There's a good reason photographers spend so much time setting up lights at photo shoots. Optimal lighting makes people look better, helps them see more clearly, helps define objects, and introduces drama and interest into a photo.
Most original 1950s modern tract homes lacked lighting options. For many, a simple globe light made up most of the home's ambient lighting. Our mid-century houses just weren't wired for today's elaborate lighting schemes.
"The globe light is what was available at the time," says Thomas Erik Nielsen, product-marketing manager for lighting manufacturer Translite Sonoma. "It is large by nature, requires a large housing and diffuser and a central location, and consequently is rather inflexible and less than minimal in its design."
Architect William Krisel knows first hand the kind of simple lighting installed in Palm Springs' Alexander homes. He, along with former partner Dan Palmer, is famous for designing these modern tract homes, from 1955 to 1965.
"Back then, the lighting was half hot switches," Krisel says. "You put a lamp into a plug in the wall. Of course, we didn't live in caves in those days. We had some pretty nice stuff. The lighting was up to the person who lived there. You weren't putting in recessed lighting, wall sconces. We just provided the basic minimum."
A lot has changed since then. Lighting today, and particularly low-voltage lighting, has finally caught up with the aesthetics of modern architecture and design. New homes offer complex lighting plans, and today's owners of mid-century homes usually want to update their lighting to incorporate new technology and fresh looks.
Alison and Danny Benaderet of Long Beach recently updated the lighting of their 1953 Cliff May Rancho during an extensive remodel. "The lighting [that was there when we came in] was horrific. The previous owners installed these '80s 'Star Trek'-style lighting cables from Ikea. Cables were hanging from one wall to the other in the living room, and it was sagging at the corners," Alison says. "There was an outdoor sconce on one interior wall, a lot of floor lamps. It was really bizarre."
The Benaderets hired an electrician, found lights they liked at Design Within Reach, and had track lighting installed in the kitchen. Painted white, the fixture blends right into the beamed ceiling.
"When we re-did the kitchen, we designed the lighting very carefully," Danny says. "We thought about where the lighting would be in relation to the sink and stove, and we added a chandelier [a Le Klint 172B pendant] for the dining area." They put dimmer switches on everything, which they use every day to create different ambiances.
The lighting update was not without its trials. The electrician had to rewire all the sockets in the kitchen and the bath to accommodate for new fixture placement and updated building codes. "Because of the track lighting flow, we rewired the circuits, punching holes in the walls to make an independent switch," Danny says.
They added lighting to the hallway and the closet where battery-operated wall lights once hung. The lighting for the house cost the pair more than $8,000—about 15 percent of their overall remodel budget.
"It was a dark house when we purchased it," Danny admits. "Because of our jobs, we rarely see our house in the daytime, so we learned to appreciate the importance of light. Now, it's wonderful. It's comfortable. The house feels a little bit bigger. At 1,100 square feet, lighting helped expand the space."
David Thompson, another Long Beach Rancho owner, was also a victim of outdated lighting in his home. "There was no overhead lighting, no task lighting," he says. "The house was almost entirely dependent on floor lighting and lamps. Also, there was no ceiling space to run wires."