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Design Notes

The Dim Approach Is a Bright Idea

Indirect or ambient lighting can create an intimate space and make a room more inviting.

February 07, 2002|KATHY BRYANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Barbra Streisand, according to columnist Liz Smith, once entered a party at a friend's house, froze, took her host aside and said, "Overhead lighting? Come on, can't we do something about this?" The lighting was quickly dimmed to be more flattering to her.

You don't have to be a celebrity to suffer from harsh overhead lighting. "Everyone should invest in inexpensive dimmer switches for the home," says lighting designer Robert Tant of Monrovia. "You automatically increase the range of your lighting for about $6 a switch."

Dimmers are just one way to make rooms more inviting and flattering. "Accent lighting, indirect lighting, ambient lighting and task lighting all combine to give a good overall atmosphere and intimate sense of space," Tant says. "If you're sitting in a room, you want to be comfortable with indirect lighting, but you may also want to read, and that requires task lighting that focuses directly on your book."

Another reason for multiple types of lighting is to create drama, Tant says. "If you have just one switch in the room and it gives one level of light, there's not much atmosphere. No one likes to feel as if he's under a glaring spotlight," he says. And drama is about contrast, which is what happens when you have a sharp accent light on a piece of art or sculpture and the rest of the room has a soft ambient light.

"To me, lighting is the most important material in a project," says New York-based architect Michael Gabellini. "Even before I think of any other thing, I think about the physical presence of light and how to use it." For a new home, the cost of high-quality lighting can start at 5% of the cost of the house, including fixtures, controls, landscape lighting and design fees. Tant contends that in the long run it's money well spent.

Most people, however, don't design their houses from the ground up but need to work with what they already have. Tant suggests being creative in the use of portable lights. "You can buy inexpensive compact fluorescent light sources, which are cooler than warm incandescent lamps. Place them in inconspicuous places like above a cabinet, on a shelf or on the floor behind a sofa, someplace where they're concealed and the light spills out. Since they operate at a low-voltage temperature, they don't get very hot and are safe," he says.

Although many people dislike fluorescent lights, either because of the color or the flickering, Tant suggests buying a small pack of theatrical gels for about $18.

"You'll have over 200 colors to experiment with by wrapping the gels around the light," he says. "Try a light pink, amber or rose. That adds a subtleness of color to your home. Concealing the source of the ambient light is harder to do, but that creates the magic."

Eliminating the glare from a room is another important thing Tant recommends, either by replacing or removing harsh lights and fixtures. Often just lowering wattage of lightbulbs helps. He also suggests lighting the outside trees and plants if they can be seen from inside at night, thus bringing the inside in.

"Anything you do with lighting design in the house is an enhancement, because most of the original lighting was just put there to pass code," he says.

For more information, the nonprofit Designer's Lighting Forum holds monthly lectures. The next one is scheduled to take place on March 4 at the Department of Water and Power offices downtown. The topic will be "Historic Design and Restoration Lighting." For more information, call (310) 535-0105, or visit www.dlfla. org. Tant's Web site is www. lightyears.cc.

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'Beyond Ornament'

"Beyond Ornament: Late 20th Century Jewelry: An International View," a lecture by Helen Drutt English, collector of contemporary jewelry, will take place at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Los Angeles County Museum's Bing Auditorium. $10 for the museum's Decorative Arts Council members; $15 general admission. LACMA is at 5705 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6528 for reservations.

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Lecture on Fowler

Author Anne Gore will lecture on her friend, decorator John Fowler, at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Hollyhock, 817 Hilldale Ave, West Hollywood. Admission is $25, with proceeds going to the LACMA's Decorative Arts Council. Call (310) 777-0100.

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Kathy Bryant may be reached at kbryant@socal.rr.com.

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