Designer Tricks that Will Let You See Your Home in a Whole New Light

A supermodel at work -  

Courtesy Theodore's Contemporary Furniture

 A slightly abbreviated version of this piece appeared in the Washington Post Real Estate section

Judith Capen hopped up from the candlelit table and popped on the overhead light. Suddenly, ghoulish shadows appeared beneath her twinkly eyes and wrinkles sprayed cheeks that a second ago seemed cherubic.

"You never want to look into a light source," she said. "Every time you glance up it's the Dracula effect, your eyes look like black holes."

 It's enough to make one scream. One does.

Blame it on the wine.
The author digs a  $10 Ikea spot

It's amazing what lighting can do. Besides making you look more attractive, and dare we say sexier, good lighting can be energizing, focusing, relaxing, or simply illuminating -- accenting the room's best features, minimizing the unsavory, and making your home a more enjoyable living and entertaining space when evening falls.  

With the plethora of lighting gadgets and gizmos available everywhere from Ikea to Amazon to Home Depot and Restoration Hardware, just about any effect is possible, inexpensively and often by dinnertime.

Capen, an award winning architect with Architrave Architects, made her point about overheads. That harsh light, handy as it is for Scrabble, killed the mood and threatened to put an end to a convivial over-dinner conversation

"How do you know an architect designed a space? By the number of wall switches." That's an architect joke, she said.

If Capen was designing a kitchen from scratch, for example, she'd stop the cabinets eight inches from the ceiling, "and have a tube on top so you have enough light to stagger through without tripping over the cat." That would have one switch. Another would operate a brighter fixture for the counter, "so you could see what you're doing with sharp knives." Two more would operate an overhead light and a ceiling fan.   

Instead of walking around the room and turning on lights, or fidgeting with a dimmer, "I'd rather walk to the wall, flip some switches, and be done with it," she said. "I can mix and match and get distinctly different things versus one fixture that goes from light to less bright."
Light at play in the Capen Weinstein home

But most of us are not going to rip out the ceilings and walls and install an elaborate and expensive new system. Instead, we sit with a feeling of vague dissatisfaction, contemplating a room as clinically bright as McDonald's, or fidgeting with a lamp shade to get enough light to read. 

And Capen is quick to concede that you don't have to. There are plenty of cheap sources of light that are plenty effective.  "Like fluorescents," she said. "Put them on top of cabinets where you don't see the fixture." This is not just a kitchen trick, consider fluorescents on top of an armoire, or a tall bookcase, anywhere the source is unseen.  Puck lights, little round battery powered LED discs that require no wiring, are also handy for inside cabinets, under shelves, and dark corners. "It's not about an expensive fixture, but what you can do with it to shape a space."

Whip Those Lashes into Shape!


Mascara? I've played with so many. High end to low. But for maximum drama, I keep returning to the stuff in a cake -- perhaps the only thing from the trendy-again 70s that I can still wear without looking ridiculous.  My purple suede hot pants come immediately to mind.  

A drip of water smudged around to make a nearly dry paste (spit works brilliantly too, but we won't mention that) and there is nothing like cake mascara for creating the thickest lashes shy of falsies. Uppers and lowers.  

It used to be easy to find, and so cheap! Maybelline had it in a little sliding drawer of a red case.  A buck, maybe? Mary Quant was pricier, but had the best brush, I still have it. Much like a baby-scaled toothbrush -- if your baby has a particularly wide mouth. Tight bristles. Indestructible. Does 1968 qualify it as an antique?

Lancome's mascara had one with a little plastic comb on one side, I still have that too, though all of the plastic bits have broken off (how I wonder? Was I cleaning the grout?)

Cake mascara might be hard to exhume in stores, but it's still easily findable on line.