Sunday, October 1, 2023

Shedding Light

Rita O’Brien Interiors, Photograph by Beth Singer

As the season progresses and daylight hours are fleeting, interior lighting becomes a primary focus. We asked six discerning interior design professionals to share some of their tricks-of-the-trade to get the best lighting in your home—no matter the space.

Elizabeth Barrett Design, Photograph by Nev Muftari

Dual mirrors, a large window, and reflective surfaces give this bachelor pad bathroom a bright and airy atmosphere. Photograph by Nev Muftari.

“This client was a bachelor looking for a contemporary bathroom that felt warm and masculine, but he wanted to keep the space bright with clean lines. We decided to use darker wood tones for the cabinets and large-format, polished porcelain tile that looks like classic marble. In keeping with a bright design, I used two inset mirrors flanked by sconces facing opposite one another to reflect light. This space also features a large window which provides lovely natural light that bounces off the polished porcelain as well as the mirrors. These elements combine to give the illusion of a larger room while keeping it luminous, contemporary, and visually clean.” – Elizabeth Barrett, Elizabeth Barrett Design


  • I think it’s important to maximize natural light as much as possible. So, keep heavy window dressings off the windows as much as possible to let natural shine through.
  • If you need to filter light, a sheer drape or a screen shade does the trick.
  • When choosing LEDs for your fixtures or recessed lights, pick a bulb with a temperature of 3500 Kelvin—this bears the closest resemblance to natural light.

SOURCES: Bathroom Cabinets and Hardware, Scavolini Store Detroit

Stalburg Design, Photograph by Martin Vecchio

Stars take center stage in this moody bathroom with sophisticated lighting and gold inlaid tile. Photograph by Martin Vecchio.

“This powder room is a part of a larger project that I did for clients on Pine Lake in West Bloomfield. The décor throughout the home has a neutral, earthy palette that reflects the home’s location, and I wanted to create a little hidden gem. We found this incredible tile with genuine gold inlaid stars that serves as the focal point and informed the lighting choices for this space. Both the sconces and the ceiling-mount light fixtures have a star-like quality. We love mixing materials, so in this case, we used metal and stone to achieve some sparkle without resorting to crystal to achieve that effect. I like to say that the powder room is a gift for guests. Now, they have a showpiece to share with all their visitors.” – Barbi Stalburg Kassoff, Stalburg Design


  • Lighting really sets the tone of a space and creates a distinct atmosphere. When we design with lighting, we intentionally use it to enhance the space, rather than for its simple function.
  • Another significant consideration that I think tends to get overlooked as people live in a space, is to coordinate the temperature levels of your lighting. One of my clients, for example, had lighting levels that were all over the place in her home. A pendant over the kitchen island was 4000 Kelvin, while some of the recessed lighting in her ceiling was 2700-3000 Kelvin.
  • Be sure to have replacement bulbs on hand that are the same level to prevent visual chaos. When you coordinate the lighting, the space looks finished and evokes a positive feeling.

SOURCES: Lighting, City Lights Detroit; Mirror, Lighting Resource Studio

Rita O’Brien Interiors, Photograph by Beth Singer

One-of-a-kind lighting plays a dramatic role in this living area—inside and out. Photograph by Beth Singer.

“Like a beacon on the shore, the homeowners of this majestic Leland home wanted spectacular indoor lighting to sight their home while boating in the evenings on Lake Leelanau. As part of the process, my business partner, Colleen O’Brien-Seitz, and I used photographs taken by the homeowners from their boat, and went outside for ourselves to find the perfect positioning for the light fixtures. There was a bit of trial-and-error in the beginning to determine the right fixture size and position. Colleen worked for several months with Hubbarton Forge’s engineering team to create four 42-inch-high by 36-inch-diameter double-tier chandeliers to hang from the home’s 20-foot ceilings as well as other custom lighting in the space. This not only allowed the homeowners to find their home from the lake, but multiple fixtures such as sconces on the wall and lighting built into the staircase assisted with tasks and safety.” – Rita O’Brien, Rita O’Brien Interiors


  • When planning the lighting in your home, it’s good to consider how the light moves with the time of day as well as the seasons. You may need more light in a particular room come winter when the light is less intense, and the sun sits lower on the horizon.
  • It’s also important to pay attention to the trajectory of the light coming from a particular light fixture. How far will the light reach? Will you need more lighting? Perhaps overhead ceiling lighting?
  • If you have extra wall space, beautiful sconce lighting may be used for aesthetics and function.

SOURCES: Accessories, Custom Lighting, Blanket, Custom Ottomans, and Leather Hides on Ottoman, Rita O’Brien Interiors; Ottoman Fabric, Schumacher; Table, Chatham House Lifestyle Gallery; Rugs and Runner, The Ghiordes Knot

James Douglas Interiors, Photograph by Beth Singer

Multiple light sources and a large window keep the lighting in this space soft and natural. Photograph by Beth Singer.

“My clients wanted a comfortable living space with mixed materials that showcased the scenic wooded area that surrounded their house. Part of my approach to lighting is to keep the fixtures cohesive and balanced. The chandelier, wall sconces, and hallway pendants each share the same finish.” – Jimmy Angell, James Douglas Interiors


  • When it comes to ambient light, it’s important to understand that it isn’t necessary to turn all the lights on at once. If in the evening you’re reading a book or having an intimate conversation, turn on a lamp or two.
  • A room can be enhanced based on the level of lighting—you can set a mood that might be more comfortable—rather than living under a spotlight.

SOURCES: Sofa and Chair, CAI Designs; Textiles, Kravet; Lighting, City Lights Detroit; Drapery, Designer Furniture Services + Fabrics; Rugs, The Ghiordes Knot

Mainstreet Design Build, Photograph by Jeff Garland

Lighting options abound in this primary bathroom—from a dramatic chandelier all the way down to toe-kick fixtures under the cabinetry. Photograph by Jeff Garland.

“The homeowners were ready for a major upgrade to their master bathroom. While the layout and size worked very well, an out-of-date deck tub commanded a large footprint and reduced access to the window. We removed the decking and built-ins, which left room for a free-standing tub with flanking cabinetry and open shelving. With the added space, we designed his and hers vanities along one side of the room, and a beautiful dressing area on the opposite side. Each section provides a combination of decorative and task lighting for each vanity area allowing form and function. Additionally, the bookshelves are lit with wall-wash recessed lighting directed to enhance each display.” – Christine Ramaekers, Mainstreet Design Build


  • Combining task lighting along with decorative fixtures is key to lighting a room from morning to evening.
  • It’s essential that all the fixtures maintain full capacity for morning preparations, and as the day progresses, an individual dimmer can control harsh lighting to allow for a restful pace at day’s end.
  • We also suggest adding undercabinet and toe-kick lighting on dimmers for nighttime lighting, especially for homeowners heading into their later years, and even more so for anyone with physical challenges.

Sources: Pendant, Lighting Resource Studio; Sconce, City Lights Detroit; Floor Tile, Beaver Tile & Stone

Ellwood Interiors, Photograph by Martin Vecchio

An organic light fixture punctuates this sun-drenched foyer with contemporary style and a soft glow after the sun goes down. Photograph by Martin Vecchio.

“My client was interested in West Coast contemporary interior design for this space with minimal, architectural styling. Arched metal front doors drench the foyer with natural sunlight and barrel vault architectural elements stretch from the front door to the open-concept great room. In the evening, this Hammerton custom-sized organic light casts a soft glow.” – Amanda Sinistaj, Ellwood Interiors


  • When you’re planning your space, it’s necessary to really understand how you’ll use it. What are the tasks being performed and at which point of the day? If you are reading, ample directional light is significant.
  • When you’re traversing through a hallway or downstairs, levels of lighting are relevant, so consider step lights to highlight the stair treads, and sconces to allow ambiance, as well as overhead general lighting to fill the space.

SOURCES: Light Fixture, CAI Designs and Lighting Resource Studio; Accessories, CAI Designs; Stool Fabric, Tennant & Associates