When people visit a friend's home, they probably first notice new furniture or artwork.
Not Scott Plemmons.
The first thing he looks for are lights. Or more precisely, how lighting is used.
"When you walk into a home where the use of light is planned, you see layered light and the right bulbs in the right fixtures," says Plemmons, "Mr. Light" for nearly 800 stores in the Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse chain. "For lots of people, light is the crowning touch to a room because it's the last thing you do."
Plemmons says attitudes toward illumination have come light years from a decade ago. "Homeowners are out of the dark these days," says Plemmons. "Now they light for mood, to create warmth, accent a room or just to make reading that much more comfortable."
And consumers, once reluctant to experiment with light, are now willing to change lights and lighting schemes as readily as they repaint walls. "The effects you create with light help everything else in the room: artwork, furniture, wall colors, fabrics, you name it. Light enhances all those other elements," says Plemmons.
In part, the switch to light was driven by a furniture industry wanting more focus on fabrics and designs. High-end fixture manufacturers such as Kichler introduced lamps and accessories to a home store lighting market previously dominated by department stores and showrooms.
Consumer demand has expanded from perfunctory table lamps to a wide range of purpose-specific fixtures including track lights, recessed canisters, chandeliers and touchier lights. The notion of layered lighting -- the use of various fixtures, bulbs and accents in a single room is now a standard interior design practice. In a departure from the brass look of recent years, demand for different finishes has exploded, says Plemmons. "It's all about finishes now. Rust, pewter, white, and lots of hand-painted finishes are what people specifically ask for. The fashion of light is a big deal."
Even venerable fluorescent bulbs have seen the bright light of attention. "In the old days, people associated fluorescent bulbs with casting a green pallor on everything in a workshop," says Plemmons, "but now you choose bulbs that mimic sunlight in table lamps as well as different levels of color, including warm and cool tones." One element still rings true for fluorescent lamps: the whitish-tubes remain very energy-efficient.
Still, the public needs education to use the right bulb in the right place. Instead of a soft-white bulb in every socket, homeowners find success with spotlights to accent paintings and flood lamps to wash a wall with light. The ultra-white light of halogen bulbs muscled a way into the options consumers face. The lighting industry uses the Color Rendition Index (CRI) to recommend lights to retain true color on any given object. One example is a warm colored bulb to illuminate a dark wood kitchen.
"The biggest thing is that homeowners are willing to take risks with light these days," says Plemmons. "The fixture market is such that they can afford to. When they repaint a room, add carpet or place new furniture, light isn't the afterthought it was even a few years ago. It's a mainstay of design now."
(Lowe's is a national chain of nearly 750 home-improvement, appliance and gardening stores.)
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