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Home Design Issue | Lighting

Best and the brightest

September 26, 2004

When your guests enter, you want the lighting to be warm and inviting," says Lisa Passamonte Green, a principal lighting designer for Van Nuys-based Visual Terrain. "Then you want the lighting to dim as people get comfortable and focus their attention on the screen." Green, a former Disney Imagineer, recommends investing in a remote lighting control system that can be preset for different lighting levels for before, during and after the show.

Lutron Electronics, a leader in lighting controls, offers remote-control dimmers from about $125. If you're renovating or retrofitting instead of building from scratch, Lutron's wireless RadioRA Whole-Home Lighting Control System is just the ticket. It connects to the lights via radio frequencies instead of wires, so there's no tearing apart walls or rewiring.

For a glare-free media room, indirect lighting is a better bet than direct. Plus, indirect lighting feels more cozy and home-like. There are four basic types of indirect lighting, depending on the lighting pattern and how the light source is concealed.

* Soffit lighting directs light down from under an L-shaped soffit.

* Cornice lighting directs light down from behind a cornice.

* Valence lighting directs light both up and down from behind a valence.

* Cove lighting directs light up from behind a ledge, where it bounces off the ceiling to light the center of the room.

Cove lighting is one of the few ways in which fluorescent lamps find favor in the home, as they produce an evenly diffused wash of light rather than an incandescent's or halogen's point source. Don't be put off by memories of the harsh, flickering, humming "egg-crate" fluorescents in your high-school classroom. Today's fluorescent bulbs, such as the cool-running, narrow (thumb-width) T5, emit pure, flicker-free light.

Speaking of hum, a noisy ballast--the device that regulates starting voltage and current in a fluorescent lamp--will seriously annoy you during quiet scenes. To ensure hum-free operation, splurge on an electronic ballast over a cheaper mechanical one.

For stepped or raked floors, 2-inch dots of LED (light-emitting diode) lighting are recommended over rope lighting, says Toronto-based Suzanne Powadiuk, lighting consultant for the new Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals at the Smithsonian Institution. LED lighting boasts low temperature, low wattage, programmable color changes and almost eternal life.

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Things You Should Know

Unless you have high ceilings, avoid track lighting, chandeliers or other pendant lamps because they may obstruct your view of the screen.

Overhead lighting near the screen may create glare.

Lighting controls should be accessible when you are seated, so get a remote control.

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What It Will Cost

Sky's the limit

$1,800: Lutron's RadioRA Home Theater Package

Ideal for existing rooms where rewiring isn't practical. It includes four dimmers, a tabletop master control and an infrared receiver so users can control lights from a universal remote control.

Middle of the road

$500: Lutron's Grafik Eye 2000 Series

Allows as many as eight preset lighting levels. The optional GRX-8IT ($200) infrared wireless remote control means you don't have to leave your seat.

Down to earth

$125: Lutron's SPSW-600HTH

The in-wall dimmer lets you adjust your lighting level manually or with the infrared remote. You can save your favorite settings by pushing a preset button.

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Resource Guide

Flute wall sconce, $673, Fontana Arte, West Hollywood, (310) 247-9933. Framework Sconce, $801, Shy Globe, $387, and Dance Pendant, $1,027, all from Plug Lighting, Los Angeles, (323) 653-5635; Lutron Electronics, www.lutron.com; Lisa Passamonte Green, (818) 786-3500, www.visualterrain.net; Suzanne Powadiuk, Toronto, (416) 966-4251.

OTHER RESOURCES: Trade associations include Custom Electronic Design & Installation Assn., www.cedia.net; National Systems Contractors Assn., www.nsca.org. Reviews: www.audiorevolution.com. Motorized drapery/window treatments: Solar Shading Systems, (800) 432-7526, www.solarshadingsystems.com. Custom lift and mechanical elevator systems: J & R Engineering, (818) 842-3393.

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Produced by Barbara Thornburg; Styled by Tristam Steinberg

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