While space is a challenge in most NYC apartments, so is lighting. The most common issue with the light in NYC apartments is that there is not enough of it!

With the help of New York City lighting designer Ryan Curtis of Marras Illumination Inc, we’ve compiled some creative, relatively inexpensive fixes NYC apartment-dwellers can make to help solve common lighting issues that won’t come at the cost of losing space.

Curtis says a considerable issue about finding lighting solutions is the tangled web of regulations regarding electrical work in the city. These issues are often structural, he says. For example, your ceiling is your overhead neighbor’s cement floor. This makes drilling impossible as well as a violation of building code regulations.

So, what can residents do to detour around this type of roadblock?

Curtis says floor lamps are an easy fix. But make sure the lamp has a shade or is torchiere style. Otherwise, you will experience glare. Another solution Curtis says is very popular is to use fake sconces. These are sconces that hang and plug into an exterior outlet rather than being run through an electrical line inside a wall. Curtis says the best general rule of thumb for placement on a wall for a sconce is that the center of the lamp should be at about 5 feet 5-1/2 inches high.

Lighting artwork with overhead picture lights is the best way to display your paintings, says Curtis. If you have ceiling gimbals (hanging track lights or adjustable recessed lights) pointing toward the art can work too. However, many apartments don’t have gimbals, so another way is to display your artwork in natural light. In this case, the painting will display beautifully, but Curtis cautions that UV rays from the sun will eventually damage the work. Some folks now light artwork (and other areas) with LED lighting, but this can be problematic, says Curtis. Because LED lighting is manufactured lighting, it generally only reaches about 85 percent of brightness on the Color Rendering Index compared to incandescent or natural light.

We’ve all had a closet that is so badly lit it’s impossible to distinguish your black shirt from your purple one. That is because, according to Curtis, most closets have a light (if at all) in the dead center that shines down on your clothing. An easy and inexpensive fix is to install a light just inside the doorframe that shines upward to illuminate your apparel. This is a surface treatment that generally won’t run afoul of either electrical codes or building remodeling regulations.

To solve more challenging lighting issues, Curtis recommends turning to professionals. Hiring an excellent licensed electrician to do a job can be a make or break situation. Always seek permission from your coop or condo board or landlord first. Since most walls are plaster and you don’t know what is behind them, those folks can guide your electrician to the right place for your new lights. While this type of job is a relatively easy one for a professional, says Curtis, it’s also very noisy. Opening a wall, doing the necessary electrical work takes a day while closing the wall and replastering takes yet another day with an additional day for sanding and painting.

If you are lucky enough to have a terrace, one of the lighting problems you will likely encounter is the lack of outdoor electricity. Since there are now concrete conduits, you can light your terrace without metal lines and poles. However, outdoor lighting, at which Curtis and his company are experts, is best left to the professionals.

If you intend to hire a lighting designer, Curtis recommends reaching out to three different companies. Find out how each works, their history, pricing, etc., and go with whatever firm matches your style and with which you feel comfortable.

NB: How can you save money on lighting? One simple way is switching to Phillips energy saver bulbs in all of your lighting fixtures. These range between $4-$ eight at Home Depot and last a very long time. You will save on electricity as well as obviate the need to continually purchase new light bulbs.


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