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How creative lighting design brought new life to an Aspen gem

Robert Singer, IALD, IES, lighting designer and head of Robert Singer & Associates, won the residential lighting design competition at the 40th annual SOURCE Awards. Eaton’s Lighting Division talked with Singer about residential lighting and his vision for an Aspen, Colorado, home with mountain and river views.

How can lighting design transform a home? 

RS: When I walk into a spec home or a home built by formula, I don’t feel as comfortable as I do in a custom home. The house may have 100 downlights in a single room, yet the perceived light level may still be dark. There’s no glow or warmth — just 100 foot-candles beating down on surfaces.

On the other hand, creative lighting design transforms muted, flat, nondimensional spaces into spaces with dimension, depth, drama and comfort. That’s the power of great lighting. It accents strong architecture and casts shadows on weak or uninteresting architecture. 

What are important things to remember when lighting a home?

RS: As a lighting designer, I want to accent the most interesting parts of the architecture. That’s why I paint spaces with layers of light. Decorative components may include chandeliers, table lamps and wall sconces. Architectural components like downlights are a great way to accent artwork, seating groups or tabletops or just add drama to the space.

I may paint a coffee table or a sculpture with light. Then, I’ll bring out the warmth and glow of decorative elements with a table lamp, floor lamp or pendant. This creates an illusion that lighting is coming from decorative elements when it’s actually coming from a beam of light in the ceiling, which is an architectural element. 

During the day, lighting levels should be bright enough to provide comfort and complement the natural light in the space. In the evening, it’s critical to create warmth and accents throughout the space. All of this can be achieved with lighting controls. I’ve been in this business for nearly 40 years, so I remember older lighting controls that were based solely on manual switching and dimming. The first automated lighting control systems were old school (visualize individual rooms on a series of dimmers and buttons in the closet). Now, we can control individual circuits and lights through an app on our phone. 

One of the most important things to remember about lighting design is that shadows are just as crucial as light. Often, it’s not about the location of the light as much as the location of the dark. 

If you want to get the lighting and control just right, you really need to work with a lighting consultant. The people handling the lighting control should be the lighting designer, because we have developed the design and understand the tools. 

What do you enjoy about working with LEDs?

RS: At first, I didn’t fully embrace LEDs. But the technology is there now. New LED products hit the market every day, and my team is a testing ground for manufacturers.

Today, Robert Singer & Associates works exclusively with LEDs. I love the color consistency, efficacy and lumen output of high-quality LED products. They’re great for lighting a piece of art like a Picasso, because the CRI is so high that the colors stay true. I also love the flexibility to incorporate smaller, tighter, sexier details into linear lighting. 

We’re not doing many LED retrofits. Instead, we’re specifying integral LED boards and drivers. We’re integrating the lighting with control systems that can properly dim the products. This requires back-of-house testing and engineering as well as knowledgeable design teams and electricians.

What were the goals of the Aspen home renovation, and how did lighting help achieve those goals?

RS: The renovation was designed with an emphasis on energy savings, lower maintenance costs and comfortable levels of illumination throughout the home. This was particularly important in the basement, which has minimal natural light and areas with darker finishes.

The interior was completely renovated. This included revising room lighting systems, moving walls and updating all of the lighting. We also gutted the home’s existing system and installed a state-of-the-art lighting control system that allows the owner to set levels manually or through automation.

What were some of the home’s biggest challenges?

RS: The home had lots of potential, but it was dated. Lighting represented one element of a total renovation. The home had big, six-inch cans and zero natural light. In fact, the lighting was pretty dingy. The owner also wanted to keep the existing framing even though the inside was being gutted, and we had to integrate the new lighting without tearing out a ton of existing framework.

What did you love most about working on this project?

RS: Interaction between the client, interior design team and electrical contractor was critical to turning this home into something special. 

I most enjoyed seeing my client’s excitement throughout the process. We helped transform the house from a dark river home into a bright, airy, comfortable oasis. It started out almost cave-like, and we assisted in opening up the cave. What was once a confined space now has big windows with big views and bright airy space. The lighting played a big role in making that happen. 

About the SOURCE Awards 

The SOURCE Awards competition, established in 1977, is open to all lighting designers, architects, engineers, professional designers and consultants who use Eaton’s lighting fixtures in an interior or exterior design project. Students currently enrolled in any of these disciplines can also enter projects based on conceptual lighting designs utilizing Eaton’s lighting fixtures.

The competition requires the primary and predominant use of any or all of the Eaton’s lighting product lines. It also seeks a creative use of fixtures providing energy-efficient design solutions in addition to standard projects. Projects are judged on the blending of aesthetics, creative achievement and technical performance, and the degree to which the lighting met project constraints and design concept goals. 

Created to further the understanding, knowledge and function of lighting as a primary element in design, the SOURCE Awards competition has granted more than $600,000 to winners as well as industrywide recognition for their efforts. Learn more and enter the SOURCE Awards competition.