Let There Be Light

Valley architects and designers share their tips for lighting your home.

By Maggie Theodora

Like many things in design, good lighting can be difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it. The same goes for bad lighting, although that is often easy to describe. For instance, fluorescent lighting is horrible. While a lighting engineer is a thing now—and worth the money if you can afford one when designing a space—thanks to the following tips, you can brighten up your home on your own.


Clients came to designer Nanette Mattei looking to add warmth to this master bedroom. “I don’t know that I’d ever lowered the ceiling in a space before,” says Mattei, who previously worked as an art consultant in New York City and also for the home furnishings company Kravet. “But it was just so high, which made it echoey. Also, there wasn’t enough warmth in the room.” In addition to lowering the ceiling to meet the clients’ request to warm up the room, Mattei used lighting.

Photograph courtesy Nanette Mattei

  1. We put recessed LED lights in the hardwood ceiling and cast some of them to show off the craftsmanship of it. It’s really spectacular.
  2. These clients have a great art collection, so we installed some LEDs specifically to light up pieces of their collection. The existing lighting didn’t have any order. Now the lighting in the room is functional on multiple levels.
  3. This room has windows on both sides, so it gets flooded with natural light in the morning and afternoon. It’s because of all this natural light that I was able to go with a little darker design palette. I do love drapes, and here they allow in (or keep out) as much light as wanted. They also add warmth to the room.
  4. I love three layers of lighting, and running both horizontally and vertically. Each layer functions differently, and together they subtly add interest to a space.


The layering of lush textures and subtle colors is a signature element of WRJ Design’s sophisticated yet comfortable interiors. That same layering approach is important to a room’s lighting, says the firm’s president and cofounder, Rush Jenkins: “Multiple light sources are key; consider the rhythm and pattern of cast light and shadows for the best results.”

Photograph courtesy WRJ Design

  1. Choose centerpiece lighting as an aesthetic focal point. Here, a strong perpendicular reflects the architecture’s dramatic beams, and the fixture’s grand scale and lower placement brings the living area into focus.
  2. A dimmer switch for strategically placed wall sconces ensures the right level of overall illumination, creating atmosphere without stealing the show.
  3. Natural light boosts mood and helps colors pop. Sheer window treatments can diffuse too-bright sunshine.
  4. Pair floor lamps for the classic appeal of symmetry—and to double as adjustable task lighting, which is crucial for reading.


Design Associates Architects was one of the valley’s first architecture firms when it opened in the late 1960s. Christopher Lee, who took over the firm from his father in 2000, says, “Lighting has become a big deal, and our options have really improved.”

Photograph courtesy Design Associates Architects

  1. LEDs came out about ten years ago, but they were so expensive. They’re more affordable now, and they’re all we really use anymore. Because they don’t run as hot as halogens, we can now put recessed lighting in vaulted ceilings. Because they last for ten-plus years, we’re putting lights in hard-to-reach places since you don’t need to worry about replacing the bulb.
  2. People don’t really like interior bathrooms very well, no matter how good the lighting is. I always try to get a bathroom on an outside wall. The quality of natural light is as good as it gets.
  3. In a bathroom, you have to hit a technical aspect—you have to have a certain amount of light in the room in the right places. At the vanity, you don’t want only lights from above because then you’ll be getting shadows while you’re in front of the mirror. A sconce is the perfect way to do vanity light.
  4. There’s no practical benefit to lights at the toe kick, but they’re fun and look cool. The toe kick is usually a shadowy thing and lighting it kind of makes the vanity look like it’s floating a bit.
  5. People used to prefer halogen lights in high-end homes—they’re bright and have a great color. Fluorescents are blue, a terrible color of light. Incandescents are perfect—soft and white like a candle. Early LEDs had a problem getting a warm color, but if halogens are a 10, today LEDs are a 9.5.
| Posted in Departments
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