An architect by trade, David relied on his designer friends to help him source lighting fixtures that suited his taste. "Most of the new light is track, with a couple of exceptions," he says. "I like contemporary fixtures. I was not looking to recreate the '50s look. My whole approach was to build and draw inspiration from the Cliff May design, but not be slavish to a retro look."
Ultimately, David had to run new wiring for the new fixtures, but he kept the electrical lines from the original outlets.
Linda Beattie, a Streng homeowner in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, also re-did the lighting in her home with assist from designer Rachel Minyard of local the lighting retailer Lumens Light + Living. "We tackle two home-improvement projects every year, and our lighting project was one of the most dramatic changes," she says.
Linda concentrated her major changes on the main living areas of the home. "With our skylights and dome [in the interior atrium], we get good lighting during the day," she says of her home's original lighting. "But with limited ceiling lighting, we struggled in the evenings."
In the atrium area she had an electrician install a low-voltage monorail system by Tech Lighting and some Batons modern chandeliers by LBL Lighting. "The difference is just unbelievable," Linda says. "Also, when our delta breezes pass through our home, the Batons gently sway."
Lighting can make a huge difference in how we feel about our homes. Ample lighting can help us perform tasks more easily, feel safer, make small spaces look larger, or create a cozy environment. The fixtures one chooses should always complement the family's lifestyle, so the first thing to do is develop a home lighting plan that suits the needs of those who will use it. A good place to start is to consider all the tasks and activities that take place in each room.
Lighting selections are categorized in three types: general, task, and accent. A good lighting plan combines all three to create a satisfying balance of functionality and beauty, much like a photographer does when lighting a shoot.
General lighting, also known as ambient lighting, provides an overall brightness. This is most often accomplished by installing lights on the ceiling, such as chandeliers, recessed, or track lights.
Task lighting helps one to do just that: to see well enough to complete tasks like cooking, reading, or working in the home office. This often includes under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen, reading lamps, or pendant and recessed lights above a counter or game table. When used above an end table or night table, pendants can help free up space traditionally occupied by table lamps.
Accent lighting creates mood in a room. Accent lights highlight paintings on the wall, houseplants, prized art, personal collections, or the texture of a wall. This effect is usually achieved by installing directional track lights, or with recessed or wall-mounted fixtures, such as sconces, cylinders, and cubes. Many smaller decorative table lamps can also provide ambience with softer-wattage bulbs.
Mid-century modern homes most often lack the interstitial spaces that allow the wiring and placement of functional lighting plans. "We have no attic or crawl spaces," says Scot Nicholls, a San Jose Eichler owner who works as a general contractor. "Our solutions have to be especially creative based on a limited palette of fixtures."
Where most homeowners can install several recessed can lights into their ceiling (affectionately named the Swiss cheese effect), modern homes must often rely on lighting fixtures that can be easily installed on ceiling surfaces. General contractors and electricians often recommend updating lighting at the time of re-roofing.
"Most recessed lights need at least three inches of space to fit in the ceiling, and in most of these modern homes, that space just isn't there," points out Stuart Brumbaugh of Electrix, electrical contractors based in San Rafael.
One solution is to literally raise the roof by six inches or so to accommodate modern wiring and fixtures. This allows an electrician to rerun new wires through the ceiling to different parts of the house and meet today's more stringent electrical codes.
Track lighting is an old standby that works well for modern homes. It can provide general, task, or accent lighting all at once, in one flexible lighting system. One can move, swivel, rotate, and aim the individual fixtures in any direction along the track, providing enough versatility to change the lighting plan when the need arises.
Chandeliers and pendants can also be hung from the track. Track fixtures are available in standard or low-voltage current, and a choice of incandescent, tungsten-halogen, and energy-efficient compact fluorescent light sources.