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Expert Interview: Michelle Steinback of Schoolhouse Electric Co.

Posted by Paige Thomas ~ March 17, 2009

There is nothing I like more than featuring local businesses I love from the Portland area. Two weeks ago I was proud to feature an interview with a designer at Neil Kelly, and this week I have another great Portland company who was willing to answer my questions, Schoolhouse Electric Co.

Michelle Steinback, General Manager of Schoolhouse Electric Co., had a wealth of information to share with us on successfully lighting your home.

Michelle is a Portland native who has been with Schoolhouse Electric Co. since the company's founding in May 2003. Since then the company has grown from two employees to twenty, including a showroom in Portland, Oregon and one in New York, and a factory where the metal finishing and assembly take place. Michelle oversees the daily operation of the company including everything from product development & marketing to customer service & quality control.

This interview has so much great information packed into it I'll be breaking it up into two posts. Continue to read part one, and come back on Thursday for part two.

Schoolhouse Electric Interview - Part One:

1. Why are lighting fixtures and lighting design an important part of a home remodeling project?

We think of lighting as house jewelry. It can pull together a space and certainly makes a statement about the finish quality and style of a home. Tasteful lighting and woodwork are the kind of details that give houses timeless character and appeal.

2. What is the most important thing that a homeowner should consider when planning to install new lighting in their home?

Consider the big picture. Choose timeless designs and high quality fixtures that will stand the test of time. Avoid trendy looks and disposable quality fixtures that will fail quickly and end up in the landfill-wasting your time and money.

Schoolhouse Electric Co. Wilmington Chandelier

3. Can you give a quick rundown by room on what the lighting focus should be for each space - ie, kitchen lighting, bathroom lighting, etc.

Living Room: Many people use one or more ceiling-mount light fixtures to provide illumination for their living rooms. Wall sconces placed around the room can also provide general light for the space. Some use a combination of ceiling and wall fixtures. For example, if you have a fireplace in your living room, you may choose to light the room from overhead while providing supplemental light by highlighting the fireplace with wall sconces.

Single-socket surface mount or multiple-socket pan fixtures are good choices for living areas depending on the amount of light needed. Single-socket ceiling-mount fixtures often provide up to a maximum 100 or 150 watts of incandescent light output. Fixtures with multiple sockets usually take a minimum of 60 watts of incandescent light per light bulb. More sockets often mean more light.

In living areas where people will be moving underneath the light(s), a good rule of thumb is to keep a minimum of 7' of clearance from the floor for rooms with 8' ceilings and 7.5' of clearance from the floor for ceilings that are 9' or higher.

Dining Room: Chandeliers and drop-pan light fixtures provide an essential element of style in a dining area but they also provide ample light for the room. If you choose to hang or drop your light fixture from the ceiling, a good overall length from the ceiling to the very bottom of the fixture and glass is in a range that is approximately 36" to 46" off the top of the table, or 66" to 76" off the floor.

Bedroom: A single ceiling mount light fixture is a good choice for ambient light in a bedroom. Many bedrooms in the houses in Portland have single-socket surface mount fixtures with 75 to 100 watt incandescent (or compact fluorescent equivalent) light bulbs that provide ample light for the space. The light output needed for a bedroom, like other rooms, depends on size and ceiling height but is generally less than the light output needed in a kitchen or living room.

Bathroom: Bathrooms may be the most important rooms in the house for task lighting. If you are selecting wall-mounted lighting for your bathroom, focus on your mirror(s). Lighting thoughtfully placed above or beside a mirror can provide more than adequate light so that many bathrooms do not require both ceiling and wall mount light fixtures. Some bathrooms have fanlights, which can provide supplemental light to that over a mirror.

Most wall-mounted bathroom light fixtures have open shades, and sockets are usually rated between 75 and 100 incandescent watts. Two single-socket wall sconces beside mirrors or one double or triple-socket light fixture above mirrors will provide good light for shaving and make-up.

When placing lights beside your mirror, place them somewhere in a range that is between 65" and 70" off the floor and approximately 30" apart. When placing a light fixture over a medicine cabinet, make sure there is clearance for the door to swing.

Kitchen: Many people use a combination of task and ambient lighting in the kitchen. The goal is good quality light with enough illumination to see and be safe in your work or eating spaces. Depending on your ceiling height, pendant lights can bring light down into the room and closer to your table or countertop. Pendant lights usually allow for higher output light bulbs, and opal glass shades that act as lenses provide even light - without shadows - in all directions.

Hang pendant lights so that the bottom of the light (including glass) falls somewhere between 36" and 46" off the top of the workspace, or 72" and 82" off the floor.

Tricks of the Trade: When you are trying to determine the overall length you would like your new fixture to be, hang a piece of string and a balloon or paper plate (or something to give you a sense of scale) from your ceiling, and try out lengths within the recommended range. This will allow you to stand back and look at the total drop as well as practice moving underneath it, and you will find it much easier to make your decision on length than by simply holding a measuring tape to the ceiling.

Dimmer switches can be used to control the amount of light a fixture provides and work well in rooms that serve multiple purposes. For example, a dining room table may be used for entertaining and also for reading the paper, paying bills, etc. While bright light is not needed to serve and eat meals, the option of adjusting the brightness of the light to see when you read or write allows rooms to serve multiple uses. Dimmers can also help save energy; using less light uses less power.

Energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are a "green" alternative to incandescent light bulbs because they use a fraction of the power to yield the same light output, but they can't be dimmed. Energy-efficient CFLs last much longer than incandescent light bulbs and are ultimately better for the environment.

Check back on Thursday for the second part of Michelle's interview where she will cover topics such as how to choose lighting that has both style and functionality, and about Schoolhouse's historic lighting options.

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