Lighting design — especially with tunable LEDs — has been historically complex, with variables such as programming making the application of tunable lighting a job for extremely skilled professionals. Mark Greenawalt, who’s a senior project manager and lighting design engineer for the Arizona firm Creative Designs in Lighting, understands the inherent issues: “One needs to understand what the environment needs to be, what the architect’s intent is, and what the user’s expectations of that space are. And then use lighting to fulfill that.” He illustrates the point: “Think of the ambiance in, say, an Olive Garden versus a cafeteria. If you use those two examples, everyone knows exactly what you mean by it and how different they are, but they’re both perfectly appropriate for that environment.”
There have been a number of technological developments that have made the job quite a bit easier. One example: the Crestron Home® OS, paired with its attendant LED Light fixtures, can remove elements of that programming complexity. But before one dives in, understanding the various applications of lighting, the effects of color and temperature, and how to integrate tunable light with other lighting and shading solutions is — and always will be — key.
The Right Light for the Space
“There are basically three pillars of lighting that are important,” explains Greenawalt. “Ambient lighting to illuminate, accent lighting providing the drama, and then the chandeliers and so forth — the interesting fixtures — are the ‘sparkle.’ If you have those three elements working in harmony, it’s a well-balanced design.”
Even when those elements are represented, however, Greenawalt sees errors.
“The big mistakes I encounter are missed opportunities,” he says. “For example: A brick wall or stone wall is just beautiful when you can ‘graze’ it with light. And that means designing the light to be located close to the surface — you pick up that texture of the masonry.”
“When I go into a space, I first ask myself, what do I want to accent?” says Greenawalt. “What’s important? Maybe in the living room, it’s the artwork on the wall, it’s the fireplace mantle, it’s the couch, it’s the coffee table. Ambient light for the whole space alone won’t do it.”
Greenawalt recalls a moment early in his career: He was working with a more experienced designer to light a valuable painting, a ship at sea under a bright sun. After taking a stab at it himself, the elder designer began tweaking the light. “He put a small spotlight on the sun, another on the reflection on the water, and a wider-angle light to illuminate the sails,” Greenawalt explains. “The effect was incredible — it actually looked like the painting was back-lit, as if light was emanating from the painting itself.”
Greenawalt and his colleagues take that concept and apply it everywhere — finding the right blend of ambient, accent, and natural light, and applying the proper treatment to an entire space, inside and out.
The Whole Package
The other layer of all of this, of course, is the ability of tunable LED light fixtures such as those that Crestron is bringing to market that allow the light to change over the course of the day, mirroring certain aspects one would find in natural daylight. The trick here, again, is knowing what to use where — tunable LEDs may not be necessary in each and every location. “It’s all about managing the total space, making sure that you’re enhancing the vision of the building.”
When those LEDs are installed, configured, and programmed thoughtfully, matching the natural Circadian rhythms of a human being, they can be beneficial, according to Greenawalt. “We are naturally tuned to ‘cool light’ during the day (blue skies) and ‘warm light’ during the night (amber firelight). There’s some real scientific research that is getting into measuring the level of how much blue light do you need to perform better and it’s quantifiable,” he says. Ultimately, the right blend of lighting, coupled with proper controls (including automation), will make for a home that’s as satisfying as it is stunning.
Whatever the mix, a big part of ensuring that all of this will work properly involves doing a detailed lighting design at the very outset of the project. “There is so much coordination that really needs to be done with lighting. You need to communicate with the interior designer, need to know what color the carpet is, what color the walls are — and where is the artwork going? You need to be in cahoots with the architect. Am I placing lights in a vaulted ceiling? Are there beams going across? What’s the size of the ceiling cavity I have to work with? Can I put in a big light — a fixture that’s very deep — or do I only have two inches of space to work with?”
Finding a Pro
Many smart home professionals won’t be skilled in these deep level lighting aspects, so how do you find the right professional for the job?
With decades of experience under his belt, Greenawalt shares what he believes makes for a strong lighting designer. “There’s a certain amount of wisdom you gain,” he says, “Wisdom to know what fixtures and what type of applications can achieve the results that you’re looking for.” Since his career began as an electrical engineer, he initially thought the secret to good lighting was getting the right quantity of light in any given room. He quickly grasped, however, that a number of other factors were critically important, from color to temperature (“warm” or “cool” light) to something called “CRI” — “color rendering index,” or how well a lamp renders the color of what it’s illuminating. (You can find a good deal more on that subject here.)
“Certifications are one way to find a firm dedicated to the science and art of lighting,” says Greenawalt, “and any reputable lighting designer will be happy to explain what all those initials mean.” But Greenawalt firmly believes that a body of work, a portfolio of satisfied clients, and the strength of a firm’s references are what truly determines a company’s quality.
“I think the track record, the experience of a good designer says so much more than any certificate is going to say.”
Post time: May-23-2022