“You can create the most beautifully designed room, but if you don’t light it properly, it doesn’t matter how beautiful it is – no one can truly appreciate it.”  I’m paraphrasing one of my FIT Interior Design professors, who was trying to teach us the importance of good lighting, and what a difference it can make.  Now, that lesson was many moons ago. But to this day, it has really stuck with me, and I keep it in the forefront of my mind every single time I create or alter any space.

Lighting is theatre. It’s probably the most important thing in setting “the stage” (a.k.a. mood) in my home. It physically shapes the space, and creates so much attitude. I have found that at dinner parties, or just hanging out, friends will tell me that they feel so comfortable here, like they’re at a B&B!  I have to tell ya – I love that – because it’s telling me that the design of the space is doing it’s job.  And a big part of that is in the lighting. What better place to best illustrate the success of “the stage” than the hardest working room in my house – my country kitchen.

There are two key words to keep in mind when it comes to lighting; task and ambient.  It’s pretty easy – it has to be well lit for our tasks, as well as ambient for when we entertain. For most of the task lighting, I rely on halogen bulbs. I use very basic spotlights that shoot light onto the island, the stove, the stove’s side prep areas, and the clean-up station  – the sink and dishwasher.  My refrigerator and pantry area are lit by recessed ceiling lights. In addition, the Viking stove has recessed halogen lights within the hood. For me, task lighting literally needs to look and be very utilitarian.

Ambient lighting is another story. Here’s where you can really go for the gusto in style and scale. Keeping the architecture and the historic nature of the house in mind, I love the naive attitude of early 19th century reproductions that have just a tad of Country French influence.  There’s something about a touch of Country French style that visually brings a little lightness and softness to a space.  So, starting with the star, the island – being the largest element in the room and the hub of activity – is highlighted and anchored with a generously scaled (48″ wide) iron chandelier that is painted a rich barn red (Scofield Historic Lighting, Ivoryton, CT).  The co-star, the imposing stove, is flanked by two prep counters and wide beaded board walls – the perfect spots for a pair of over-scaled (approx. 18″ H x 13″ W) double arm sconces –  inspired by 19th century French railroad lanterns (Authentic Designs, W. Rupert, VT).

The clean-up area with the sink and dishwasher is defined within a nook – a little distance away from the hustle and bustle of the island.  This nook has a charm all it’s own.  So, to go with the flow, define the space, and balance the recessed task lighting, I’ve added a 4-armed chandelier that is a tiny version of the big one, but in a black iron finish. I like how the three very different finishes – barn red, tarnished tin, and black iron all work together so beautifully with warm toned antique woods and stainless steel!

Now that my country kitchen stage is set – there’s just one more thing – a very important thing. As Ryan Seacrest on ‘American Idol’ is famous for saying,”Now, let’s dim the lights” – you guessed it – dimmers!  Dimmed lighting helps you look and feel good; it relaxes everyone. Especially for our dinner parties, where friends love to hang out in the kitchen (something we definitely encourage), I dim the lights at different levels and add candlelight to the mix – a must.  The proof is in the photo of my goddaughter Aileen’s bridal shower this past spring – a hands-on pizza making party.  Effective lighting + some good nibbles and sips = happy ladies.

And that’s what it’s all about.

Love, Nora




  • Our Lighting Design classes at FIT still guide me today. I agree with you that lighting is one of the most important and frequently overlooked elements of Interior Design. It’s all in the details.

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