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Turn up the lights

The wallpaper is up. The drapes are hung and the furniture is in place. But something is missing. Decorating is not complete without the addition of stylish lighting to seamlessly finish the look.

Lighting is an important element in home décor. It not only highlights our surroundings, it also enables us to perceive color and texture. There was a time when lighting did not have the decorating value that it has today. The choices were few and the styles limited. Now, consumers can find a floor lamp, table lamp, chandelier, pendant or sconce to fit their décor, no matter what the room.

Style Changes
It isn't possible to appreciate the importance of lighting in home décor without considering one lamp's most decorative features---the lampshade. It, too, has evolved from the days of limited choices.

Shades have taken on a more decorative look as the variety of shapes, fabrics and adornments have multiplied. Materials ranging from metal and paper to tapestry and sheers have made it onto shades. Beads, stones, wire, fringe and myriad accoutrements give an added flare to many designs.

No longer is the A-frame shade the only choice, either. Certainly the off-white silk shade in its traditional form is available. But why stop there when you can customize a lamp and choose from among shades in the form of cylinders, spheres, rectangles and squares.

Kitchen Lighting
The days of using a single 75-watt ceiling fixture are long gone, yet many kitchens are still lit with nothing more than an overhead fixture.

That means the under-counter space and the perimeter counter tops, where most of the work is done, are left in shadow. Indeed, kitchens aren't just for cooking anymore. The kitchen space is often used as an entertainment area, a family gathering space, a homework center and more. Such versatility requires a lighting plan that's equally versatile and flexible.

For starters, consider the main areas to be illuminated. Stove and sink areas call for down-lights to create task lighting for cooking and cleaning. The kitchen table is another focal point, as are kitchen islands and peninsulas. According to the experts at the American Lighting Association (ALA), even if the rest of your kitchen space features recessed lighting, a pendant or chandelier fixture in these areas can add some welcome color or style by breaking up the space without obstructing views.

Finding your lighting
Even when you're caught-up in the decorating mode, it is important to consider the practical purpose to be served by the lighting in each room. Choose a light that offers the best ambient or overall lighting, task lighting and accent lighting to accommodate your needs. Here are some recommendations from the ALA.

  • Work with a professional lighting consultant or interior designer. He or she can make sure that the decorative lamp you choose not only looks good, but also serves its purpose of lighting the space properly.
  • Bring in an example. A picture form your favorite magazine can make it easier for a salesperson to visualize your needs.
  • Know your budget. The costs of lighting vary; so remember to keep an open mind in case the pendant you're in love with would break the bank.

Brochures containing lighting tips can be requested on the ALA Web site.

Types of lighting
So what's the best light to use where? There are many ways to light a room. For the most part, the room's function will determine the way it should be lit. Here is how decorators describe the different types of lighting.

  • Ambient: A hidden source of light that washes the room with a glow. It flattens an interior and creates very little shadow. A wall sconce is an example of ambient lighting. So are those Japanese paper shades you find in stores.
  • Accent: Directional lighting or lighting that adds interest or highlights a certain object or unusual architectural feature in a room. A bulb and some kind of shield to direct the light are all that's needed for this type of lighting. Halogen spotlights and table lamps with opaque shades are good ways to achieve accent lighting.
  • Task: Task lighting is just that; it's lighting that's used to perform daily activities such as reading, cooking, shaving, putting on makeup, etc. It needs to be glare-free. Effective task lighting enhances visual clarity and keeps the eyes from getting tired.
  • Aesthetic: Lighting itself can be a work of art. A neon sculpture would be purely decorative and an example of aesthetic lighting. A spotlight illuminating a statue on a pedestal or portrait on the wall is also aesthetic.

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