PRACTICAL MAGIC 101: Tips on Lighting Your Home from Expert Bentley Meeker

PRACTICAL MAGIC 101: Tips on Lighting Your Home from Expert Bentley Meeker

At the launch party for Light X Design: 20 Years of Lighting,  got to meet the lighting magician himself, Bentley Meeker.  I asked him if he'd share some of his secrets, and tell Style Maniac readers how to create magical lighting in our own homes and at our own events.  He readily agreed. 

Bentley Meeker (Photo: Jacob Getz)

Bentley Meeker (Photo: Jacob Getz)

Here, his advice on lighting your home.

STYLE MANIAC:  Lighting is such a critical part of how we feel, look, interact with people and yet it's not something most people give much thought to.  Why do you think that is?

BENTLEY MEEKER: I think it's somewhat technical in its design and application and as such people default to a simplified relationship to light which is one of visibility. It is a subtle and often ephemeral medium to create in and to be used effectively requires a little bit more attention than many of us are used to giving to things.

What can we do to change our focus, become more aware of it, and integrate good lighting into our daily lives?

Awareness, as in so many things, is a presence to things. We notice objects but not the intangibles around them.

We'll paint a wall to give a room a certain vibe, but we can light that wall and give that room a completely different vibe. And possibly even a better one.

The integration will invariably ensue after the initial awareness has been created.

Three weddings at New York's Plaza Hotel show how light -- not paint -- can dramatically change the look of a space. At left, Melissa River's fairytale wedding in the Terrace Room.  At right, the Grand Ballroom in completely different wardrobes of red and gold. (Photos: from author's archives, David Hechler and Roger Dong; all from Light X Design: 20 Years of Lighting by Bentley Meeker. Available from Glitterati.)

Three weddings at New York's Plaza Hotel show how light -- not paint -- can dramatically change the look of a space. At left, Melissa River's fairytale wedding in the Terrace Room.  At right, the Grand Ballroom in completely different wardrobes of red and gold. (Photos: from author's archives, David Hechler and Roger Dong; all from Light X Design: 20 Years of Lighting by Bentley Meeker. Available from Glitterati.)

What is the most important thing to keep in mind when lighting a home?

I think it begins with how do you want to feel in your home. Would a chandelier do it? A floor lamp? Uplights in the corners throwing light up the walls and softly bouncing on the ceilings? Each creates a different feeling so go to the store and experiment wildly. It's not expensive and may change your life.

What are the biggest mistakes you find in residential lighting?

Compact fluorescents. CFL's are now potentially being mandated by federal law. That would be a simple mistake put on megasteroids.

What's the most flattering light and how can we get it in our homes?

Daylight. Freeing windows from heavy treatments and dark curtains makes a huge difference in how, and how much, daylight enters the home. If you're building, put lots of skylights in. They're gorgeous!

Does the approach of layering light levels in a room--overhead, task, accent--still apply or do you have a better way of lighting a room?

It applies, but the effect of light is cumulative. So every bit of light brought into a scenario has to be counter balanced by the dimming of the others. Differing qualities of light is wonderful for contrast. You invariably get nice shadowing. Putting the different elements on dimmers and experimenting with them for 10 minutes will get you a vibe you will love in this type of circumstance.

Yes, you can try this at home.  At this wedding in New York's Gotham Hall, traditional residential lighting layers--overhead, task, spot are used to great effect.  Chandeliers and uplights add drama while votive candles and table lamps create intimacy and warmth.  (Photo by Terry Gruber from Light X Design.)

Yes, you can try this at home.  At this wedding in New York's Gotham Hall, traditional residential lighting layers--overhead, task, spot are used to great effect.  Chandeliers and uplights add drama while votive candles and table lamps create intimacy and warmth.  (Photo by Terry Gruber from Light X Design.)

The array of home lighting can be confusing.  What are the pros/cons and types of light given off by incandescent / fluorescent /LED?  And are there other options for the home we might not know about?

I use LED's in areas that are not living areas. I have them in my hallways on a timer and in my basement, as well as one in the light on the front of my house. In my kitchen I use halogens and in my house, low voltage halogens or incandescents.

For me, all the new technology hasn't addressed the simplest but most important element that lighting for the home needs: beauty. We can save electricity, but if we feel worse, how do we spend the money saved ...?

Can you give Style Maniac readers your top three easy and effective at-home lighting tips?

  1. Put everything you can on dimmers.
  2. Use incandescent or halogen lighting (far more beautiful than compact fluorescent or LED) on those dimmers.
  3. Experiment with color. Soft ambers or pinks in select places can bring a lot of happiness to a home.

Up next: The final story in our lighting series, Practical Magic 102: Bentley Meeker's Tips on Lighting Your Own Events.

"Use the good china for breakfast."
XOXO