Eye-popping fashions in neon colors — hot pink dresses, electric yellow shoes — have been showing up lately in stores and on runways.
This throwback to the ’80s is not lost on interior designers. They watch fashion trends because they often influence trends in home interiors.
In homes, neon lights are mostly used in pieces like an antique beer sign over the bar. But lately new lighting technology is available that gives the look of neon for less money: the Light Emitting Diode, otherwise known as LED lights.
Terry Rush of Omaha Neon Sign said a true neon sign can cost from a few hundred dollars to well over $1,000, depending on size and complexity of design.
Functional task lighting like LEDs and fluorescent tubes have been popular for decades. Now, with technology producing lights that are cooler, more efficient and easier to place almost anywhere, more designers are using LED lighting to set a mood and accent art and architectural details.
Some of the more common uses for LEDs are:
» Direct light hidden behind cove molding toward the ceiling.
» Brighten the toe-kick area underneath cabinets.
» Create a fireplace mantel that seems to float by lighting the underside.
» Accent lettering behind words and phrases used as wall art, such as “Dream On” for a nursery.
» Dramatize a translucent stone countertop.
Kim Kenney of Interiors Joan and Associates in Lincoln, installed color corrected fluorescent tubes under an agate (stone) vanity in one Omaha area home. LEDs weren’t a good option then, she said, but today she would have opted for LEDs.
Jerome Bergmeier, also of Interiors Joan, said the luxury hotel Parker Palm Springs in California used the same technique behind a bar made of green onyx.
But Bergmeier said local homeowners are thinking outside the bar. Lighting can be used to dramatic effect as wall art in a teenager’s room or along the ceiling of a dark hallway or stairwell. Anywhere in the house can be outfitted with transformers and lights.
“LED lights are so small,” Bergmeier said. “They can be used where they couldn’t go before now, in so many hidden spots, such as under the stair treads.”
On the stairs, the lights are tucked under the tread, and the transformer is concealed behind drywall and hardwired into the home’s electrical system. The tread lights are controlled from a wall switch.
For the do-it-yourselfers who are comfortable with electrical work, LED lights on adhesive strips sell for about $4 a foot, said Matt Edwards of Brite Ideas. The store sells flexible strands, track and connectors. A 35-foot strand of lights holds about 23 lights, Edwards said.
“You can use the white lights above countertops and under cabinets, and they last,” Edwards said.
Omahan Doris Buell, of DB Interiors Inc., said natural and colored LED lights are just “coming into play” in home design. “We’re looking at shower lights for an Omaha client.”
Giving the illusion of neon, the shower lights and faucet lights turn colors depending on the temperature of the water. Red indicates water temperature of 89 degrees and warmer, blue indicates water temperatures below 89 degrees.
“The look of colored lighting is contemporary, but I think it’s coming into its own,” Buell said. “It has some expense to it, but I think it will come down. LED is three to five times more expensive than incandescent. And you have to be aware of the manufacturer and the quality of the light.”
Buell has often used LED in a retail setting, but she feels confident she will use it more often in homes.
Low voltage lighting is more of a trend than a fad, Bergmeier said. “It’s evolved over the years and continues to evolve.”
The reason LEDs are so popular now is they’re an energy-efficient way to do back-lighting — and get the look and drama of neon without the expense.
“It warms up a space, it gives a lot more options to create mood. That’s the big reason for it.”
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