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What to Expect When Working with a Lighting Designer: A Q+A with Daniel Salinas

Lighting Design Q & A with Dan SalinasYou’re building a new house or renovating an existing one. You have your team lined up: an architect, builder, interior decorator, landscape designer. As one of the most important elements of any home, lighting can make or break a space.

You decide to add another player to the field—a lighting designer.

But how do you go about finding one?

And what should you be thinking about when it comes to lighting?

We asked former IES President and veteran lighting designer Daniel Salinas to share what it’s like to work with a professional lighting designer.

Why hire a lighting designer—or any designer at all?

We look to design professionals for the purpose of helping us see beyond our own eyes, to take our current situation and look at what it can become with an unbiased viewpoint. You will need to list what you like and don’t like in the current design and begin to address how you use or want to use the space. From this you can answer the question easier because you may find that an experienced interior designer or architect is required as well. The purpose of a qualified lighting designer is to help you understand lighting and how an effective design can meet your needs both now and in the future. It is not someone who just selects a pretty chandelier, it is someone who understands how to use illumination techniques that work with the architecture of a room or how daylighting can be effectively controlled as a tool within that space.

What’s the best way for homeowners to find lighting designers in their area? Are there any special credentials they should look for?

A. A good lighting designer is involved with their industry so you will find them as part of organizations such as the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), or American Lighting Association (ALA). I would suggest finding one that carries the LC appellate of the National Council on Qualifications for the Lighting Professions (NCQLP), which is a test taken by lighting professionals from designers to manufacturers to contractors that certifies basic principles of illumination and requires continuing education to maintain.

What range of services can lighting designers offer?

A. A good lighting designer will generally specialize because the needs of a residential project are different from a commercial project. They should understand lighting and architectural integration. Some will also do lighting controls design to a minor degree, but most will bring in a controls specialist if it is more extensive. Lighting designers with more architectural lighting involvement may be able to work with you on daylighting design as well or engage an architect with daylighting experience as part of their team. Most will be able to create drawings in either hand drafting or electronic formats such as AutoCAD or SketchUp. They should also be capable of creating the specification schedules for their work. As you can see, this is more than just picking out a luminaire. Lastly, they should understand the importance of energy efficiency and maintenance of the design.

How do lighting designers collaborate with other members of the team (for example, architects, interior designers, electricians)?

A. Collaboration is critical on a construction project. When the lighting designer is part of the team early in the process they have the ability to help with integrating the lighting needs with the architectural development. They will work with the architect to ensure the lighting is providing for not only the needs of tasks such as cooking in the kitchen or work in the home office but also with the interior designer to keep a cohesive flow in how the interior spaces look overall, including finish selections, color, and art. The lighting designer will provide layout of the lighting to the electrician after working with the architectural team through constraints such as framing, plumbing, HVAC, ease of installation, and maintenance. They should be able meet with the electrical contractor and walk through placements, lighting controls, energy requirements, and luminaire selections. They should know the electrician and have a good communication path with them to ensure the design is fully understood.

What can homeowners expect from the process, typically, from start to finish?

A. You will be asked a lot of questions about your current lighting situation because it is the most familiar to you. Then you will be asked what your needs are for the new design and what will be required in the future. The more they question you, the better the decision process to insure a design you will love. There will be discussions on style, color, and finish, areas of importance in your home, how you use your home, as well as how much technology you feel comfortable with in your home. During construction, decisions will have to come fast and furious at times, so if you have translated your needs and desires well to the team, they know in advance of an issue what you will be willing to accept and this helps to reduce last-minute stress. The completed project should have good documentation that allows you the ability to understand how things work and training from the team on maintaining it. This is critical as so many designs are poorly maintained because no one taught the client how to take care of it or use it properly. You should also insist on a follow-up review session for lighting and lighting controls two to three months after completion for adjustments and refresh of the training.

What kinds of questions do lighting designers ask their clients? What do homeowners need to consider when it’s time to focus on lighting?

A. Some of the questions are: How do you currently use the lighting in your home (i.e. are you more insular so you like it soft and moody, or are you outgoing with lots of entertaining)? Do you have a home office or special use space such as a music or game room, craft space, or library? They may ask if you have vision challenges or someone with disabilities who requires special consideration (i.e., an elder family member with macular degeneration will have special concerns for light level, glare, contrast, and color selection). Illumination for your artwork is important, so you will be asked what type of art you collect; photography has different requirements than oil painting or sculpture so you want to make sure they have as much information as possible to meet your needs, especially if you have a rare piece that requires protection from damaging effects of UV. You will be asked how much technology you are willing to accept in your design. Some clients like it very simple and basic, while others want lots of integrated technology.

As someone with years of experience in residential consulting (and as former president of the IES), what tips can you offer homeowners looking for help with their lighting plan?

A. My work in the residential arena has been tied to a higher end, commercial/architectural design basis so the next few statements are going to be beyond what you will find in a local lighting showroom. When you meet with a lighting designer, come prepared with a list of things you feel are important to you regarding lighting for your home. Since the designer’s first concern is safety and security they will want to talk about light level requirements and use of the space to be designed; they will also be concerned with control of these spaces. Next they will want to talk about architectural enhancement and accent, so the architecture, finishes, colors, and furnishings, will all come into play. From there they will want to discuss special use, mood, critical tasks, artwork, entertainment needs, and the like—essentially, how you live in your home. From this point the design can begin.

Daniel Salinas has been in the electrical industry for more than 36 years. He began as a residential lighting consultant with Belco Electric Supply in 1978, progressing to showroom manager and eventually to commercial lighting designer and consultant for design/build electrical contracting firms. In 1987 he joined Nelson Electric as Senior Designer/Project Manager for lighting and lighting control systems. The breadth of his design and project management experience spans both commercial and residential projects, with a specialty in complicated installations where new techniques in constructability are required. Commercial lighting control design has been his passion where working with integrated technology is a requirement. He has received two IESNA IIDA International Awards of Merit for his work on special project applications. He has been fortunate to be a part of hundreds of projects in the Puget Sound region over the last 36 years with expertise in the role of lighting systems designer and/or project manager for lighting systems where other lighting professionals are contracted. This has allowed him a welcome opportunity to work with some of the best design teams in lighting in the area, and he counts many of these professionals as friends. On the volunteer and leadership arena he has served on numerous committees and leadership positions with the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) culminating in that of IES President for 2013-2014. He is still a member of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee, as well as serving on the Lighting Commissioning Committee, Leadership Forum and Student/Emerging Professionals Event Committee as well as Board of Director sub-committees. In addition, he serves the National Council on Qualifications for Lighting Professions (NCQLP) as a member of the Certification Renewal Committee and reviews online lighting course material applications for LEU compliance. He guest lectures on lighting, lighting controls, and sustainable design for programs at the University of Washington, Bellevue College, and for the Illuminating Engineering Society. All this has earned him recognition with lighting designers, manufacturers, and lighting educators in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

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