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Direct and Indirect Lighting: Decorative uses in kitchens, hallways and home libraries

By Mark C. Ode | Jun 14, 2024
decorative lighting
As an electrician and former electrical contractor, I am always looking for attractive methods to use decorative lighting. The National Electrical Code provides two types of lighting: general and task. 

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As an electrician and former electrical contractor, I am always looking for attractive methods to use decorative lighting. The National Electrical Code provides two types of lighting: general and task. I have general lighting in the ceilings, and task lighting as table lamps in rooms. 

Most nontechnical people are very familiar with general lighting, although they usually just refer to it as “lighting” and don’t know the difference between general and task lighting. Neither term is defined in Article 100, but the term “general lighting” and receptacles used to supply task lighting are provided in Article 220 covering calculations.

Types of lighting 

General lighting is used for overall illumination in a building and for egress lighting.  Task lighting is for reading, working at a close distance or with extremely fine details that require much higher illumination.

I haven’t mentioned indirect lighting, which is a cross between general and task and could be categorized as decorative lighting. Not all decorative lighting is indirect, since many homes have cove lighting and lighting for wall paintings. 

I have cove lighting and bookshelves with smaller recesses and surface lights at the top that supply accent lighting for art, sculptures, books and other memorabilia. Take care with the types of lighting units used with certain paintings and other works of art, since heat and light waves from the lighting may cause damage and fading. 

I did the electrical design and installation for a 10,000-square-foot home in the 1980s, where the library and art gallery were the focus of the home. I designed track lighting in the hallways with different filters to mute the light, provided different light intensity depending on the piece of art, used a directional and adjustable beam light from 10 degrees to 70 degrees that actually framed paintings with illumination, and zoomed the lighting effect into the painting or artwork. 

This type of lighting can make the art seem to come alive and can certainly highlight various features and colors. 

With LED lighting, the light color can be adjusted from daylight, to warm white, to various colors. Color temperatures, measured in Kelvins, influence the mood and appearance of artwork, with cooler temperatures (higher Kelvins) lending a contemporary feel, and warmer temperatures (lower Kelvins) creating a sense of warmth. 

Direct lighting uses light sources pointed directly onto the painting or location, creating highlights and shadows. Indirect lighting bounces light off surfaces, creating soft, even illumination with a balanced combination of both techniques. When trying to gain this level of precision, contact an expert in art gallery lighting who may help better direct the illumination.

Decorative lighting in my house

I have direct lighting on the display area of my built-in bookcase, with recess luminaires on the top shelves. The shelves directly below the recess lighting have a glass insert to allow the light to shine through to the second shelf and better highlight books and memorabilia on the top and second shelves. I also have surface-mounted fluorescent luminaires on the memorabilia display shelf of my bookcase that highlight the various collectibles on the main display area. The luminaires in the bookcase are controlled by a wall switch at the entrance to my office. 

I have two large coves on the second floor of my home, with recess luminaires to highlight the souvenirs from my travels in Asia. The cove lighting also provides ambient illumination for the second-floor landing. 

Both cove luminaires are controlled by separate switches located adjacent to the general lighting switches for the upstairs hallway lighting. I also have a cove on the first floor, just off the entry at the front door, with a wall switch controlling a recess luminaire that highlights an onyx statue of a heart that I gave my wife for our anniversary. 

Everyone needs future projects, and my next project is to install indirect lighting above my kitchen cabinets. The electrician who wired my home for its first owner installed a wall-switched receptacle above the cabinets that will make an indirect lighting system a breeze to install. It will help highlight the kitchen ceiling and the antique collectibles on top of the cabinets.

 

Mark C. Ode

About The Author

ODE is a retired lead engineering instructor at Underwriters Laboratories and is owner of Southwest Electrical Training and Consulting. Contact him at 919.949.2576 and [email protected]

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