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Brilliant Additions : Lighting Techniques Put Special Effects at Your Fingertips


EMERALD BAY — Moods change with a flick of a switch in the theater. The lights dim: Romance is near. Lights darken: Evil arrives. To achieve all these effects, the lighting technician relies on dimmers, light beams and color filters--the same devices that today's interior designers use in homes and businesses.

Innovative lighting can solve space problems by making small rooms appear larger and dark spaces more expansive. A gloomy room can become cheerful, or a vast area can become intimate.

Interior designer Priscilla Eeds was faced with unusual lighting problems of her own when she designed her contemporary Emerald Bay home. Because the house was built on a relatively small lot in the middle of a steep hill, architect McLarand, Vasquez & Partners in Costa Mesa used every available bit of land for the structure.

The result was a dining room "dead wall" that received no natural light, since it backed into the hillside. "I'm not really a lighting expert," explains Eeds, "but I knew I wanted the wall illuminated."

Working with Vasquez and Huntington Park-based neon designer Eric Zimmerman, she designed a 14-foot-by-6-foot glass block light wall containing four neon tubes--red, yellow, turquoise and purple--and a rear-mounted floodlight. The result is a brilliant focal point of the living room/dining room area that gives the illusion of space and the outdoors.

The lighting system, controlled from a hidden panel in the living room, allows Eeds to change the colors of the neon tubes rapidly or slowly, randomly or in a pattern by moving a switch.

The varieties are endless and are a source of fun for her children and guests, as well as for people driving by.

"You can see the wall clearly from the street, so I sometimes see people drive by slowly then back up to check on it. By the time they've come back, the color has changed," says Eeds in her soft Texas accent.

Eeds particularly likes the lighting when she has guests, since she can control the mood of the room easily and match the wall with her place settings or party theme.

Although the glass wall is the most dramatic use of lighting in the house, it is not the only one. "I really don't like lamps very much," Eeds says. "I have sconces on the wall that I like, but other than that the lighting is mainly recessed."

In the kitchen there is neon lighting under the cabinets to illuminate the serving areas. "We really needed it, since we used so much black granite in here," explains Eeds. Recessed lighting is in the ceiling with specially focused spotlights placed to shine on the bar/sitting area. "This is so perfect for reading by on a dark day or at night."

The same targeted lighting is found in the master bedroom that makes reading in bed both pleasant and convenient, since the control panel is in the drawer of the night stand.

The master bathroom features recessed incandescent lighting, as well as neon lighting under the cabinets and targeted lighting in the dressing area for ease in putting on makeup. "The only thing I forgot here were extra lights for the closet," Eeds says.

Because of the contemporary color scheme of the house--black and white with red accents--the sophisticated lighting system of the house is perfect, since it softens areas that could be cold. Night lighting is found alongside the stairways and in the exterior walkways and patios.

A good lighting system is not only attractive, it is also being mandated by law. State law requires new or remodeled residences to be energy efficient. It specifically relates to lighting design and measures the amount of light in a house.

For example, it's mandatory that the first switch in a kitchen turn on a fluorescent lamp, and that lamp must light the entire room.

Gary White of Kitchen Design in Newport Beach deals with the new law daily when he's designing custom lighting programs for kitchens and baths.

"Fluorescent lamp manufacturers have come out with new miniature fluorescent lamps that allow more creative freedom. There are even recessed miniature can fluorescent lamps that have the same effect as incandescent lamps," he says.

This is the latest trend in interior design, White says. "Designers always liked the recessed can lamps, since they were like invisible light sources. With these new lamps, you can specify the color temperature of the fluorescent lamp you use. It used to be you had no control over that."

The color temperature of the lamp depends on the mood you want or your own color preference, according to White. Light is measured in degrees of Kelvin (temperature).

As a general rule, 2,700-degree lamps are good with traditional design, since they are warmer in tone; 4,100-degree lamps work well in contemporary rooms, since they're better with blues, grays and greens.

For graphic examples of different lighting schemes and how they go with different color motifs, White's Kitchen Design showroom has nine separate display areas, each featuring different lighting.

"One of the most exciting things that will come out of these new advances is innovative fixture design. Since light bulbs will be small, there will be more freedom for creativity," White says.

White thinks the incandescent lamp will be replaced by fluorescent and low-voltage lighting.

Certainly for the homeowner, lighting is becoming more exciting as well as more cost effective and energy efficient.

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