Lighting Designer "Secret Sauce" – Part One of Four

a guest post by Lisa J. Reed, Lighting Designer

You've heard that a magician never reveals his or her secrets. Doesn’t that drive you crazy? It does me. Fortunately, lighting design isn’t magic, so it's okay for me to reveal the lighting designer "secret sauce."

It is common to hear lighting taught like this:

  1. Provide ambient light for a space
  2. Add task light where needed
  3. Top it off with accent lighting

Unless you want your space to be boring, that is perfectly backward. When I design a space, I reverse the order, and ask myself these questions:

  1. Accent Lighting – What is it about the architecture or the space or the art hanging in the space that is interesting or inspired? How can lighting emphasize, accent, or highlight that feature?
  2. Task Light – Next, are there any tasks in this space that require a certain amount of lighting? The size and contrast of a task as well as the age of the people in the space are considered.
  3. Ambient – Finally, do the accent and task lights provide enough spill or ambient lighting for circulation through the space and other ambient tasks? If so, great! Stop while you are ahead. If more light is needed, we can add some additional general lighting, but only if absolutely necessary.
Lighting Blog 20 Designer Lighting

This method can use fewer lights, and thereby less energy, yet the result is a more dynamic and interesting space!

To get it right, the lighting designer must collaborate with the other members of the team throughout the design of the project. If a building detail changes or if art locations move, the accent lights must respond to the changes. That’s where things can get tricky, but the use of flexible adjustable light fixtures with different trim and accessory options can allow for even last-minute field changes.

When you approach the lighting design for a space, where do you start? Don’t save the best for last! Start with accent lighting then fill in with the essentials.


Lisa J Reed photo - Lighting Blog

Lisa J. Reed has been attracted to lighting (like a moth to a flame) for 20+ years. She is the Founding Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC in St. Louis, where she designs, teaches, and writes about architectural lighting.


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