Walk into any lighting shop and you're often staggered by the array of choices -- massive chandeliers, petite wall sconces, lanterns, gas fixtures, floor and table lamps, hanging lamps, even something called tech lighting.
If all this makes you want to don your dark glasses, take heart. Lighting consultants can walk you through the showroom, narrow your options, and help you select a fixture or a lighting arrangement that suits your style and needs. Better yet, that consultant will come to your home to see the rooms you're illuminating and offer advice on what might work best.
Nancy Tucker, a consultant with Graham's Lighting, Inc., says one of her favorite things to do, either at a client's home or in the showroom, "is to sit down and ask them how they use the room, see where their artwork goes, where the furniture is placed, how high or low the ceilings are." She also asks them if they want overall lighting, dramatic lighting, or a combination of both. "Then we'll incorporate it into their budget." Lighting consultants' services are free, says Tucker, "assuming the person is committed to buying and not just picking our brains."
Often she collaborates with interior designers, including Biggs Powell, who owns Biggs Powell Interior Design & Antiques. "He brought me a client's wallpaper sample the other day and wanted a sconce that would work with it," says Tucker. Of the literally thousands of fixtures in Graham's showroom, Tucker says, "I knew just the one he needed."
A 23-year veteran of Graham's, Tucker appreciates a designer who steers clients away from "trendy" styles. Indeed, she says she hates the word "trendy." "I'm fortunate to work with designers such as Biggs who want to give the customer something that will look good 20, even 50, years from now."
As an example of a trendy light fixture, Tucker points to a large, elaborate silver affair. "Typically, when people want silver, they want clean lines. That's anything but." Trendy, however, doesn't necessarily mean contemporary. Gesturing to a crystal chandelier, Tucker explains, "This is a contemporary take on a very classic style. It will be good for a long, long time."
Spending hours with clients isn't unusual for lighting consultants. "Often our customers are making a big investment," says Tucker. "So I want them to like what they choose. As for the rooms they spend time in every day -- the kitchen, the master bedroom and bath -- I want them to love those fixtures."
When it comes to illuminating a dining room, subtle touches add extra light. "A chandelier is really just a piece of jewelry in the room," says Tucker. "You're much better going with possibly a chandelier and recessed fixtures."
Biggs Powell explains how the two types of lighting work together. "Depending on the size of the fixture," he says, "you go out about two feet on either side and put in low-voltage recessed cans that cast a pool of light on the table. That pool provides functional light, and you might have candlelight too. You don't want to turn your chandelier so high that you destroy the ambiance." He also warns against putting the recessed lights too close together or near a fan or vent. "You want to avoid the strobe light effect."
Powell, who works in both old and new houses, tries to respect both the age and style of the house. "I like to improve the quality of light in bathrooms, closets, and kitchens, but in the main spaces, you need to be careful. You don't want to go in and put fixtures everywhere just to get more light."
Though Powell avoids passing trends, he enjoys experimenting with different looks. "Like this marble fixture," he says. "It's very traditional but you could put it in a modern bathroom. Or this contemporary iron and glass piece; it would work well in a traditional powder room. I try to make a room as fresh and interesting as I can, yet stay within the confines of what people want."
And to find that out, adds Tucker, she guides, asks questions, and listens. "We want to get it right," she says, "to make them happy. They'll be living with their choices for a long time."