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Contemporary Lighting

Apr 13, 2008
There are those who wish that art were more like life, and others who wish that life itself were art. In the world of furnishing and décor, contemporary lighting and design tend more toward the latter than the former. This is because any contemporary aesthetic, be it artistic, decorative, or luminary, tends to blur the boundaries between the subjective and the objective for the purposes of questioning absolutes and establishing identity on an exclusively existential foundation.

Traditional design relies heavily upon conventional form, arrangement, and illumination to establish aesthetic and tone. Contemporary lighting and design, on the other hand, tend to strip forms down to their raw elements, examining both the multitudinous and the singular through the naked absolutes of primary colors and geometric shapes.

Contemporary design has a sense of class and style uniquely its own. Through minimalism and differentiation, it is able to point toward the universal and absolute in an "open-ended" manner, suggesting the possibility of Universal absolutes such as unity and symmetry, but never conclusively or dogmatically asserting their ultimate existence.

From the observer's perspective in a room filled with contemporary furnishings, lighting is the only Universal absolute that can be confirmed as a tangible reality, and in some decorative schemes, the only truly unifying factor in an otherwise disjointed array of shapes, sizes, and colors that speak so strongly of themselves that their only commonality is the light that shines upon them.

Metaphorically, then, we can think of contemporary furniture as art, and contemporary accent light as the visual tour guide that leads the eye through a quantum landscape of stark individuation and divergence. It is the lighting designer's primary purpose to find points within this landscape that can function as connecting points-- landmarks, if you will-- that bring the various elements together.

Objects such as furniture, sculptures, lamps, and other decorations in a contemporary home often represent a form of art that either compliments wall art and sculpture, or in some instances, replaces them altogether.

Abstract pieces and full-wall murals sometimes highlight walls in contemporary living rooms and dens, and these elements require additional, special fine art lighting that will define their essence and balance their individual presentations with furnishings and interior architecture.

Contemporary art light manufacturing requires a great deal of attention to fixture style and to angle of incident. Fixtures themselves must either look like contemporary elements themselves, or they must conceal their own presence and illuminate decorative pieces with what appears to be sourceless light.

The following summaries represent a few of the major categories of contemporary lighting fixtures and some of the more common applications for which they are used.

Wall Lighting

Sconces are found in many lighting design themes. Virtually every aesthetic genre uses them to illuminate hallways and outdoor walkways.

Contemporary sconces appear very different than their traditional counterparts. They tend to be very futuristic in physical design and are often tied to user-friendly dimmer switches that allow people to adjust the light quickly and easily.

Floor Lighting

Floor lighting is another major element of any indoor lighting design and is frequently tied to task. Floor lamps provide everything from reading light to lighting that facilitates movement and work.

Contemporary floor lighting unites task with the abstract by heavily relying upon the lamps themselves as decorative fixtures. It is not uncommon to find highly avant-garde lamps in a contemporary den or living room that add both a unique sense of form, but sometimes even a very unique and warm sense of color to the scheme.

Ceiling Pendant Lights

Formal and traditional ceiling lighting often relies on chandeliers to create a sense of elegance and class.

In contemporary lighting, pendant lights are more highly favored as either futuristic pieces or abstract elements that add a touch of the avant-garde to the top of the room.

Pendants come in a tremendous range of shapes, sizes, and finishes. Like floor lamps, pendants lights can often create focal points within a contemporary theme simply by virtue of physical presence and position.

Pendant lights add dimension to contemporary design by making larger furnishings such as tables and desks stand out. They can also be used as centralizing forces that concentrates a down light in the center of the room and unite wall and floor lighting with something akin to a latticework effect.

Recessed Ceiling Lights

Like pendant lights, these fixtures mount in the ceiling. Unlike pendant lights, they can be aimed at different angles for pinpoint directional accent lighting and wall art lighting.

Some recessed projector lights can be rotated a full 360 degrees, and they can be used to accent photography collections and hanging prints, abstract designs, and some sculpture.

They are limited in two major respects, however, that make them less than ideal for use as art lights.

For one thing, they produce UV light that can damage oils and canvases.

Secondly, while recessed lights allow for directional adjustment, they do not allow for precision adjustments of the light beams themselves. This limits their ability to produce ambient and special lighting effects.

For such requirements, art projectors provide a much better source of contemporary art lighting.

Art Projectors

Art projectors have a wonderful way of seamlessly integrating into any type of lighting design. Often used in a formal gallery or as recessed picture light, they can also be used to provide a clean and hidden approach to contemporary lighting.

In addition to precision adjustments that allow the user to set lighting levels and beam spread, art projectors such as the Phantom Contour provide filtered lighting free from UV and Infrared wavelengths that can damage art.

They can be used to illuminate everything from black and white photography to abstract three-dimensional sculpture.

Because the light appears sourceless, objects, paintings, prints, and photos appear to magically glow with their own light.

Strip Lights

Accent lighting plays an important role in contemporary lighting design, as it does in almost all decorative lighting genres.

Strip lights provide an excellent source of sourceless accent lighting that can compliment interior architecture, coves, cabinets, and furniture.

Cove mounted strip lights can follow the unique curves in vaulted ceilings and custom interior architecture.

In-cabinet strips can add illumination from within to collectible cases and bookshelves.

Under cabinet lighting strips can hide themselves beneath a cabinet surface, but illuminate contemporary furnishings below with sourceless accent lighting.

Regardless of their actual position, hidden linear lights introduce a floating effect that accentuates contemporary furnishings with subtlety and sophistication.
About the Author
Phantom Lighting is a manufacturer of high end lighting projectors and linear strip display lighting fixtures. Phantom operates throughout North, Central, and South America through a network of agent representatives. Visit http://www.phantomlighting.com/art_museum_lighting.htm and http://www.phantomlighting.com/
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