Steven L. Klein, principal of Klein Lighting, collaborated with Milwaukee architects Deep River Partners on this fabulous winter residence in Palm Desert, CA. Transparent glass walls reveal the curving and rectilinear forms inside, washed thoughtfully in LED and halogen lighting so as to appear self-luminous. The extravagant lighting integrates seamlessly to create order and drama: forming an object lesson on how and why to light surfaces that define spaces.
Many of the house’s forms and finishes reference the surrounding natural environment. And the atmosphere throughout the day and night emulates the ever-changing light of the desert. Using contrasts of color and illuminance, Klein draws occupants through the space, defines boundaries and accents architecture and art pieces. “I could go as far to say the lighting of high-end residences is like stagecraft. You’re creating an experiential environment, a sanctuary.”
Though horizontal and vertical surfaces can be used to provide ambient lighting, Klein separates ambient from the lighting of vertical surfaces:
- Wallwashing to define boundaries
- Accent lighting to isolate an object on the wall
- Grazing light to reveal texture
- Silhouette lighting for contrast
- Lighting surfaces for the heck of it
“The reason to light vertical surfaces is because spaces are defined by their perimeters. You can create depth or direct attention, even manipulate the design of the space. Using luminous contrast, which the eye is very attuned to, creates visual interest, separation and spatial awareness,” he explained.
“It’s the first thing that people see when they encounter a space for the first time. You look for depth of field, so you can feel comfortable knowing the boundaries of the space that you’re in.” Klein emphasized providing contrast for wayfinding; a major concern in retail applications. “Where you create direct glare, it’s going to diminish visibility. That’s a quality of light issue, not a quality of lighting issue. Take into consideration how people see.”
“Here wallwashing not only reveals the vertical surface, it reveals the architecture. Light aimed up toward the ceiling [at far left] defines the boundary of the living space and highlights the architectural masses,” Klein said.
Accent lighting on the wall art provides contrast to show off the owner’s fine collection. “Where there is too much general illumination or obvious light sources you have to use that much more accent illumination to create punch. For instance, table lamps produce ambient illumination that is diffuse. You need at least 5:1 differential between ambient and accent lighting in order to create a viable contrast. Dimming can help.”
Lights placed close to the surface reveal the front gate as a piece of three-dimensional art. It makes a statement thanks to two downlights mounted above, revealing texture through shadows. Floodlighting from the front would have shown the colors, but diminished the hammered-copper and glass workmanship. Be careful, Klein warns, “Grazing light can enhance texture on vertical surfaces, but it can also pick out flaws.”
Here silhouette lighting relies upon color contrast to emphasize the architecture separating the ceiling from the wall. LEDs behind the curve of the dropped ceiling create a sunset glow that contrasts with the star-field ceiling, which is uplit in blue from the cove above the threshold. “You don’t need a lot of light to create contrast when you use color contrast. Because of the way our eyes are sensitive to color, you can juxtapose them and they separate easily,” Klein added. Color-changing LED has opened up a tremendous range of opportunities to use contrast in this way.
For the Heck of It
Klein made the most of this curving alcove, creating shallow lightboxes to backlight decorative resin panels. Turning wallwashing completely on its head, the strip of color-changing LEDs seen at the base of each box is aimed straight up; the rear wall of the box tilts toward the art panel.
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