Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Walk-In Closets and Dressing Areas - Lighting Considerations

In older homes, the closet was generally designed as a very small room located in bedrooms or in a hallway, usually by the front and/or back door. Its purpose was strictly for storing clothing or other items that were not on display year-round. A single, ceiling mounted incandescent bulb of relatively low wattage, typically provided lighting.

Most newer homes and particularly new construction have moved toward the walk-in closet and/or dressing room, particularly in the bedroom(s), as a more desirable alternative to the outdated clutter-collecting closet. If you have been new house shopping, I'm sure you will recall positive comments when the walk-in closet areas were discovered.

If you are planning to include walk-in closets/dressing room(s) in a remodeling plan, there are a number of things to keep in mind. Many if not most municipal codes have restrictions on the types of lighting that is permitted in an area designated as a closet (or any area where clothing is stored). These codes often include limitations on lighting allowed in a dressing room where clothing is also stored. Without going into great detail, codes usually prohibit exposed incandescent bulbs because of their potential as a fire hazard. Some codes even prohibit exposed compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Even though your remodeling plans will more than likely be subject to review and approval by your local building department before a permit is issued, you may want to double-check with them with respect to the planned lighting in the areas we are discussing.

Although usually not prohibited by code, a skylight or outside window is generally not a good idea in an area where clothing is stored because natural light will fade clothing over time. If an outside window is installed, be sure to include sun-blocking shades as part of the plan.

My top recommendation is to consider an alternative to true natural light in the form of full spectrum fluorescent lights. These fixtures were originally designed to be used as grow lamps for indoor plants but have evolved to the point where a wide variety of this type of lighting is available. This is due, in part, to the role that they play in alleviating some of the symptoms of what is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Individuals suffering from SAD, experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms during seasons of the year when natural sunlight is not readily available. The 5000 degree Kelvin fluorescent is not the best choice for a dressing room because it tends to cast a light with a bluish tinge that does not flatter your natural skin tones. The 3,500 degree Kelvin fluorescent provides warmer light and provides the user with light that will allow make-up to be applied that will look good in the daylight or under incandescent light bulbs.

While recessed can-type fixtures can be attractive and stylish, there are some special considerations to keep in mind if you plan to use them. First, make sure that code permits them if the bulbs are not covered with a lens, and second, make sure the cans are equipped with directional wall washer trims that allow the light to illuminate the entire area with light rather than just what's directly below the fixture. You may find this specialty lighting harder to find and somewhat more expensive than off-the-shelf fixtures, but the additional cost and trouble involved in finding them is well worth it.

Avoid any type of lighting that generates considerable heat. Consider using more, lower power lights rather than just a few higher power ones. This will insure more even lighting in the walk-in closet and/or dressing room and will provide an overall softer look.

If you have a fairly large dressing area, consider directional surface mounted lighting mounted on the ceiling above the area where the clothing is hung. Another surface mounted system should be used to illuminate the area in front of the dressing mirror to make putting on make-up and clothing a shadow-free experience.

In closing, don't let lighting in closets and dressing rooms be an afterthought. Instead, give it just as much attention as you do to the rest of your home's lighting design.