Design + Architecture

The 7 most common indoor lighting problems in NYC and how to fix them

By Marjorie Cohen  |
October 9, 2012 - 3:26PM

New York City apartments are notoriously light-challenged: Even if you've got a glorious sun-flooded living room, chances are there's a kitchen or bedroom stuck in a permanent twilight elsewhere in the inner recesses of your apartment.

Most New Yorkers know good lighting from bad when they see it but aren't always sure how to achieve the good, says Clifford Starr, a lighting design consultant for more than 30 years (and the chief lighting designer for Lighting by Gregory) whose clients include Blue Water Grill, Daniel Restaurant and Mr. and Mrs. Dustin Hoffman.

We asked Starr to diagnose and treat the 7 most common lighting problems encountered by his NYC clients:

1. "My bedroom looks like a bat cave, because I have hardly any natural light."

Lighting solutions don’t need to be expensive or complicated. You’d be surprised at how much light you can get in your bedroom with just one strategically placed halogen sconce. You'll want a light to read by and in New York apartments where space is a challenge, a swing arm lamp mounted on the wall is a good solution. You can get a plug-in type and avoid the added expense of an electrician.

2. "No one can see the paintings I hung behind my couch."

A track system is a good way to highlight your art -- you can choose white-on-white or wireless fixtures that are even less distracting. A more showy -- and more modern -- possibility is what is called a monorail system which comes in a variety of finishes, is bendable and can be configured any way you want it.

3.  "I'm spending too much on electricity bills."

Putting all of your lights on dimmers can help. You'll save energy, add to the life of your light bulbs and be able to easily adjust for “mood lighting.” Think of this as creating layers of lighting.

4."The overhead light in my bathroom makes me look like a raccoon."

The best way to illuminate a face and eliminate shadows (the racoon look you're talking about) is with lights in front of the face--coming from both the sides and the top of your mirror. Second best is a light from above the mirror and the worst of all is what you’ll find in most older NYC apartments -- light from the ceiling. 

5. "When I look in my closet, I can't tell what color my clothes are." 

If you're having trouble telling black from brown from navy, try a fluorescent light in the closet. A fluorescent light is energy-efficient and great at color rendering. Since people are often horrified at the thought of a fluorescent—it makes them think “doctor's office”-- Starr usually hides the fixture so that all you see are your clothes. 

6. "My home office is too dark."

Every desk must have a desk lamp to eliminate the shadow that your body creates when you sit there. For more light in your work area, consider a sconce that will bounce light off the ceiling and illuminate your space and make it glare-free. 

7. "I can't tell the difference between the soap and the conditioner in the shower."

Recessed lighting is the most popular with Starr's clients —in older buildings the ceiling will have to be dropped about 4 inches to put in this kind of lighting. Waterproof surface mount fixtures are possible too and more light in the shower will make your whole bathroom look bigger.

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Marjorie Cohen

Contributing writer

Marjorie Cohen is a New York City-based freelance journalist, editor and author of over seven non-fiction books. Her real estate reporting has appeared in amNewYork, Investopedia, and The West Side Rag. Since moving to New York five decades ago for graduate school at the Teachers College of Columbia University, Marjorie has lived on the Upper West Side, with a brief detour to West 15th Street when she got six months free rent in a new building.

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