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Editorial

If these walls could talk


LIGHTING YOUR HOME PART 4Decorative Accent Lighting



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06/01/2008 - My last two articles explained background and task lighting. Background and task lights are necessary to make a home safe and functional. This month we'll discuss accent lighting. Accent lights are not a necessity. They are, however, the lights that create interest and set the mood of a room.

Light can alter colors, shapes, and the perception of size and space. It can be used to emphasize and enhance, or to camouflage and minimize. It can exaggerate and add drama, or it can flatten and soften details. Light can also be its' own form of subtly changing decoration. Changing light instantly changes mood. Therefore, even though accent lighting is not strictly necessary, it has a great deal of impact on a room's inhabitants. Because accent lighting can create such varied moods, it is the most enjoyable light to use in decorating. Once accent lights are added, the room is truly formed.

Theater, gallery, and museum lighting techniques can be adapted for use in the home. When planning accent lights, think of spotlights, filters, and dimmer switches as basic tools. Other interesting effects can be created using wall-washers, pinhole or framing lights, candles, and miniature string lights (Christmas tree lights).

To begin accent lighting, walk through the room and decide what things to which you'd like to draw attention and which ones from which you'd like to distract attention. Also consider whether the light should come from above, below, or from the side. To truly see the resulting shadows and highlights, use a temporary light for experimentation.

A portable work lamp with a swiveling spring-clamp, dimmer switch, and 150watt bulb are perfect for experimentation. These can be purchased at any department store. The work-light's clamp can be clipped to chair legs, doors, ceiling joists, table edges, or any other available temporary support. It can also be clamped to a brick as a base for use on the floor or a tabletop.

Use the work-light to observe lighting effects. Try setting the light behind chairs or sofas to point up at the wall or ceiling. Spotlight a sculpture, plant or interesting piece of furniture. Likewise try the light as a down-light spotlight on wall, pictures, or simply to create the feeling of separation by using the pool of light to delineate a space.

Attach a Velcro dot to the work-light's reflector edge to experiment with the light's color as well. Use the Velcro dots to attach various colored transparent acetate sheets over the light. The tinted light will alter the color of the objects upon which it shines.

Spotlights in the form of wall-washers, up-lights, down-lights, and multiple fixture track lights are the large accent lights. They accent large objects and surfaces, or create separate spaces. Small accent lights are also important. Small lights in the form of string-lights or small fluorescent tubes can be placed beneath tables, sofas, and other furniture to create a "floating" effect. They can rim glass door edges, lace through plant leaves, or wind through stair banisters and beneath handrails.

Spotlights and the smaller accent lights used in the previously discussed ways draw attention to an object or area. When used over things such as crystal bowls and vases, dining-room silverware, metal or glass sculptures, or other reflective surfaces, a myriad of little highlight reflections glitter back--- accent lights within the accent light.

One can also use a light as a decorative accent in and of itself. Instead of drawing attention to something else, these lights draw attention to themselves. Two classic examples of this kind of light are candles and oil lamps. Lava lamps, and neon tube-light signs and artwork are other examples. These lights are actual points of interest.

Whatever you do with accent lights, have fun. Realize that they are easily changeable. They don't need to be serious and permanent. The most attractive accent light I ever saw was the temporary creation of a co-worker who had been sent a bouquet of flowers in a large, transparent, cobalt blue vase. When the flowers were gone, my co-worker tossed a jumbled string of tiny Christmas lights into the vase. The nighttime effect was exquisite. The vase seemed to have captured a handful of stars in the midnight sky. The "stars" appeared to be escaping and floating out into the room where the cord came out of the vase to plug into the wall outlet. It was purely a darkened room, nighttime only effect, and it was obviously temporary--- yet oh so lovely.

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