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Each week, Mansion Global tackles a topic with an elite group of designers from around the world who work on luxury properties. This week, we look at how to create perfect lighting in any room.

Setting the look and feel of every space starts with one thing: lighting. It’s arguably the most important element in any room. “You see what you light,” said Robert Sonneman, founder and chief creative officer of SONNEMAN–A Way of Light, a lighting design firm based in Larchmont, New York.

“Lighting defines visibility and the emotional response to an environment,” he said. “Critical to design, lighting forms a hierarchy of perception, bringing attention to focal points and receding less critical areas from priority of view.”

Options and techniques abound, which is why we turned to the design pros to help shed some light on the topic.

Consider the Space:

“I use reflected light on surfaces for ambient lighting and individual functional and task lights for specific task areas. Where I use downlighting, I try to use smaller aperture lights in a tighter array. This allows me to operate downlights at a much lower brightness level and still get even illumination across a space without the glare of high brightness bigger units.

“Targeting art and other interesting architectural details or locations with light brings dramatic impact to a space. It also directs attention to the object and location, setting the surrounding area as a backdrop to the points of interest.

“Use what you need functionally and then add to the primary lighting with the support of sconces to achieve ambient lighting, which creates a composed environment, eliminating areas of high contrast.

“Shaded lamps provide ambient distribution to an area with a softer radiance. Directional portables provide illumination on a subject but create high levels of contrast between light and dark. Balance lighting with portables, but also providing torchieres or shaded lamps softens the surrounding areas. Try achieving distribution from directional sources aimed at surfaces, ceilings and walls to achieve a well-lit environment in which both functional and active tasks can be accomplished.”

Think About the Effect:

“You want layers of light to be able to create scenes that can be adjusted as the time of day and the seasons change. These layers should be applied to vertical surfaces (walls) as well as horizontal surfaces (floors, ceilings, working surfaces, et cetera). The idea is to select fixtures that add to and complement the architecture. The finish, both color and texture, is as important as the size of the fixture.

“I would love to see more lighting fixtures mounted on walls. I believe walls are highly unused surfaces, yet there is more wall square footage than ceiling in a residence. There are so many fun and creative ways to integrate light on walls, even beyond the sconce. I’ve seen some very creative designs where fixtures typically used on ceilings are integrated into walls.

“Style should obviously complement and add to the space, but the most important elements are light output and glare. It should be bright enough that the task (reading, writing, knitting, et cetera) can be performed while minimizing glare. Ideally, you’d want more indirect light so that the source of the light is not directly shining in your eyes, but rather on the task.”

Always do Dimmers:

“Lighting is the most important thing in design, in my opinion. If the lighting strategy is off, then the whole room’s mood changes.

“In a space, the secret to beautiful lighting is to have hidden lights, i.e.: LED, floor lights, stair lights and joinery lights mixed with feature lights, such as DHLiberty LUX Tear Drop; or any beautiful wall, pendant or freestanding light to add to the whole room; as well as ambient light, which is an all-over light. Have all three of these lights on separate switches and on dimmers.

“I love table lamps, which are stylish and so easy to just plug in and bring a real intimacy to the space.”

Light According to Usage

“Light the room based on how you will use it, for example, if you have a reading chair or a kitchen counter, you need the appropriate task lighting. Also use lighting to create zones and mark the space with a statement light. We like using lighting to highlight the architectural features in the space and a great piece of art.

“The level of ambient and atmospheric lighting is dependent on the room and client, so for example, a dining room might have a low hanging pendant, which can act as a feature alongside lighting the dining table. Or, more subtle wall sconces could be complemented by candles on the dining table.

“We look at the features of a room and employ lighting to complement it. This could include artwork, architecture or sculptural furniture. We use lighting to draw the eye around a room, highlighting features of a space.

Think of Lighting as Jewelry:

“In addition to actually lighting a room, a good light fixture is like that great necklace that finishes an outfit. For main areas of a home, I always select a chandelier that is not only functional but striking. The same is true for sconce selections. They need to add proper ambient or task lighting as well as an elevated touch to a space.

“I love using stair lights in treads for the purpose of passage. For display cabinets and shelves, I typically install LED strips on the back of the shelf instead of the front to keep from seeing the runway light pattern.