Step by step guide to being a designer on a new construction project in Santa Fe

This is Step 4- Lighting up a home and a life

Natural Light

Almost no one argues that lighting is vital. Natural light being the gold standard in our mountain west environment. If we are thinking well in the structural design phase, we let it in from the best vantage points for views, for warmth, good feelings, and health. South facing windows with the right overhangs, west facing glazing with even deeper overhangs. And we usually use more modest fenestration to the east for morning sun in kitchens and bedrooms, and not as much at all to the north, unless a stunning mountain view demands it.

Hopefully the architect has tended to all those openings. What I am most often tasked with is the interior lighting and the night time exteriors, done best in step with a landscape architect.

Architectural Lighting

Architectural lighting, that which is part of the structure, is not purely decorative, and is best when the fixtures disappear and the light itself is the object, is the backbone of the plan. On this project three types of fixtures will be used throughout.

A straight recessed downlight, only 4” in diameter, and available in several finishes, most likely the brushed nickel, but the bronze is possible too.


There will be areas for art that require something that can drop down and rotate to several directions, and this will be minimal and flexible.


And for something that is even more “aimable,” we chose a small spot mounted on the side of beams, which will work best. Hopefully with an LED lamp.


Functional Decorative Lighting

The more decorative lights, all still highly functional, start with the bathroom vanity lights.


This is a thin piece of Lexan with an LED (light emitting diode) strip light at the rear of it, with a brushed nickel backplate to match the plumbing fixtures. We will place one over each basin in the master, for excellent light and color rendition.

For the guest bathroom, we’ve chosen a fixture so minimal that it is hard to appreciate it in online pictures. The Rae Suspension is an LED tube, dimmable, that provides wonderful light, especially when hung in front of a mirror, to double the light source.


And this “ice cube” will probably light the mirror in the powder room, either as a wall sconce as shown, or as a pendant beside the mirror or possibly on either side of the mirror.


I actually love these very non-serious vanity lights, but they were deemed a little over the top for this home!


Ultimately, there will be some decorative lights, also functional, in the form of three single light pendants over kitchen island seating, and other serving counters.

Because the dining table may be moved around a bit for entertaining groups, we won’t have a pendant or chandelier over the table in this home.

Finally, for the interior, there are some hallways and other areas that would benefit from something simple and sleek casting a pool of light reflected off the wall, but not particularly attention getting as they may share walls with art pieces.


Outdoor Lighting

Exterior lighting on this contemporary home will also be classically simple. Because of our local Dark Skies ordinance, and the subdivision requirements, all light must be projected downward, nothing up and nothing straight out. These two are in compliance. We’ll use the larger one at primary entries, and the smaller at secondary entries like near garages.


After we have a final landscape plan, we will choose similarly simple ground lights, on 12” stems. In the courtyard walls and retaining walls there will be recessed step lights. Any of these will suffice but I will research which shed the most light and have the longest lamp life.


We’re leaving selection of the decorative lights for over the Kitchen areas until later, when we have picked the palette for plaster walls and any painted areas. For the builders who will be bidding on building the home, I’ll put in an allowance for those final decorative fixtures.

Architectural, functional and decorative wall lighting will always need supplementing with portable lighting — floor lamps, table lamps, desk lamps. This gives the home enough different light levels for visual interest and appeal. But that comes when we work on furnishings, about a year away. For now, we have a plan to light up a new home!

For lighting design examples, please click here.

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