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Tales From the Lighting Graveyard

The pros behind the DC Design House renovation share how they updated the home’s lighting, and how you can achieve a similar effect.

The old chandeliers, hanging in what some designers coined the “Lighting Graveyard.” Photographs by Robert Radifera.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: We were stunned by the transformation of the DC Design House, from an elegant but dated manse to a chic, modern oasis of luxury.

One of the more prominent changes came in the form of the standout light fixtures we spotted throughout the house. The home’s ample natural light was one of its best qualities, but the artificial light sources needed an update. The designers agreed that the gilded crystal chandeliers that abounded in the “before” space, while refined, were too heavy for their tastes and needed to be freshened up.

We recently caught up with five of the designers behind our favorite eye-catching lighting fixtures to find out what vibe they wanted to achieve and how you can incorporate the look into your home.

Dan Proctor of Kirk Designs: The Living Room

Previously used as a dining room, the space was laid out in a way that presented a challenge for Dan Proctor as he considered lighting.

“The lighting needed to be reorganized, as it no longer matched. Recessed lights in the ceiling, for example, were tied to items that no longer existed, so they served no purpose,” he explains.

Proctor used a McLain Wiesand lantern made of iron and distressed convex mirrors to give placement to the space, leaving no doubt as to the focus of the room. “The room definitely has an industrial chic quality. It feels urban, but with a sense of refinement,” he says.

Proctor’s tips: To get a similar look in your home, consider multiple light sources. He added not just the statement lantern, but also an apothecary floor lamp, sconces, ceramic lamps, large floor lamps, and a series of recessed fixtures in the ceiling.”Multiple light sources are key in living rooms. Try using lamps for task lighting, recessed perimeter lights to add ambient lighting, and larger fixtures (chandeliers or lanterns) for decorative lighting.”

Nadia Subaran of Aidan Design: The Kitchen

Going into the project, the first thing Nadia Subaran noticed was the imbalance of lighting in the kitchen, due to an addition made in the ’80s.

“I wanted to make sure the kitchen lighting was balanced, and that each section of the space was getting the proper lighting,” she says. “I also tried to work with what was existing, so we updated the recessed lighting and added new lights in the skylights to give a better spread, rather than pinpoints.”

A pendant by Vintage was flown in from Italy to replace the antiquated ceiling fan, and to provide better lighting on the countertops.

“Like the rest of the kitchen, I think the lighting now has the warmth of a traditional feel, with modern sensibilities. It has a streamlined sophisticated feel, with a bit of added ‘bling’ from the hanging crystal on the pendant,” she says.

Subaran’s tips: When shopping for kitchen lighting, be sure to define the purpose of your lights to ensure that you are purchasing sensible lighting. “First of all, kitchen lighting should always be on dimmers. Make that a priority. And definitely consider the functionality of your lights. Are the materials conducive to kitchen application? For example, you can add a diffuser to your bulbs to eliminate glare,” she says.

John Matthew Moore of John Matthew Moore Fine Art and Home: The Foyer

When John Matthew Moore saw the unchanged-in-decades wallpaper and lighting of his foyer space, he knew it was time to freshen things up.

“Since the house was built in the 1950s, I wanted to pay homage to that period and use lighting that had a midcentury feel, but that had been updated,” he says. “It needed to be a fixture that would blend us into an elegant, intimate space.”

Moore had fallen in love with a sculpture at last year’s Design House that he knew he wanted to turn into a chandelier. With the help of lighting designer Rick Singleton, he was able to create a showstopping custom piece to greet guests as they walk into the foyer. “I think the fixture brings modernity to the foyer without being heavy or ostentatious,” he says.

Moore’s tips: Foyer lighting is where you can really have some fun, says Moore, so think outside the box when you shop for light fixtures for it: “A foyer sets the tone for the whole house, so don’t be afraid to do something a little whimsical in this room. Unexpected lighting makes your foyer that much more interesting.”

Tricia Huntley of Huntley & Co. Interior Design: The Master Sitting Room

Tricia Huntley could imagine sitting perfectly straight, sipping tea in the room she was to design for the DC Design House, but she didn’t see it as a space for lounging. She knew she could change that.

“Before, everything in the room was too matchy-matchy, and I really wanted to shake that up using more hip lighting,” she says. “I wanted the room to feel like the people who spent time in here have lived life, and have seen things along the way.”

By adding the vintage Stilnovo spider fixture in the ceiling alongside vintage sconces from Darrell Dean, Huntley was able to create a space with a laid-back chic feel sure to inspire envy.

“Now the sitting room has a loungey, sexy vibe. It is much less rigid and formal. It accommodates people who appreciate a lot of design eras and have a sense of style about themselves,” she says.

Huntley’s tips: Even if you don’t have the luxury of enjoying a master sitting room, you can still nail the sultry vibe by ensuring your lighting makes optimal use of the limited space.

“In small spaces, you want to make the most of what you have, so don’t use any lighting that will cut off seating options. Hanging pendants in the middle of the room, for example, eliminate options and force you to design the seating around your lighting. Instead, try fixtures that are close to the ceiling and can be worked around any seating plans,” she suggests.

Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey of SCW Interiors: The Dining Room

The “before space” was a little somber for Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey’s taste, and she felt the lighting wasn’t being used to define the purposes of the room.

“The dining room was definitely a dark space from the 50s, so I set out to give the space a warmer glow, and punctuate areas in the room used for different needs,” she says.

A mirrored Neirmann Weeks chandelier now hangs above the dining room table as the focal point of the space, and the wall sconces help to further delineate the use of space as reading lights for the corners of the room.

“There is more of an eclectic vibe now, and the mirrored chandelier helps to move the light around. It is streamlined, as opposed to being overdone.”

Cavin-Winfrey’s tips: Similar to living room lighting, dining rooms require several layers of lighting, each with a specific purpose.

“For dining rooms, use as many different sources of lighting as possible. Branch out from just lamps or just chandeliers, and marry all types of lighting in the space. Also,consider using wall-washer lights to highlight the most important or dramatic piece in the room to create a focal point.”

  • Full spectrum light bulbs have become a part of home lighting trends for two reasons. One reason is that the bulbs are more efficient, but the other reason is that full spectrum light bulbs are often used to treat or lessen the effects of seasonal affective disorder, which can cause depression during winter months when there are fewer hours of daylight.

  • dziner

    That foyer fixture is unforgettable...much more impressive in person because it spans 2 floors...there are actually 2 stars, one above the other. There is also a beautiful brass mid-century piece in one of the you know if that is by the same lighting designer?

  • Laura

    Thank you for your response. The designer, Rick Singleton, also designed a second floor hallway chandelier. Is this the fixture you are referring to?

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