last blog on sconce use. A friend dropped me a note after reading my comments about using them in bedrooms, rather than bed lamps. He didn’t mind the idea, but has always felt the switches are placed in inconvenient locations, requiring the skills of a contortionist to activate or reenergize the lighting from a lying position.

He is right. As designers we must design good lighting that performs well and functions in accordance with need. Part of that functionality is adequate access to switching. As a designer, do you plan the switch placement? Do you actively discuss switch placement and preference with clients? If not, you should.

In the midst of thinking about my friend’s input, I went to see the movie, “Living.” Aside from the incredible performance by Bill Nighy, I took note of the alternate light switch placement represented in English homes of the 1950s. English light switches are substantially higher up the wall than a typical North American home. As the actors moved through the movie, they effortlessly and with little conscious thought, engaged the controls. Regardless of who we are in the world, we must interact with lighting with the least amount of effort. That occurs when designers think about it first.

Switches? We Don’t Need No Stinking Switches!

Considering lighting controls moving into the future, it might actually be less of an issue. As home automation increases, I’m not really seeing a long-term need for wall-mounted controls and all of the extra wiring needed to connect them. Were I “Carnac the Magnificent” (look it up) I’d suggest the answer to, “Reduced new home construction, energy savings and increased convenience,” is, “Why will there be no more light switches in new homes?”

Think about it. A small module is connected in the outlet box between the house wires and the luminaire. It is assigned a digital name and voice activation takes over from there. “Google, turn off bedside sconce left.” Diming instructions and even establishing an activation time can be programed into the module. Walking into a dark room will no longer be needed. Lights left on in unoccupied spaced will no longer waste electricity. They will shut off once everyone leaves the area. Seniors will no longer fall on their way to the bathroom (a huge concern for an aging population.) In the future I expect light switches to go the way of iPods, the Blackberry and Flip Cameras. Like all of these antiquated pieces of tech, they will be replaced with your smart phone.

Until Then

Admittedly, switches still have a few more years of use and some people will nostalgically demand their use, despite their upcoming impotence. While we wait for the next trolley, think about switch placement:

  • Where is the best location for placement?
  • In a bank of switches, which switch is first, second and third, etc.?
  • Will standard height placement work, or should this particular switch be located in a different spot for better function?
  • Do I want or need a dimmer here?
  • Will the addition of a motion activated switch or an occupancy sensor switch improve function, user experience or performance here?

A few questions and the sound thoughts all good designers and engineers put into product application and the user will never think about it. That is, after all, the goal of every good designer and product engineer, effortless uncomplicated use.

Aesthetic Lighting Help

Don’t Forget Sconces!

Hinkley – Reign pendant configured to hang as a sconce

I don’t think we use enough sconces in residential lighting. Sure, most manufacturers present sconces. At the just completed, Lightovations lighting show in Dallas, I saw a few exciting sconces that I would love to see used, but my deep seated fear is that they will be considered by interior designers and ignored by everyone else. That said, this is my plea to keep sconces top of mind.


Here’s an idea I love. Forget the foyer chandelier and use a collection of tall sconces positioned around the perimeter of the space. Of course, the architecture must be compliant. When it is, this can be a great alternative, especially when the foyer is single-story.

Perhaps you are not inclined to forgo the chandelier in a two-story space. Consider this. Use a smaller diameter foyer pendant or narrow and long chandelier and add a few sconces. This will add a layer of light variation that will supply depth and interest to the room.


Sometimes I feel like a one-man band reminding people that the best bathroom lighting is a sconce on each side of the mirror rather than one long piece, over the top. Every expert and almost every book written about lighting tells us this, but the economics of one outlet box vs. two is too powerful. Over mirror lighting is unflattering and is so laden with glare, it is considered the most egregious luminaire for senior eyes in the entire house. So I’ll say one more time with feeling, “Use sconces on each side of the bathroom mirror used for personal grooming. Your eyes and make-up will thank you.”


Most hallways are now illuminated with a string of recessed cans down the center. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is predictable and somewhat boring. To elevate these pedestrian areas, why not consider using sconces instead?

Great Rooms

Recessed can lighting, 22’-0” overhead in a two-story Great Room is very close to being useless. The light is so far overhead, the amount of measureable light is minimal. Nonetheless, light is very important in these communal areas. Floor and table lamps are crucial, but sconces can add a layer of light that serves two purposes. The light, closer to the user become functional, unlike the faraway cans. On a massive 20’-0” to 24’-0” wall surface, the space can be humanized and brought into better perspective. The room takes on a more intimate appearance. Forget the light kit on the overheard ceiling fan and the useless recessed cans in a two-story Great Room and replace them with sconces.


Forget the bed lamps. Use a sconce on each side of the bed with an individual control switch. Using a sconce rather than a lamp will save tabletop space and can be very effective in smaller rooms.


As some designers have eliminated upper cabinets in kitchens, the light needed on countertop surfaces must be provided by something other than under cabinet lighting. Sconces are a natural option. They also add an element of design to the now blank walls.


When ceiling heights were typically 8’-0”, 8” to 12” sconces were common. With 9’-0” ceilings now common and 12’-0” readily found, sconces must be taller, lest they appear puny and out of scale with the home. Seek out taller pieces. Forget anything under 18”. In multi-story foyers or great rooms, even taller units should be used.

Alora Lighting – Akoyo linear “string” has been configured in some applications running down the face of a tall wall in lieu of a sconce.

While many 24”, 36″ and 48” linear sconces are now available, recently, I have seen some exciting “string” products that can be installed like a sconce. Think of a string of pearls. Both ends use a type of canopy to connect to a surface. If one end is installed, say, 3’-0” from the next, a beautiful drape can be created. One end on a ceiling or wall can create a type of sconce that drives down a long wall surface. Some manufacturers are using plain white balls, others crystal baubles. Regardless, this is a wonderful option to create interest on wall surfaces.

Convinced Yet?

Please don’t let me sing this song alone! Sconces are a meaningful way to add light to many spaces in a home. Let’s all do our part to make sconce a more meaningful way to light residences.