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Variety of lights can solve dark problems around the home

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Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010

Some areas of the home invariably provide lighting problems. Lighting in hutches, bookcases and under cabinets always is tricky because of space and location.

But there are some bright ideas to shine a light on areas of the home that often fade to black.

Ken Higgins from the Lighting Gallery in Greensburg says it is vital to know what is going to be below the lights.

"You had better not put halogen bulbs over some chocolate in your hutch," he says with a laugh.

Some residents might want lighting for a specific task while others want it more for a mood.

Some jobs can be accomplished with lights from home-supply stores that sell for as little as $30.

Others need changes in electric lines or the use of transformers that run the price into the hundreds.

"If we can get involved in new construction or a remodeling, it really makes it easier," says interior designer Nancy Drew of her eponymous firm in Edgewood.

Marcia Tucci of Signature Designs in Greensburg agrees and says that is one way of "staying a step ahead" of what can become lighting needs.

But it always is a matter of casting light on a troubled area.

Do a job in different ways

Lighting bookcases can be a matter of style versus function.

Small, circular puck lamps — some available in inexpensive, battery-powered, stick-on models — can be placed at the top of the shelves to accent the look of the bookcase, says Caytlin Thor, interior designer-lighting specialist at Cardello Lighting in Canonsburg.

Tucci says they can illuminate a whole bookcase or hutch if the shelves are glass.

But they won't provide too much light for reading titles of books.

If that is the desire, recessed flood lights in the ceiling might be a better route, Thor says. They are relatively inexpensive, she says, maybe running $25 to $30, but installation in the ceiling will add to the costs.

Steve Hoffman from the Lighting By Erik store in Dormont says another good option for bookcases are thin xenon tubes that can be placed along the sides of the bookcase or under one of the shelves. They cast more than enough light for picking out a volume and cost about $150 to $200 for a 22-inch model.

They do require a transformer, he adds, which will tack on another $100 or so. Transformers reduce the voltage for smaller uses such as lights and toys. Transformers often are built in, but smaller items often need to be connected to one, just in the way toy trains do.

Tackling the matter during the home's original construction is helpful, Higgins says, because then spaces for transformers can be created to hide the devices.

Tucci says, however, that some transformers send remote signals and so can be tucked away easily.

She and Laura Kuhns of Kuhns Electric Supply in Latrobe both see the advantages of puck lights in bookcases and hutches because they are small and provide a subtle form of illumination.

Casting another kind of glow

Look and function come into play under kitchen cabinets, too.

Before dinner, those lights are important in the food-preparation process, illuminating recipes and providing enough glow to handle manual tasks. Kuhns says a form of mini-track lighting is excellent, and can be used as accent lights, too.

The track is attached below the cabinet and any number of lights can be plugged in. But, she says, the number is determined by the power of the transformer, so a 60-watt transformer could handle no more than six 10-watt bulbs.

A four-bulb setup could cost about $45 before the transformer is bought for another $75 or so.

"But they are our big sellers because people use them as nightlights as well as task lights," she says.

In a similar manner, Lewis Cantor, president of the Lighting by Erik chain, says a group of plug-in units with xenon bulbs is his big seller for those uses. They have high-low light possibilities, the bulbs don't get hot and the units are only 1 18 inches deep. They sell for about $50 for a 10-inch unit and provide the dual-use lighting Kuhns mentioned.

It is a far cry from the days of kitchens in the creepy glow of fluorescent lights, which can change the colors of many items, food included.

Designer Drew still sees a use for a 1-inch fluorescent tube, but the Lighting Gallery's Higgins sees a new technology casting a brighter gleam.

LEDs — formally known as light-emitting diodes — are giving puck lights a life that lasts up to 40,000 hours, he says. Sometime in February, he says, a high-low LED will be available that will take some of the edge off their clear, heatless gleam and provide the nightlight setting so often desired.

"That will be just the thing for under cabinets," he says.

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