MERRY & BRIGHT: Everyday Lighting Strategies

Lighting is one of the fundamental aspects of interior design—whether it’s a senior living community, educational facility, hospitality venue, office, or really any type of occupied space. Lighting strategies are especially important now that most of the country has moved back to standard time. Those of us living in the northern hemisphere are experiencing reduced natural light and likely getting outdoors less than usual.

As we move into the darker days of winter and the sparkling lights associated with the holiday season, it’s a good time to devote our attention to everyday lighting strategies.  We’ve asked a few of our interior designers and lighting design consultants to share their thoughts on various aspects of lighting.

contemporary lighting trends include geometric shapes

Current lighting trends are very contemporary with geometric and linear shapes.

What are some of the current lighting trends as we move toward 2021?

Jacqueline Fox, IIDA:  Lighting has become a great tool for helping us create unique spaces. In the educational markets, we are seeing a lot more fun shapes, including linear light fixtures that provide whimsical patterns and textures. We often are working with multi-story architectural elements with tall glass walls to the outside. Lighting creates sculptural artwork to highlight that volume in a way that can inspire and enhance the learning environment.

Jennifer Harrington, P.E., LC, LEED AP, Barton Associates:  Eco-friendly LED technology is a true mainstay trend in the lighting industry.  But, that’s not the only reason for its popularity!  LEDs have inspired many new lighting trends that would never have been possible with traditional lamp sources.  Tunable-White LED technology brings the beneficial biological effects of sunlight indoors even on the darkest of days.  Color-changing LEDs provide an effective visual display for promoting specific branding or offering awareness to a worthy cause.

LEDs have literally reshaped our idea of what lighting can be.

Gone are the days of chunky forms, straight lines, and set lengths.  LED lighting allows us to push our imaginations to the limit.  Delicate form factors are expected.  Zigzags, swirls, and rings are now common shapes.  Infinite lengths of lighting running in every direction do not pose a challenge.  The lighting industry has only skimmed the surface of how LED technology can enhance everyday lighting strategies and ultimately the places we live, learn, work and play.  But most importantly, it has opened our eyes to the fact that lighting can do so much more than just help us see.

Contemporary lighting options pair well with modular wall panels, another trending interior design feature. This example is from Terramai.

Lisa Cowan, AIA: The newer lighting options are very contemporary looking, like the example at right from a wall cladding manufacturer.  This type of linear, statement fixture is typical of what we’re seeing when exploring current lighting trends. These types of fixtures are a great option for statement lighting in lobbies or other common areas of senior living communities.

Glass fixtures with exposed bulbs are also trending right now. We are seeing that trend in resident apartment units for pendant lights and other fixtures.

Blair Malcolm, P.E., LEED AP, Reese Hackman:  Current lighting trends are moving toward exposed light bulbs, often with visible filaments as a design element.  We need to be cautious about creating glare, especially in the aging eye, and may have to use lower output bulbs with supplemental coves or downlights to compensate.

Another growing trend is the use of circadian lighting (i.e. a range of white from candlelight to sunlight), especially in specialized care residences for people with dementia, to reset the day and night cycles of the occupants.  Early studies show promising results with lighting as a non-medicative tool to improve sleep cycles and reduce depression and agitation.

Lighting strategies for dining venues typically require multiple layers of light with dimming capability to create the desired aesthetic and functionality throughout the day. These examples are from RiverMead in Peterborough, NH and York College of Pennsylvania.

How does our interior design team interact with lighting designers/engineers?

Lisa:  Since lighting plays such an important part of the bigger picture – the design as a whole – we typically like to select the fixtures. Our lighting designers can take those initial selections and tweak them for function, light levels, durability, and other technical considerations. It’s definitely a team effort.

Blair:  Lighting is integral to how we express architecture and interior design. It creates the visual interaction between the inhabitant and the built environment. Working with Interior Designers is the highlight of my day; I enjoy the back and forth when reviewing their concepts so I can help render the desired atmosphere.

These in-process photos of interior renovations to the Historic King Mansion in Harrisburg, PA illustrate how lighting, finishes and architectural elements work hand-in-hand for a dramatic transformation.

Jacqueline:  Our interior design team works with the architects and engineers to make sure that we do not create glare or shadows in our spaces when selecting fixtures and incorporating decorative lighting elements. Our goal is to have an even spread of ambient light in a space.

We collaborate with lighting designers to define the right color temperature, depending on the function of the space and the materials we will be using.  We review the best color temperature for the selected finishes with the lighting design engineer. Color temperature will also define the mood in your space. If the temperature is too high, it can feel cold and institutional; too low it can create a yellow cast on the space.

Different types of lighting can dramatically change the perceived color of paints, fabrics and other finish materials.

Jennifer:  Lighting and interior design truly go hand-in-hand. As a lighting designer, one of my top priorities is to establish a close working relationship with the interior designer on a project.  This relationship, built on mutual respect and a trust of each other’s expertise, ensures a successful collaboration and cohesive overall interior design.

The color temperature of daylight changes during the day, from 2000K at sunrise and sunset to 5500-6500K at noon. In the shade it can even go up to 8000-10000K. Source:

How do we merge the technical aspects of lighting strategies with the aesthetic requirements?

Blair:  Color temperature is a discussion we need to have at the beginning of each project.  For senior living projects, 2700K and possibly warm-dimming capabilities are better for independent living, resident rooms and community dining facilities.  We tend to use 3000K for assisted living or skilled nursing residences, except for resident rooms where we’ll consider tunable LED lighting that adjusts throughout the day to match natural circadian rhythms.  That said, if some of the decorative fixtures are only available at a fixed color temperature we need to match that (whether 2700K or 3000K).

Green walls are another example where form and function must work together. It is important to consider not only the best lighting for plant health, but also for aesthetics in the space.

Jennifer:  For educational facility projects, a 2006 study found that schoolchildren performed significantly better in reading tests at 5500K. The high color temperature lighting helps students see more clearly and allows their brains to better focus on instruction and testing.  With Tunable LED Lighting, the color temperature can then easily be moderated to a warmer, 3500K, for general activities and group discussion or to an even warmer, 2700K, for a calming effect after high-energy activity.  Each change in color temperature throughout the day provides students with a visual cue to begin transitioning to the next activity.

Stacy Hollinger Main, IIDA:  Color Rendering Index (CRI) is another important consideration to make sure that colors and finishes are accurately portrayed. A CRI value of 80+, determined by comparing the appearance of a colored object under an artificial light source to its appearance under an incandescent light at 100 CRI, will work for most spaces. The conference room in our own office is equipped with lighting that can be adjusted to different levels so that our designers can review how various material options will be portrayed under different types of lighting.

The Hibiscus Dining Room illustrates the importance of layering light in space. Accent lighting showcases signage and artwork; while large pendants are used for adjustable light levels at the tables to provide a comfortable dining experience. Village On The Isle; Venice, FL

How do interior designers handle layering of light?

Jessica Jack, IIDA:  I like to think of lighting as the jewelry for a space. In the same way that your outfit is not complete until you add earrings or a necklace, lighting can be a statement that defines the look of the space while also setting the tone for the user experiences—whether dining, socializing, learning, and so on—with the appropriate light temperature and lighting levels.

By layering ambient, task, accent and decorative lighting, we can provide appropriate light levels for various functions and experiences. For example, accent lights create a subtle wash of light over a surface to add dimension or showcase design features or artwork.  Pendants often provide more direct task lighting, but can also be used for ambient or accent lighting.  Ambient light serves as the foundation because it sets the tone and provides appropriate light levels for using the space comfortably and safely.

Jacqueline:  Different areas of buildings require different light levels and it is best to have a range of light levels throughout. If you stare at a black dot on a white piece of paper for a period of time and then close your eyes you can see that image. That is eye fatigue. Lighting levels can have the same effect if not handled correctly.

Take a work surface in an office. You want a brighter work lamp that highlights your worksurface/ desktop and reduces eyestrain. When you look up, the ambient lighting should be softer so your eyes can have a rest. This allows your eyes to focus on your task, but have relief when you look away.

lighting as art

These recent lighting installations at Cokesbury Village in Hockessin, DE and Phoebe Berks in Wernersville, PA, illustrate that function is just one part of the lighting equation.

Why Everyday Lighting Strategies Matter

Effective lighting design is integral to end user experiences. It’s a powerful tool for setting the mood and drawing attention to specific features or assisting with wayfinding. Equally important, it helps us to comfortably and safely navigate through the many interior spaces in our everyday world.

That is why our interior design team collaborates with lighting engineers for everyday lighting strategies.  Whether designing for a retirement community, school, commercial or public space, our goal is to create inspiring and appealing spaces that are equally functional and effective.

Thank you to our guest contributors this month!

Jennifer L. Harrington, P.E., LC, LEED AP, is Director of Lighting Design at Barton Associates.  With over 17 years of experience in the engineering profession, she is responsible for overseeing the development and production of architectural lighting designs in all of Barton’s locations and markets.

Blair Malcom, PE, LEED AP, is Director of Lighting Design for Reese Hackman. He has over 25 years of experience in the lighting industry. His responsibilities include interior and exterior lighting design, luminaire selection, circuiting, and illuminance calculations, as well as lighting controls selection, layout, and sequence of operation.

Blog Editor:  Jodi Kreider, LEED-AP

POST-PANDEMIC PRIORITIES: Interior Design Strategies for Senior Living

various spaces in a senior living communityFor both the near term and into the future, senior living is going to look, feel, and function differently. An intensified focus on infection control has drastically altered day-to-day operations which are now viewed through the lenses of health, density, and safety. We are taking a different approach to senior living design strategies, such as space layouts, finish materials or furniture and equipment selections, to help senior living communities respond to changing priorities. Continue reading

Biophilic Design for Learning

a collage of various biophilic design samples in the real worldDespite the documented benefits of getting outside and experiencing nature firsthand, students spend most of the day indoors and a growing proportion of that time is spent staring at a computer screen.  This reality reinforces the value of applying biophilic design principles to a new school building or campus renovation to create a better learning environment for students.

Open Air School, Netherlands, 1918

Open Air School, Netherlands, 1918 – The health benefits of nature connections have long been appreciated. Open air schools originated in the early 1900s in response to tuberculous outbreaks. The first open air school in the US opened in 1908 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Biophilic Design Defined

Biophilic design has received growing attention in recent years. The idea that nature connections help to inspire, calm and nurture us almost seems like common sense. Biologist Edward O. Wilson, who literally wrote the book “Biophilia,” describes our innate tendency to affiliate with nature.

Biophilic design acknowledges this reality and focuses on strategies to increase occupant connections to the natural environment. This is achieved through a combination of direct connections, simulated nature, and space and place conditions. Continue reading

THOUGHTFUL DESIGN: Interior Design for People with Dementia

collage of various interior design ideas for people with dementiaProfessional interior design melds functional and aesthetic qualities of spaces with current codes to protect public health, safety and welfare. Interior design for people with dementia requires additional considerations to respect each individual without compromising dignity or comfort.

Memory support since the 1990s

Fostering outdoor connections is one design principle that has not changed. This photo is from The Sylvestery at Vinson Hall in the early 2000s.

RLPS has been designing senior living communities since the 1950s.  Specialized settings to support people with dementia emerged in the early 1990s and demand has increased significantly since that time. More recently, some senior living communities are moving away from a separate setting for people with dementia. This integrated living approach requires appropriate staff training, effective use of technology and community-wide supportive strategies to provide safe and comfortable living spaces for all senior residents regardless of cognitive abilities.

There is no single “right” answer. Our team draws on evolving research, specialized programs, and input from our clients to inform our approach to support the needs of people with dementia through interior design. For example, intentionally designed spaces for programs such as Montessori or Opening Minds through Art (OMA), function as a silent partner reinforcing these research-based initiatives. Continue reading

5 Interior Design Trends for Outdoor Spaces

various outdoor spaces in a collageWhile social distancing remains a priority, outdoor venues have provided opportunities to get outside and gather in small groups.  Restaurants across the country have been able to open outdoor seating areas prior to dine-in options.  Many of the current interior design trends for outdoor spaces reflect their popularity for life plan communities, 55+ housing, school and university campuses and hospitality venues.

Even when we are not experiencing a pandemic, biophilic design principles reinforce the value of spaces that meet our innate need for nature connections. The WELL Building Standard calls for its projects to have a biophilia plan to incorporate nature through environmental elements, lighting and space layout.  This includes interior settings as well as porches, patios, courtyards, dining terraces, pool decks and rooftop venues that encourage people to get outdoors.

Continue reading

NEW NORMAL: COVID-19 Design Impacts on Commercial Interiors

various covid-19 work & life image collageChange can be exciting, frustrating, challenging, disruptive, refreshing and overwhelming.  And as illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be abrupt and unexpected.  The present challenges to creating safe workspaces, hospitality venues, educational spaces and senior living communities are daunting. Social connections and the use of shared and public spaces are confined to the parameters of social distancing guidelines. However, the renewed focus on healthy environments and infection control may also yield positive COVID-19 design impacts on commercial interior design. Our interior designers share their professional perspectives regarding COVID-19 design impacts, the current realities and anticipated lasting changes. Continue reading

RESIMERCIAL REVERSAL: Creating Better Workspaces in our Homes

a collage of various home office workspacesAs many of us have become telecommuters, at least for the time being, we are taking a look at how flipping the recent Resimercial Design trend could be beneficial to our productivity and well-being.  We asked a few of our interior designers to suggest some commercial office design features that could be applied to our home workspaces. Continue reading

REGIONAL RELEVANCE: Making Commercial Interior Design Meaningful

several photos of various commercial interiors utilizing different design stylesAs a firm that provides commercial interior design, the RLPS Interiors team must consider not only aesthetic appeal, but also ergonomics, health, safety, and accessibility for our clients’ spaces.  Another important, but sometimes overlooked, consideration is acknowledging a sense of place—the climate, culture, history and traditions of the locale where the space is located.  This is certainly the case for hospitality venues or senior living communities, but also holds true for commercial offices, cultural, municipal and healthcare settings. Highlighting and incorporating the physical and social qualities of a specific region into the interior design or remodel creates a sense of authenticity and resonates with those using the space. Continue reading

MAINTENANCE MATTERS: Guidelines to Maintain Resilient Flooring and Carpeting in Commercial Interiors

collage of flooring and carpeting ideas for interior spaces

Aesthetic appeal is obviously an important component of interior finishes such as flooring.  However, there are a myriad of other factors required to provide more than just a positive first impression. As interior designers, we are constantly researching products and reviewing quality of construction, durability, and environmental impacts.  We consider conversations with our clients regarding maintenance procedures and goals to be crucial for selecting the most appropriate product for each application. 

Enduring appeal requires not only quality materials and manufacturing, but also proper maintenance for each flooring type. 

Continue reading

THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL: Interior Design is Going Blue

various images from around the home with blue elements

Designers often look to nature for inspiration and this year color experts and paint manufacturers have taken a similar approach. Both the Pantone Color Institute and Sherwin Williams chose deep shades of blue, associated with the sea and sky, for their 2020 color of the year designations. Continue reading