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Light up your life

Change your light fixtures to revamp your home on a budget

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Photo: Metro Bath and Lighting

Yellowing plastic pendants. Tarnished brass track lighting. Those frosted glass flush-mount fixtures everyone calls “boob lights.” Lighting World sales associate Vanessa Lee says many Newfoundlanders have an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, so they usually wait for a problem before replacing their lighting fixtures.

“A lot of clients are coming in to do a complete change-up because what they have is 20 or 30 years old and they can no longer get replacement parts,” says Lee, who works at Lighting World’s St. John’s location.

Her favourite part of her job is hearing how much the atmosphere of a home changes when new fixtures are installed.

“No matter how much they think it’s going to change the room, it never compares to when they get it all in,” says Lee. “It’s crazy how much changing your lights affects the atmosphere. It lifts everything up.” But Lee says many people feel overwhelmed once they get to the store and see the dizzying array of options.

“People rarely come in and know what they want immediately because there’s so much to consider when you start layering light,” explains Lee. “Shadows and natural light come into play and it’s going to look different in your home.”

It’s getting difficult to find replacement CFL bulbs with the proper diffusion for older fixtures, but Lee says this is actually happening at a time when many older homeowners could really benefit from new lighting.

“They’re often retired and they want something a little brighter so there’s less of a strain on their eyes—something that inevitably happens to everyone as they get older,” says Lee.

Chris MacQuarrie, a certified lighting consultant and owner of Atlantic Lighting Studio in Wolfville, N.S., says it’s fascinating to watch the way customers respond to the different colour temperatures they have on display.

“We have five cubbies all painted the identical colour with different bulbs in each one, and some people are convinced each cubby is a different colour,” says MacQuarrie. “I can almost tell what age a customer is by the colour of light they’re attracted to.”

LED bulbs last longer, are better for the environment, and lower your electricity bill. While you’ll pay a little more initially, you’ll spend less per bulb over time. Lee says many shoppers don’t realize there are also LED fixtures that don’t use bulbs at all.

“If you install one at the top of a staircase or on a high ceiling, you don’t have to replace the bulb ever,” says Lee. “Once the light goes, the fixture goes. But that could be 15 or 20 years from now, and by then you’ll probably have switched it for something else.”

Unlike the eerie too-blue glow of the first LEDs, Lee says current LED bulbs come in a variety of colour temperatures to complement your decor and suit the room’s activities: warm yellows or soft whites for homes and cool blues for commercial settings.

Proper lighting is about more than just atmosphere, of course. It also makes it less likely you’re going to chop off the tip of your finger while preparing a salad.

Tammy Lord is an interior decorator as well as a sales associate at The Lighting Gallery in Fredericton. She’s come to the rescue of numerous clients who came in insisting they wanted fixtures with Victorian bulbs above their kitchen islands.

“Victorian bulbs give a candlelight kind of glow, which is lovely unless you’re trying to slice carrots,” says Lord. “We have LED versions of Victorian bulbs, so they’re pretty but also functional for real life.”

MacQuarrie says the placement of lighting fixtures also affects how well you complete tasks, which is why it’s unfortunate that many builders simply stick a small, cheap fixture in the middle of a kitchen and move on.

“You need light over your sink and light over your counters so you can see what you’re doing,” says MacQuarrie. “But builders tend to put in the bare minimum, especially if the house is being built by a contractor to be sold.”

She says customers often come in after repainting a room and buying new furniture but realizing the space “still looks dreary.” Sometimes the solution is as easy as changing bulbs or lampshades, or adding a portable light.

“It’s amazing how much indirect light can affect a room if you put a portable light in a corner behind a plant or a piece of furniture,” says MacQuarrie.

The experts agree that most of the time, homeowners make one key lighting mistakes: picking a fixture that’s too small.

“Lights are a great way to create a focal point in a room, plus they’re a very practical item,” says Lee. “We’re seeing bigger fixtures now more than ever.” Lynn Ford, Metro Bath & Lighting sales associate in Charlottetown, uses a formula to help her customers calculate the ideal fixture size for their space.

“If you have an enclosed room that’s 10 x 12 feet, you add them together and 22 inches is the maximum [fixture] diameter for that room,” says Ford. “In an open concept area, you mentally block off different areas where the rooms would stop and start and add those dimensions.”

Ford says she always looks forward to having her customers come back excited about how their new fixtures transformed their space.

“They say it feels like the lighting made the room look completely new, like something out of a magazine, and all they had to spend was $150,” says Ford. “They can’t believe it took them so long to go for it.”

Lee says most of the time she can almost guess what a customer is going to like based on their age.

“Millennials like clean lines, they’ll mix and match different finishes and styles and energy efficiency is a big concern for them, ” says Lee. “Baby Boomers tend to like classic fixtures with softer finishes like brushed nickel and they want everything to match exactly.”

“The farmhouse look is huge: shaker cabinets, apron sinks, pendants, lanterns,” says Lee. “Lots of graphite fixtures with glass.”

MacQuarrie agrees that farmhouse-style and industrial fixtures, think metal cages surrounding exposed, vintage-style bulbs with a visible filament, are also on trend in Nova Scotia.

But lighting trends aren’t identical across Atlantic Canada. In St. John’s, Ford says shoppers are eschewing gold as “dated,” but in Fredericton, Lord says yellow metals, especially warm, antique finishes, are on their way to overthrowing safe choices like brushed nickel and chrome.

In the end, of course, it’s all a matter of what suits your home, your style, and your personality. Whether that’s an ornate chandelier with warm yellow bulbs or a wrought-iron sphere with soft white LEDs, Lee is sure you’ll be surprised by how much it changes your space.

“Ambiance is a huge part of design. Even the nicest furnishings won’t look right without the right atmosphere,” explains Lee. “When you change the lighting, suddenly it just clicks, it’s
perfect.”