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Designing Dilemma December 2004

Installing Recessed Lights

Dear Designing Solutions: Our family room is 14 feet by 15 feet. It has a large (double) window on one wall and opens into our fairly bright kitchen. The room has no overhead lighting, so we'd like to install recessed lighting to illuminate the space (in addition to our table lamps). The electrician suggests installing nine 5-inch (white) canisters with 75 watt halogen bulbs. (He is concerned that using fewer lights will leave pockets of darkness and shadows.) Nine lights sounds a bit overwhelming. We don't want the space to look like an operating room. How many lights would you suggest? Please help! EHL

Dear EHL: Your electrician's recommendation to install five-inch recessed lights with halogen bulbs is right on target. However, white trims give off more glare than any other trim color. Why not choose a trim in black, clear or a reflective gold tone to keep the glare at a minimum. Also, the recessed lights should be on a dimmer so that you can raise and lower the total illumination depending on how you are using the room.

Once you've dealt with the glare and dimming, think about how your family room is laid-out. Is there seating or table space in the center of the room? Do you have art and collectibles on the walls or displayed in shelving? Nine recessed lights in your room really doesn't seem like a lot, but where they are placed is worth re-thinking. Light up the room perimeter where wall art and seating are placed. Install the lights close enough to the wall to "wash" the walls in light. Keep the lighting to a minimum in the center of the room if there's no furniture or art in the center. Visually expand the family room space by lighting up room corners that are usually in the dark. Use the recessed lighting to highlight architectural features like a fireplace or built-in shelving.

Once you've laid out the lighting so that it actually illuminates the room's furnishings, instead of the room's floor, give more thought to how you might want to control the light. It makes sense to group some of the lights separately from others- so that you can turn on just a few at a time. At a minimum, I switch the center lights separately from the perimeter lights. It gives you more control.

Manufacturers recommend that five-inch recessed lights be spaced no more than five feet apart in a room with ceilings eight feet tall. For even better coverage, lights can be four feet apart. So there might be some areas in your room- like on a wall with a large display of art- where you will want to group recessed lighting more closely together than in others. Again, think first about what you are trying to light up and how you want to use your room- that will take you in the right direction and help you avoid that "O.R." look.

Covering Two-Story Windows

Dear Designing Solutions: We have very high ceilings. There are two windows, one window above a lower. The higher window is smaller with a 24" wall space in-between the longer bottom window. They are both square, not arched. Do you have any solutions? Joy

Dear Joy: Often the best way to cover two windows of differing sizes is with full curtains that have panels hanging on either side of your windows. Full curtains will help camouflage the fact that the windows are not the same size. In your case, this would involve hanging the curtains above the tallest window. Make sure that the panels are far enough apart and full enough to cover the larger of the two windows. If you need to control light and privacy, the curtains should be hung on a traverse rod so that they can be easily opened and closed.

If full curtains are not your style and light control is still an issue, you might consider simple cellular or pleated shades. Use the same shade in the same color on both windows, but choose a style that offers a remote-controlled version for the taller window. You can also consider applying a "frosting" film to the glass on the tall windows to avoid using shades altogether. The opaque film won't control light, but it will give privacy for about the same price as a manually-controlled pleated shade. Look in your local yellow pages for contractors who can do this for you.

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