The Art of Illumination: Exploring Timeless Elegance in Luxury Lighting Design

September 4, 2023
Joe Baum

Building your dream home is filled with an almost endless list of design decisions - Colors, custom cabinets, furnishing, art, accent pieces, and much more.
What about lighting? Admittedly, most of my clients don't get overly thrilled when the topic of illumination gets thrown into the conversation.

But lighting is the proverbial Cherry On Top. It's what breathes life into your home. It establishes a visual hierarchy and compels your eyes to focus on the essential elements of a given space. In short, it enhances the luxurious impact of a home. Even less elegant items, like a painting of Dogs Playing Poker, will appear far more impressive when lit well.

Illuminating a space is easy.
Illuminating a space for dramatic effect, well...

Decorative Lighting Fixtures

Decorative lights are remarkably effective at creating visual interest and punctuating a space's grandeur. They also grant designers a touch of playfulness and permission to break the rules. Suggesting contemporary furnishing to a client with reserved taste would likely be met with an appalled expression. But adding a modern chandelier to a traditional setting is often received with surprising acceptance.

Chandeliers float in space, commanding attention the moment you walk into a room. Pendants create points of interest in an otherwise overlooked corner, and sconces add depth to any vertical surface.

However, using decorative fixtures as the sole source of lighting presents us with a quandary. Do we select a fixture that delivers the bold statement we're looking for, or do we compromise the decorative aspect of the fixture for one that produces a better quality of light? Why not get both? Easier said than done. When a homeowner sets their eyes on that one chandelier that would perfectly anchor their vision, the lighting it produces becomes a distant second on the must-have scale.

A case in point is the chandelier hanging over the dining room tables. In most cases, chandeliers are designed to throw light sideways and up, with very little light adequately illuminating the table below. You might think, just turn the chandelier to its full brightness level; that should get you a reasonable amount of light. But increasing a chandelier's brightness to the point of blindness defeats the purpose of having a gorgeous suspended art piece.

All is not lost.

Architectural Grade Lighting

Architectural-grade lighting usually refers to recessed ceiling fixtures but can also include track lighting. While less glamorous than decorative fixtures, these lighting fixtures are the workhorses for any lighting designer.

Some of the elements that are prized by lighting designers when selecting a recessed fixture are:

Smaller Aperture

Reduces the physical footprint of the fixture, keeping the ceiling clean. The preferred aperture size is between 2 and 3 inches, although higher ceilings can support 4-inch openings.

High Regress

Places the light source deeper into the ceiling opening, greatly minimizing glare.


Better lighting fixtures will dim down to 1%, even lower. This allows us to create the perfect balance when adjusting the room's mood. A low dimming light indicates a quality product that won't flicker as it's dimmed.

High Color Rendering Index (CRI)

A high CRI produces bolder and more accurate colors throughout your home.

This space uses DMF's iX series fixture with a 2" aperture.

Lighting Example 1 (Chandeliers)

To build on our dining room example, by supplementing the decorative chandelier with adjustable recessed lights, we place a soft pool of light on the table surface while dimming the chandelier to a more comfortable level. This technique creates a very intimate setting while not making the room's overall mood feel dark or dingy.

The same technique can also be applied to a kitchen island.

When lighting a space, always consider the quality of light over the quantity of light.

Lighting Example 2 (Corridors)

Varying the level of light used in a space can also create stark effects. Think about a corridor with an eye-catching setting at the far end. This might be an impactful piece of art or a luxurious chair and console table.

The usual strategy would be to evenly illuminate the entire corridor. Of course, this would work, but we can do better. 

We'll light most of the corridor with a low-level light, we refer to this as fill light. We'll then use a few tight-beamed recessed fixtures to spotlight the intended objects at the end of the corridor. Using a focused but brighter light on our art creates a focal point within the space, demanding our attention.

Color Rendering: Why Does It Matter?

One of the most misunderstood aspects of LED lighting is color rendering, referred to by the lighting industry as the Color Rendering Index (CRI). The reason for the confusion is simple: before the introduction of LED lighting, color rendering wasn't something we lighting designers knew anything about.

So, what is color rendering or CRI?

CRI is a way to measure how faithfully LED fixtures reproduce color. The standard we use to evaluate the color performance of LEDs is the sun and the color rendering it creates as it shines down on our planet. This was never an issue back in the days before LEDs, because incandescent light bulbs produced near-perfect color rendering.

However, LEDs are notoriously bad at producing good CRI. It takes quite a bit of engineering effort to color correct the natural color of LEDs. In fact, it's one of the most significant cost contributors to high-end fixtures.

People are always amazed when I demonstrate the differences between poor and excellent color rendering. Good color rendering makes everything in your home look better:

  • Hardwood Floors
  • Furniture
  • Textiles
  • Casework
  • Fruit Bowls
  • Skin Tones

... Everything!

From left to right: This painting is shown with high CRI of 95, 90, and 80.

Good Lighting is Good Design

I hope you can start to visualize, with these few examples, that using recessed light more purposefully can completely change the dynamics of a room. It's not always a matter of blasting a room with general light, what I refer to as the "gymnasium effect."

In fact, instead of thinking about how to light up a space in your home, consider lighting the objects within the room. This simple technique will often elevate the visual appeal of your home and doesn't require any more lights than the gymnasium method.

Once you transition from viewing lighting as strictly utility to understanding how to employ light as a design element,  your home will achieve the impressive presence you always imagined.

Joe Baum

I'm a lighting guy located in the Greater Cincinnati area. With over 25 years of related experience in the technology integration industry, my core focus is lighting design and Lutron control systems.

My somewhat odd obsession for lighting was born out of a lifetime spent as a hobbyist photographer with a keen interest in luxury interiors. And like any architectural photographer will attest to, great imagery is created with great lighting. This unique perspective has always influenced how I utilize lighting as design element.

If you'd like to discuss a project, you can contact me by visiting my website