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Architect About Town

Good Designer will help you see light

Architect About Town - Special to the Fort Myers News-Press

By day the house you built for us changes with the sunlight and the clouds, the spaces lighting up or withdrawing into quietness. The light feels like a part of the architecture as it slices across walls or fills the space.

By night the house is completely different, transformed, glowing, the spaces flowing into one another without the light ever being obtrusive or drawing attention to itself. The lighting enables the house to speak a different language, one of warmth and protection as well as possibility.

So wrote Geraldine Bedell, novelist and client of an award-winning house designed by my practice several years back.

Designed correctly, light has a profound positive effect on building and occupant and a strong influence on mood, morale, behavior and even productivity. More than just illumination, it generates drama, creates balance and focuses interest.

Anyone can brighten a space. At the business, just throw a few fluorescent lights in the ceiling grid and at home, scatter a few cans across the ceiling, one in each corner.

Successful lighting, however, is directed and considered. It’s worth the effort to understand a few basic principles or call in a professional for advice.

Obviously, increasing daylight involves positioning glass openings to take advantage of the sun. Daylight reduces dependency on artificial light, though remember, in a sunny climate, it requires restraint.

North light has long been exploited for its subtlety being soft and consistent. Lots of glass on a building’s north side allows a space to glow without heat gain. Openings in other directions bring in welcome daylight but inevitably require shade protection in Florida.

Skylights are rarely used to their potential. Locating a skylight adjacent to a wall is far more dramatic than one located in the center of a room.

Light no longer drops: the vertical surface gets bathed in light, constantly forming organic patterns as the sky changes.

Artificial light can be designed similarly. Six-inch incandescent cans shine only on the floor. Instead, control and direct the light onto surfaces, walls, counters, desks and ceilings: bouncing is remarkably more effective.

Locating cans, or downlights, near the wall and the reflected light will make a space brighter and less taxing on your eyes. It no longer shines directly on your head or the floor and that exhausting glare disappears.

Ever looked in a mirror lit indirectly? There are no shadows — which does wonders for your age and attitude.

That’s the trick. Make light indirect. It is more comfortable and less stressful.

General lighting, or ambient light, should be low. Is a book read in a corridor or the parking lot? Bright overall light isn’t necessary, but it is critical to have it right where you need it: on the kitchen counter, next to the reading chair, on the desk or right above the dining table.

Task lights, pendants, wall scones, color, lamps and energy efficiency, as well as landscape and architectural lighting that can stop onlookers in their tracks — there is so much more.

Many who design buildings don’t consider lighting a priority, but a talented designer or architect understands how incorporating lighting at the start can change a space from average to awe-inspiring.

Joyce Owens AIA RIBA