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Lights, Camera, Action! How Accent Lighting Shapes the Scene

by Marsie Klug

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Multiple types of accent lighting successfully used within one space
Photo: Meadowlark house gut remodel featuring our custom cabinetry.

Recently, while attending a chorale concert, I contemplated how well-considered design shapes the overall experience of the arts. Amidst the harmonies arising from the chorale, my eyes were drawn to the way the lighting in Hill Auditorium was shaping my overall experience as an audience member. The lighting influenced my focus as well as my perception of the performance: guiding my eyes towards the stage, privileging the performers, helping the audience disappear into the background, and influencing how I was feeling during each song. Little did I anticipate how simply attending a choral concert could send my mind deep into the subject of accent lighting. Soon I was forgetting the scene in front of me, instead pondering how and why accent lighting is a powerful tool for designing a space. Beyond illuminating dark spaces, lighting shapes the mood of a room and determines specific visual focal points. Stepping outside the familiar overhead-light-fixture or table-lamp “box”, there are limitless lighting options. Known as accent lighting at any light shop (here in Ann Arbor, we love Gross Electric and Top of the Lamp), this type of lighting can highlight art or a beloved collection, add personality to a room, or just plain keep us from tripping on the stairs. There are numerous aspects to consider when applying accent lighting in a space.  Below are just five different techniques:
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Accent Cabinet Lighting
photo: Meadowlark kitchen remodel featuring cherry custom cabinets.

Accent Cabinet Lighting: Under, Inside, and Up Under-cabinet lighting provides task lighting while lending a quiet atmosphere to a room. Inside a clear glass cabinet, lights will bring plates, cups, and tchotchkes to center stage, showcasing precious items. Up lighting is an atmospheric tool (I am still waiting for someone – you?? – to select blue LED tape lighting, just to have fun with creating an animated/flamboyant space!). For under, inside, and up lighting, puck and strip fixtures are commonly used. Puck lights create an umbrella of light, whereas a strip light creates a more consistent dispersion of light.
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Directional Lighting
Photo courtesy of Meadowlark

Directional Lighting Great for displays and helping draw the eye to a piece of art, directional lighting is a focal determinant when someone enters the room. Directional lighting is accomplished with fixtures that look like spotlights or directional recessed lights (also known as well washers).
Stair Accent Lighting

Step lighting
Photo courtesy of allhomedecors.com

Step Lighting Beyond the obvious safety benefits, step lighting can also set the mood of both indoor and outdoor spaces.
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Up Lighting above a light shelf
Photo: Meadowlark dining room remodel

Up Lighting (beyond the cabinet) When used along the perimeter of a space or room, up lighting helps both in defining the boundaries of a space as well as setting the overall atmosphere. When used above a light shelf, up lighting makes a taller space feel more intimate.
Wall Sconce

Wall Sconce
Photo courtesy of HubbardtonForge.com

Pendants and Wall Sconces Pendants and Wall Sconces can add light to draw the eye to specific areas of a room.  They can also function as art – bringing a splash of color, texture, or finesse to a space. What lights you up?  

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