So often, aesthetics drive our lighting selection. We pick a luminaire with the idea that it blends well with the surroundings, is decoratively relevant and has spacial parameters that fit in the room. Often times, we overlook the use, or application. That can be a big mistake.
When I started to exercise at my current gym, three corners of the room were somewhat dimly lit. That was ok with me. One corner held bench press equipment and the other two are used for mat work (crunches, abs, etc.) A few years ago, someone must have walked through the place and noticed the inconsistency. The dark corners could easily be resolved with the addition of new lighting fixtures. In a day or two, three new, 2×24 fluorescent wrap-around fixtures were installed and the overall lumen intensity was much more balanced. Great, right? Not so much.
Whether on a mat or under a barbell, you are looking up at the ceiling. Now, instead of non-aggressive overflow lighting from the rest of the room, a glaring light pokes users in the eye as they attempt a crunch or a lift. I realized this a few months ago when the gym reopened after the COVID shutdown. The mats and benches were relocated to a space that features indirect light. Initially, I didn’t understand why I was enjoying my workout more (or, enjoying it as much as one can!) As I laid on the bench or the mat, glaring light was not aimed directly at my eyes. The soft, buffered light was doing its job, but not annoying me. The application of light was good for the user. What a wonderful idea!
Glistening clear glass has been a HOT lighting trend for almost ten years. While it is beginning to cool now, there are still hundreds of thousands of bathrooms illuminated with clear glass. They look great, but completely ignore the user. Undiffused light, aimed directly at your eyes while in the midst of personal grooming hinders more than helps. What’s more, most are located over the mirror, rather than along each side, making them even more difficult to process. Younger folks can get by with these excesses, but as we age, it becomes more and more of an annoyance. I have predicted for many years that thrift shops and Goodwill stores everywhere will be overwhelmed with these difficult units as soon as the trend is fully buried and gone. To be more helpful to the user, well diffused light will always be a better option, especially in this important area of the home.
Kitchen Island Lighting
The bottom of island pendants are best positioned 36” over the top of the countertop, which is 36” above the floor. That means the light source is typically 6’-0” to 7’-0” off the floor. This location is VERY similar to the over-mirror lights in the bathroom. This location works against the user in much the same way, when the pendants feature clear glass and exposed light bulbs. Rather than aiding in meal preparation, the light causes glare and distracts from the detailed work that occurs on the surface below.
The backbone of good landscape lighting is the obfuscation of the light source in favor of the delivered light. I’m always amused when I see a landscape lighting accent light aimed at a beautiful front door. The house typically looks great. The door becomes a highpoint and visitors can easily find their way to the home’s threshold. Unfortunately, the problem comes when they leave. The light is now aimed directly at the departing guests who are temporarily blinded as they grope toward the unknown step edge. Bad lighting, not the nightcap is the more common cause of sprained ankles and family spats.
Think About the Application
In each instance, lighting was selected and positioned to complement the space, but little regard was given to the humans who will inhabit and use the end result. Sure, we want the place to look good. We need certain amounts of light to function once the sun sets. We also want lighting that physically fills the area. It is time to include one more parameter, the user. With all these points considered, proper lighting application can be achieved.