Compared to freestanding houses, new condominiums often lack distinguishing features. Whether you’re in a high-rise or a two story town home complex, the units within the same complex may differ very little. To complicate matters more, if you live in a condo you may be restricted from doing major remodeling by building or association regulations. This can be a problem, especially if you are trying to set your condo apart to help it sell in a competitive market.
An easy, effective and often overlooked remodeling tactic for condos is a lighting upgrade. With a lighting makeover, you can remodel and dramatically alter the appearance of your condo without constructing a single wall. Even if you are not in the market to sell, new lighting can create a completely new, refreshing environment. It can make your condominium home appear larger, highlight its best areas and, in general, set it apart from the one next door that was built just like it. Take time and plan your new lighting design. Consider each room or area of your condo separately and plan what type of lighting would most enhance it.
Lighting as a Focal Point
Basic design principles tell us that every room or large open area needs a focal point, or a center of interest. In freestanding homes, this is often a fire place or a nice view of a garden. Unfortunately, in many condos and town homes today, the most common focal point is often the television. It is not uncommon to find a television in the kitchen in addition to the bedroom, den or living room. Frankly, the television isn’t a very interesting focal point in general but when a condo is for sale and thus empty, even the entertainment center focal point is absent. With some planning, elegant lighting can serve as the focal point of almost any room…a focal point that will remain as a visible distinguishing characteristic while potential buyers tour your home.
Types of Light
Overall, there are three types of lighting you can bring to bear to change the way any space is perceived: general lighting, task lighting and accent lighting.
General lighting is illumination thrown evenly over an area. It is the basic light in your condo that allows you to move around and find things. General illumination should only be updated if your home is particularly dark (dark properties always show poorly) or if your condo makes extensive use of fluorescent lighting. With the exception of garages and utility closets, fluorescent lighting is rarely used in residential applications today. The cold, harsh lighting inevitably produces a depressing, uninviting atmosphere more appropriate above an office cubicle.
Task lighting is more concentrated light focused on a specific area so that a task can be done. Reading light, for example, is task lighting. Task lighting, such as under cabinet lighting in the kitchen, is often easy to install and can be very effective in drawing attention to functional surfaces in otherwise worrisomely small spaces (such as galley kitchens or a small ‘closet’ home office.)
Accent lighting is also concentrated, but less intense light for highlighting or accenting objects or walls that you want to stand out. Accent lighting is often inexpensive and can be used strategically to make rooms seem larger, define spaces within larger spaces and otherwise draw the eye to the more attractive features of each room.
You can use all three of these lighting types in numerous combinations in multiple areas to remake your condo lighting. They can turn your lights from a function to a feature. If you are selling, your lighting is one of a very few personalizing touches that will stay in the condo for the new owner. The buyer knows that this great lighting will be part of the deal and it will set your condo apart from the dozen he has likely just seen.
Common Condo Lighting Situations
Consider a few lighting scenario opportunities common in condominiums and town homes.
Breaking up large, open areas: Large open areas in condominiums, which are often the first areas seen upon entering, commonly lack focus and can leave a potential buyer with a subtle uneasiness about where his or her stuff would go in the new home. Except perhaps for an obvious location for a television or entertainment center, creative furniture layouts making effective use of the space are often not immediately apparent. Break this large space into warm, inviting smaller areas by light shaping. For example, in a corner area, you can create an island of light around an area for a small couch or a couple of chairs. An attractive pendant light hung directly over this area will clearly define the space as a separate area while drawing the eye across the entire expanse. Voila, you’ve just created a separate room that a potential buyer may not have seen.
If ceilings are vaulted (slanted) or very high, suspended monorail lighting or track lighting or recessed fixtures are a good choice. Either type of fixture is available with low voltage lamps which have precise beams to create focused pools of light over an area to divide it from the larger room. This well-lit area could be a place to read, knit, or just relax. With a little thought, lighting may be used to draw attention to other potential uses of a large room other than as a television viewing room.
Turn your bedroom into a warmer, cozier, room by space shaping. Dimmable recessed lights over the bed area can separate the bed into its own space while being a functional alternative when reading. A pendant light over that chair by the window sill creates a separate area for reading or just relaxing. This same room will actually feel larger by creating separate spaces.
Expand short hallways: To make short hallways look longer, add a single accent light against the wall at the end of the hallway. If the hallway is particularly dark, use recessed lights with tightly focused beam spreads to create small pools of light on the floor. This will make the hallway look longer than it actually is.
Create an Inviting Space
Beyond focal points, perhaps you simply need to change the feel or mood of a room. The lighting that was pre-installed in your dining room may just be uninspired. Or, you may like your existing fixtures but feel the room just needs something else. Recessed lights are a great tool for providing accent and shifting mood. Many recessed lights can be aimed or adjusted. They are good choices for lighting artwork in fixed placements, accenting walls or spotlighting a plant in the corner. Track lights are extremely versatile choices and can often add a lot of accent light to a space using a single existing power source in the ceiling. Track lights and recessed lights can be very stylish additions to your dining room.
Fix Poor Initial Lighting Design
Initial lighting design is usually not a priority when new condos are developed. You may need to fix a few lighting ‘problem areas’ that can turn off potential buyers. Look for any particularly dark areas that can be easily fixed.
If the kitchen lighting is dark or uses fluorescent fixtures, consider track lighting. Track lighting is an easy way to warm up cold, uninviting kitchens and bring out the color of higher-end countertops. Even in well-illuminated kitchens, under cabinet lighting in the kitchen is a wise addition. Under cabinet lighting essentially eliminates shadows in the kitchen and makes the entire space look larger by showing the full depth of the countertops.
Although they would typically be removed when a unit was being shown, ambient uplights create a sense of space in dark corners. Recessed spotlights on corner plants can take the place of ideal floor spots to add a touch of warmth.
Remember your walls. On a longer wall, a hallway or a staircase wall, a pair of sconces lends a dramatic touch. Some sconces cast illumination both above and below, so it gives the wall a sense of height as well. Sconces are available in numerous styles and designs, so you can really make a decorating statement with the fixture along with its lighting effect.
Wherever possible, lights should be used with dimmers. Dimming lights at varying times of the day can alter the task light and accent lighting rolls played by various fixtures to create various different layers on top of a room’s general light.
There are many creative ways to remodel your condo with light and “custom designed lighting” always looks good on the sales brochure. Even if you’re not selling, the functionality and style of your home will be greatly enhanced with a few simply lighting upgrades. Rethink your condo illumination; it will dramatically improve your “lightstyle”.