Lighting Design For Every Room

With home control systems and preprogrammed scenes, you can match your lighting to your mood.

lighting design

Lighting is particularly important to a space that serves multiple purposes like this rec room. Electronics design and installation by ImageTech Home Theater Systems of Hopkinton, MA.

Restaurants do it. So do nightclubs and some spas. At home you probably do it too. When you want to relax—really relax—the lights go down. Soft lights have a way of easing even the tightly wound out of the breakneck speed of everyday life, putting us in the right state of mind to enjoy a quiet dinner conversation or an occasional back massage. As the lights fade out, our minds and bodies take note that it’s time to slow down.

Achieving this state of tranquility isn’t difficult. If your home’s light fixtures have dimmer switches, you can manually dim the lights to your liking any time at all. It’s a simple, affordable way to inspire relaxation in your home. This doesn’t mean, however, that installing rows upon rows of dimmer switches is the most efficient or convenient way to put your house into slow-mo. It takes time and energy to slide and twist each dimmer switch to the ideal setting. You can get to cloud nine much faster by putting a control system in charge of the lights.

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Lighting control systems basically rid a home of conventional light switches. Instead, buttons on a small keypad, which takes up no more room than a single wall switch, can control an entire group of lights. These lights may be located in the same room or scattered throughout the entire house. Through the use of a keypad, the same soft lighting effect that once required the adjustment of a half-dozen dimmer switches to create now takes the press of a single button. This single-button action is the basic premise of a lighting control system—one that affords many advantages for every major room of the house.

Those advantages can be realized in a media room, where a control system fades out the lights in preparation for a movie. In a foyer, a control system might command lights throughout the house and backyard to illuminate a pathway from the front door to the bedroom upstairs. Some lighting control systems work really well in home theaters, while others make a bigger impact in great rooms and master suites. Bottom line: There’s a lighting control system for every space in your home. Here are a few of our suggestions, based on the systems we commonly see used in particular rooms. Of course, with the proper programming and installation from a professional home systems installer, any type or brand of lighting control system can add visual interest to any room.

Multipurpose Family Room
A multipurpose family room is probably the best candidate for a lighting control system. You may want the lights dimmed while watching a movie but a bit brighter for weekend football games and Saturday morning cartoons. A table lamp at its brightest is a necessity for reading the titles on DVD cases and for fiddling around with audio/video components. You might also entertain friends, read books and host après-work happy hours in this room. One of the most popular systems for a media room is the Grafik Eye from Lutron Electronics. This system can arrange as many as 16 lighting scenes—plenty for all the activities that take place in a busy family room. The system transitions between scenes gradually, so the change is subtle to the eye. Each button on the Grafik Eye keypad is clearly labeled, so even guests can figure out how to engage the scenes. But if you’d like to stay in control at all times, the system comes with an infrared (IR) remote control that can cue lighting scenes from anywhere in the room.

Master Bedroom
You may not spend the majority of your free time there, but a master bedroom still deserves some level of lighting control for what might be the most relaxing time of the day. A system that can arrange more than a dozen individual lighting scenes, like the Lutron Grafik Eye, might be a little over the top for the sleeping quarters, but you’ll still want a system that can adjust the lights appropriately for some of the activities that commonly take place in a bedroom—reading, sleeping, romance, clean up and possibly lighting a path to an adjoining master bath.

The MultiSet system from Lightolier is sized perfectly for this degree of scene setting. This system features illuminated pushbuttons, which are helpful in a dark bedroom, to create as many as five distinct looks. The MultiSet keypad, which wires directly to standard light dimmers, is also easy to program. Set the dimmers to create the look you want, and the keypad memorizes and assigns it to a particular button. The ability to set the scenes yourself is helpful not only for initial programming but also for altering the lighting levels of a certain scene or creating a completely new scene.

The fact that the bedroom is usually the place you end and start your day makes it an ideal room from which to control all of the lights in the house. For this, you’ll need a more robust system that can shuttle commands from a master bedroom keypad to any and all lights switches. By using a whole-house lighting control system such as the C-Box System from Vantage or one of Crestron’s family of lighting controls, for example, you could turn off every light before going to bed and in the morning brighten the kitchen before you leave the bedroom. Strange bumps in the night seem to disappear when all it takes is one tap of a button to light up the backyard. And when you crave a midnight snack, the system can light a faint pathway from the bed to the refrigerator.

Home Theater
A lighting control system can recreate the ambiance of a commercial movie theater at the press of a button. Nearly every manufacturer of lighting control systems offers a solution that’s perfect for a dedicated home theater room.

Leviton, for example, has packaged together a few inexpensive products that not only dim the home theater lights but also control the audio and video components. The system combines a standard-looking handheld remote control, a transceiver unit and a receiver unit. The receiver, available in two designs, either attaches to a table lamp or is installed in place of a standard light switch to control an overhead fixture. The remote control, of course, signals the receiver to brighten, dim, turn on or turn off its connected light. To ensure that commands reach the receiver—even from a room other than the theater—a transceiver unit picks up the remote’s radio frequency signal and relays it to the appropriate receiver. The operation of this system is akin to having a dimmer switch in the palm of your hand. You can fade out the lights of the home theater to any level you desire by simply pressing and holding a button on the remote control.

Master Bathroom
In most households, the only room that’s totally free of distractions (as long as the door is shut tight) is the master bathroom. Here’s the one and only place you can gain uninterrupted, quality peace and quiet. Having the lights on low instead of the ordinary get-ready-for-work bright is the perfect antidote for an overworked mind and body, especially if there’s hot, bubbly water involved. A
single-scene system, like the SatiLite Station from LiteTouch, sets a single lighting scene for the bathroom. That scene might switch off the lights over the vanity and illuminate the sconces around the whirlpool tub to a soft 20 percent intensity. It’s really the only scene you’ll need for this room. The remainder of the time, the SatiLite functions like an ordinary dimmer switch.

The Home Office
Of any room in a home, the home office offers an ideal location to transition from work to home mode. It’s no wonder so many people incorporate mini bars, stereo systems, easy chairs, televisions, libraries and other features to help kick-start the relaxation process. After a day of fluorescent bulbs burning into the back of your head, it certainly doesn’t hurt to also incorporate a dimmable lighting control system into the home office as well. A keypad that invites you to select one of several preset lighting scenes can match the lighting effect to the activity. For example, barely-on lights overhead and a few soft table lamps can establish an ambiance that’s ideal for music listening. A brighter scene might inspire you to scour the Wall Street Journal or finish up some paperwork. Or, you might just need one basic “relax” scene where a remote control gradually fades out the main light to whatever intensity you desire at the moment.

During those first few moments of moving into home mode, however, it’s possible that business is brewing in the back of your mind. That cell phone, pager and PDA that are still clipped to your hip don’t help, but they are necessary at times. There is a way, however, that you can put those business tools to work in your quest for quality time away from work. The Cendi system from CentraLite, for example, places control buttons on the screen of any PDA. The PDA transmits the command over wireless radio frequency airwaves to an RF-enabled PC that holds a piece of lighting control software that relays the command(s) to the appropriate lights. CentraLite isn’t the only manufacturer of lighting control to grant access to a home’s lights through a PDA. Companies including Vantage, Lutron and LiteTouch also have web-enabled lighting control systems.

Room-By-Room Lighting Control
Lights are a necessity in every room of the house—from an active, busy spot like a family room to a quite retreat like a bathroom. Attached to a standard switch, lights perform a very important duty for every space in a home by providing illumination when and where we need it. A lighting control system builds off this core capability by enabling lights to complement the design of a room as well the types of activities that take place there—all with the single press of a button.

Lighting Control System Types
Whole House or Single Room – Lighting control systems fall into two main categories: whole house or single room. As the name suggests, a whole-house lighting control system is designed to command lights throughout an entire home, including outdoor areas. Although a keypad might be stationed in the kitchen, it can set the lights in the kitchen and every other room in the house. A whole-house lighting control system is useful in any home, but particularly so in large homes where turning off the lights manually before leaving for work or going to bed is a laborious, time-consuming exercise. It’s also a great type of system for homes with an open floor plan or for families that use the entire house when entertaining. A whole-house system could arrange the lights in the foyer, the kitchen, the family room and other rooms with one press of a button.
A single-room system is designed specifically to arrange the lights within one room. Most people choose a single-room system when they want to improve the eye appeal or add visual impact to one special room of the house, such as a home theater, an art gallery or an elegant sitting room. Because it reaches and controls fewer lights, a single-room system is generally more affordable than a whole-house setup. However, once you come to appreciate the benefits of a lighting control system in one room, you’ll probably want the same for other rooms of your house. Make sure the single-room system you choose can be easily expanded to serve the entire house.

Hardwired or Wireless – You’ll also need to decide between a system that’s wired into your house and one that’s wireless. Most professional home systems installers recommend a wired system for homeowners who plan to build a new house. Wired systems are generally more reliable than wireless systems and can usually handle some very complex levels of control—even operating heating and cooling components, motorized draperies and other electronic equipment.
A wireless system, however, is ideally suited for existing homes as it precludes the need for additional wiring. Snaking low-voltage wire underneath floors and behind the walls of most homes is a tough job that may end up costing you a bundle in labor charges. Wireless lighting control systems minimize the installation labor by utilizing either a home’s existing electrical wiring or radio frequency (RF) airwaves to transmit instructions from keypads to the light fixtures.

Types of Control – Keypads are the de-facto means of controlling lighting systems. Mounted on the wall near the entrance of each room (the common location for regular light switches), a keypad provides a convenient way to cue a lighting scene by pressing a clearly labeled button. In addition to keypads, some lighting control systems can be operated from handheld remote controls, touchscreens, computers and even through the web. Internet-enabled lighting control systems offer the convenience of using any web-enabled device—a cell phone, a PDA or a computer at work—to operate the lights at home. Through a web connection, the lighting control system receives and carries out commands from remote devices. While you may not need or use the web on a daily basis, it sure comes in handy for welcoming guests to your house while you’re still en route and for engaging a vacation scene during an unexpected business trip, for example.


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