19 April 2010

Would you like light with that? The rise and rise of LEDs

Greetings, Kitchen and Residential Design readers - I'm Sarah Lloyd, I blog at KitchenClarity, mostly on kitchen and bath design, but sometimes on whatever takes my fancy that day. Thank you Paul, you are very brave to open up your esteemed publication to the likes of me.

I've just got back from KBIS, and yes, Paul's Sketch-up/American Gothic presentation was magnificent - I hope he'll be putting the whole thing up on the blog for you all to see. Naturally that was the highlight of the show, but I did also manage to notice a few other things - including how LED lighting is creeping - no, stampeding - into everything kitchen & bath. You can have it in shower heads, faucets, sinks, tubs, tiles, counter tops and just about any other surface you could think of, as well as "ordinary" applications like light fixtures:

Tub with LED Mood Lighting by Kaldewei

I think that all artists and designers - product, interior, industrial, etc. - have a secret and maybe subconscious envy of lighting designers: they get to work with the fundamental element that makes all other design possible. After all, those first paleolithic cave-painters at Chauvet wouldn't have produced anything at all without the man or woman holding the torch for them, would they?

32,000 Year Old Decor - Cave paintings at Chauvet in France

Show me an interior designer who doesn't own way too many light fixtures (and chairs, but that's another story) for their space, and I'll show you someone who isn't really a designer. So it's my theory that the coming of age of the LED as a reliable, cool, energy efficient, inexpensive and controllable light source is bringing out the repressed lighting designer in all the product and industrial designers. And in fashion designers too:

Ingo Maurer & Janet Hansen, 2002

Rhyme & Reason Creative

Now sometimes the LED lighting serves a practical purpose, in faucets and showers the light can change color to indicate the temperature of the water,

Rettangolo by Gessi

you could argue that if your vanity sink doubles as a softly glowing LED lamp you won't need a night-light in the bathroom,

Toto "Halo" Vanity Sink

and the folks at Rhyme&Reason very reasonably point out that their garments can be used as lamps too, rather than just hanging wastefully in the closet when you are not wearing them.

I think that's all baloney, or what the designers told their marketing departments (same thing?) - they are designing with light because they finally can without melting anything or burning anyone or giving them an electric shock or a shocking electricity bill, and because it's the most fun thing to design with as well as the most fundamental.

I do wonder where all this will leave us in the sustainability equation? We have this technology that lets us produce light with much lower energy costs than ever before, but we are using it to put said light into all sorts of applications that never needed light before. Even if they last 20 years, all those LED semi-conductor boards will eventually have to be broken up and their raw materials laboriously reclaimed or recycled. Are we just chasing our own tails? We're having enormous fun with it, but that, according to my dog Daisy, is pretty much what tail chasing is all about.


  1. OK, can you tell me more about LED lighting? What is it?

  2. Hi Things, I'll freely admit that I'm not a scientist of any kind, but as briefly as I can, LEDs (light emitting diodes) are like tiny little light bulbs, but there is no filament exciting a gas like a regular incandescent bulb. Instead, they are illuminated by the movement of electrons in a semi-conductor material.They produce more lumens per watt than any other light source, so they save energy. But the are very tiny, so have to be used in multiples if you want more than a little indicator light like the one in a cmputer's on button. It's a technology that's been around since about the 50s, but recent developments have produced brighter, whiter, more reliable and efficient versions - umm, if this doesn't help, may I suggest Wikipedia, or does anyone have a better explanation?

  3. I don't have better explanation for LED lighting, other than the fact that they don't emit heat.

    Which is why the influx of LED lighting into refrigeration is actually an example of a smart, energy efficient use.

    I still think most purchase appliances with LED over standard light because they look prettier!

    Great post, as always, Sarah.

  4. For now, LED biggest career is in accent lighting (in addition to all the buttons on our electronics, of course). We are drawn to things that shine and blink. Standing in front of an appliance makes me want to push the lit up buttons (and I'm not a 5-year-old ;)).
    Glowing sink, countertop or wall shelf is definitely a focal point (I won't argue about the night lite function), but how much is too much?
    Even though I love to play with light and lamps (you're right, Sarah, I'm a designer), I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of "unwanted" light we're getting from the items we're using everyday. Not every manufacturer lets us turn off or even choose the color of the LED display on their product (although many do).
    I think a full customization (color, intensity, etc) of the LED awaits us in the future.

  5. Hi Julie, Thanks! and yes, they do look pretty, when they take the place of an incandescent or fluorescent light that would have been there, there's a huge energy saving.

  6. Bozena - definitely attention grabbers, I'm sure we are going to see more and more applications of LEDs before the novelty wears off!

  7. You make a great point in asking "how much is too much" regarding where LED lighting is used. The market has a tendency to sort all that out before consumption goes too wild. It's exciting to see illumination used in new an practical ways-the impractical uses will quickly succumb to natural selection. Go Darwin.

    One point to consider is that, in addition to energy efficiency and conservation (more light - less heat per watt) the LED technology sidesteps the problem of mercury found in compact fluorescent bulbs...a step in the right direction for production, use, and eventual disposal.

    Looking forward to more developments in the world of LED technology and thanks for the great post.

  8. eXapath - I guess we're at the experimental stage, and that's why it's all such fun. I am so happy that LEDs are coming of age, here in California Title 24 has led us into a kind of evolutionary backwater, speccing way too many fluorescents with nary a thought for the mercury problem. Definitely a big step forward.

  9. Hi Sarah,

    Thoroughly enjoyed your blog - imagery is fascinating! I do love LED's benefits for the many reasons that you describe. And, as an independent living specialist, I especially love the "wayfinding" component be it at the vainity, the lav itself or built-in 24-7 lights installed at 18" aff. Thanks for sharing such great info!

  10. Thanks Andie - they are perfect for that application, aren't they? It was great to see you at KBIS. Everyone should check out Andie's KBIS report at Roaming by Design http://roamingbydesign.com/?p=892

  11. I'm hoping to use LEDs as under-counter lighting and would appreciate a post on the options at some point. Thank you for this introduction to the ideas and issues!

  12. Hi Chookie - probably fewer issues than with any other light source you can think of. You might want to check Paul's earlier post on LED tape lights -

    What material are you using for the counter?

  13. Thank god I'm not the only one with way more lamps than I could possibly ever use!!

    LEDs have lots of great applications. Some may not be practical, but it's fun to see the creative ideas people come up with. I love the concept of the LED light indicating the temperature of the water coming out of the faucet. Pretty and practical :-)



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