Ann Schiffers on lighting | Home Front

Jul 31, 2014

Ann Schiffers is Vice President of Specification Sales for USAI Lighting. She also served as principal of her own lighting design firm for eight years, Ann Schiffers Lighting Design, LLC. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in architectural lighting design and has spent more than 15 years teaching at the Parsons School of Design and the New York School of Interior Design.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Excited to have lighting as our topic today. Ann Schiffers is vice president at USAI Lighting. Ann has served as principal of her own lighting design firm and she has spent more than 15 years teaching at the Parsons School of Design and New York School of Interior Design. Let's get going.

Hello and thank you for joining me this morning!  Building on a rich heritage in the lighting industry that dates back to the 1930s, USAI Lighting is an industry leader in designing and manufacturing sophisticated LED fixtures and those that utilize a variety of sources.  I look forward to your questions!

Hello Jura! Do you know why so many design/decor magazine websites are so terrible? (I'm looking at you, Southern Living and House Beautiful!) I've found that they tend to be difficult to navigate; it's hard to find specific features from the hard copy magazines; and the copious pop-up ads make it difficult to view articles and slideshows. I know that they want to encourage people to purchase or subscribe to the magazine, rather than giving away all their content for free online. But these days I would think that being able to easily pin or otherwise link to photos and stories would be an important marketing tool.

What specifically would you like to see?

thank you for taking my question..please give us your thoughts on 'industrial' type lighting and where it is most appropriate in the home.

great question.  By "industrial" I believe you mean the large (Holophane) type pendants that are now made smaller by companies like Restoration Hardware.  A fixture with a glass shade used to throw light in all directions. This is effective lighting where you want a lot of ambient illumination - home gym, casual dining and kitchen are perfect.

Hello! I've heard a lot about LEDs but don't really know how they can benefit my home lighting design or why I should invest in them. Can you help? Thanks! Best, Rachel R.

Yes, you are right to ask about LEDs - they are all the rage and honestly for good reason. Low energy usage (uses 20W where before we used 100W) for same quantity of light. Long lamp life (was 1750 hours now 50,000 hours).  With new technologies such as "warm glow dimming" allows the LED color to shift warmer as it dims - very beautiful lighting effect.  Be cautious with replacement lamps (plug in to old socket) when putting into existing down lights using MR16 or PAR type bases though . The fixture components have to be rated appropriately.  

We have one sink bowl in our bathroom but it's in the center of a 54-inch long counter. We would like to replace the 1980's style overhead fluorescent lighting. What lighting fixture would you suggest and how many of them? I've seen a lot of cute 3-bulb and 4-bulb styles but I think that buying only one would not be the right scale, yet buying two might look weird.

The beauty to your old fluorescent lamp fixture is you get a lot of soft uniform light, low wattage. I am not sure if your fixture over head is wall or ceiling mounted but either case wires can be pulled to put the fixture in the right place.  Keep the soft diffuse lighting. Have a look at for the aesthetic you like (modern/classic). I would suggest the fixtures mount to the wall (either side of a mirror) nominally 3' - 3'6" on center. The decorative fixture should have white soft glass for even (shadowless) illumination.

Hi Ann, Where do I start when it comes to selecting light fixtures to place above my kitchen island? -M

Recessed fixtures are truly my favorite way to light a counter-top. With a standard 8' - 9' ceiling our small aperture LED fixtures with a 50 degree beam spaced nom. 5' on center (use the 20W on a dimmer) provides perfectly uniform illumination.

Thank you for your chats, articles, tweets, all your advice is greatly appreciated. My question is about frames. We moved into our house about two years ago and have hung maybe three items. I have collected a number of prints that I love but nothing has been framed/hung! Where can I buy decent frames (with glass! IKEA frames have their time and place but I'd like glass) and not break the bank? Thanks!

Thanks for reading all the tweets, chats, etc! Many designers like the idea of a wall of artworks framed in the same type and color of frame; others like to vary the colors and textures of the frames. A lot of people do like the IKEA frames, especially Ribba. Also Michaels is a good place to look. Crate & Barrel, CB2 and World Market have good choices. Do you all out there have other sources to suggest? 

We are tearing down our deck and rebuilding it next month and the builder wants to leave our deck post exposed so we can add solar lights as a "cap" if we want. What's your thoughts? Does something like that add value (we're selling in 2 years) or does it give a cleaner look to have everything flush?

If the area around the deck is dark and unfriendly I would move forward in that change if it fits the budget.  Upgraded lighting features do enhance the re-sale value and you will appreciate the improvement for 2 years.

Hi Home Front! I recently bought a condo with wood floors. Some of the planks are popping up a bit making the floor uneven. It is likely the engineered wood and I don't see any nails in the floors. How do I fix this? Would a handyman be able to do it or could I do it myself? Should I call a flooring store for advice? Any advice would be appreciated.

This sounds annoying! I was at a beach house last weekend on the Jersey Shore that had to be renovated after Superstorm Sandy and they had just had a new floating engineered floor put in. It was popping up in several areas and they were going to have to call the contractor and installer to fix it. In your case, I would contact the owner to try and find out how old the floor is and where they bought it and who installed it. You could then contact the company and see if they could help you repair it. If this is not an option, have a flooring company pro come to your house and assess what you have and what can be done.  I would not suggest doing it yourself unless you have experience with this kind of floor. Good luck.

We are in the process of digging out our basement. Right now I'm just planning recessed lights....can you recommend some nice fixtures for a bath (windowless) and a bedroom that would work well with addl pot lights?

Oh yes!  I just did this myself!  For the bath we used:  A Flos decorative fixture over the sink (you can also look at yLighting for ideas).  For the Bedroom:  We used USAI Lighting wall washers to light the wall adjacent to the bed. If your ceiling is 8' (I know it may be less in a basement) then place the wall washers 2'-0" on center and 2'-0" from wall)

What current trends are you seeing for bedroom lighting?

Indirect lighting and recessed wall washing is very popular in bedrooms. The indirect lighting aims up and illuminates the ceiling softly (mount at least 6" from the ceiling for a cove  and 2" for an uplight sconce to avoid hot streaks of light).  Also, use wallwashers for vertical illumination on art in the evening (opposite the window wall is ideal) to balance the room.

Hi Ann & Jura! I'm ISO a chandelier or pendant for my bedroom with exposed duct work. I'm debating a sputnik chandelier (too trendy?) or crystal/glass chandelier. I also want to make sure that the fixture provides some actual light, perhaps with a dimmer switch. Do you have suggestions on the style & the issue of finding a fixture that will provide some noticeable light? Many thanks!!

Sure - decorative fixtures can be fun!  As for style I think its very personal - I favor the modern aesthetic.  Be careful with bare lamp fixtures - they can be glarey. The bedroom should be soothing and relaxing.  

Jura- just want to say how much I enjoy your writing and especially this chat. I have learned much over the years. You're the reason I signed up for the WaPo paywall. Question, just bought a new house, the guest bath will be viewed from entry hallway, and the house is painted primarily SW biscuit. What BM or SW paint colors would work well in this bath with no natural light. For Ann, I need to increase the bath lighting over time, where should I start now? Ceilings are 9 feet and traditional 3 bulb lighting over vanity and ceiling light over shower. Thanks, Nancy in KC

Hi Nancy - a great update would be to change out the 3-lamp (I assume incandescent) to LED. Believe it or not Home Depot has a few options as does Y Lighting and Bellacor Lighting. All are very cost effective.  As for the ceiling light over the shower I would switch to a recessed USAI Lighting LED 80 degree downlight rated for wet location

I loved the painted cabinets in the beach house recently featured. I want to do something similar.....but.... I have two different sets of raised panel door cabinets I'm hoping to combine. If they are painted the same color and have the same hardware will it look weird or great and no one will notice the differences?

Paint is the great equalizer. I would go with it.

I've bought a lot of frames at Michaels--they tend to have good sales, too.


Hi Home Front! This may sound silly, but when painting a bathroom, do people generally paint behind the toilet tank? If so, do they take it off? This will be my 2nd time painting a bathroom. The 1st time I did not take the tank off but did put saran wrap on the back of the tank (worked really well at staying there) to protect it and used a brush to get as far behind it as possible. You can't tell the whole wall isn't painted unless you specifically stand over the toilet and look down behind the tank. So was just wondering what others do in this situation. I'm getting ready to repaint again, so looking forward to the answer. Thanks!

Wow. We have never had this question on the chat. What do you all think?

How can light be installed to make a small room look bigger?

if you mean "small" as in low-height then a fixture on the wall aiming up towards the ceiling will increase the perceived ceiling height.  

if you mean "small" as in tiny footprint then mirrors work wonders along with using recessed wall washers on one wall to create a visual focus in the room.  This stops and focuses the eye.

I need to shine a light on a large painting I have, but the light has to come from the concrete ceiling in my condo. What type of light would you suggest (need about 3 spotlights) and can you recommend someone to come to my home to set it all up, including an electrician?

This does tend to be an issue with concrete slabs.  You must surface mount the fixture. Elliptipar makes a well constructed product that can be surface mounted to a junction box. Conduit will run fixture to fixture and down to a wallswitch. As for Contractors - ask locally first. Angies list may also steer you in the right direction.

Hi. We have a standard dining-room chandelier I love--six 40w incandescent bulbs. Before the bulbs disappeared, I bought out a home store's supply, so I have years' worth. But what then? I hate the look of the new bulbs if not behind a lampshade, and they're not made for chandeliers anyway.

The best way to conserve the bulbs you have is to dim them.  Dimming just 10 percent (90% on) will quadruple the life of the bulbs.  Good news is technology of LED sources is moving fast - most likely the style will improve in 2-3 years that you can accept the new lamp

I removed mine and painted the wall. If I could notice where it wasn't painted, others could. Also, the small unpainted portion was working my last nerve!

Totally agree!

Yes, do it! All the way under a pedestal sink too. Why--if you ever have to change the toilet, like getting a taller, or a different shape/height sink, you might not be able to match the paint, I speak from experience! Also, there might just be builder primer back there, cover it with mold-resistant bath paint. I use a small foam roller. Take the tank lid off, and the foam roller fits right in there.

This is so helpful. Thanks!

I just wanted to chime in to say that I really like the guest today. I had no idea that lighting was so involved / complicated! Thank you for providing a fun variety of guests for these chats. No pressure, but a landscaper would be a great future guest ;).

Got it! I will try and keep the variety going. Interior designers, organizers and authors of design related books are the main chat guests. But I am totally open to new ideas. Please send in any suggestions at

My husband is a contractor and says he always paints behind the toilet tank.

Looks like you've gotta paint back there. Thanks for asking him! has many printed & frames to choose from. You can look at different combinations of frames & mats and how it looks in a room.

Thanks for the idea.

I hope you'll take my question. Several years ago, I bought some pretty pricey lampshades for each of my nightstand lamps. I've been using CFL bulbs for a long time, and since they're much cooler than regular bulbs, I was incredibly surprised that the shades started to shred and disintegrate from the inside. I suspect (based on the price) that the lining was silk, but I am really astonished that this happened. Do any of you have any recommendations on the kinds of lampshades being sold that would eliminate this problem, or at least get me my money's worth? Thanks.

Thats unfortunate. Honestly, I would return to the manufacturer for replacement if possible.  I suspect that the UV in fluorescent has damaged the silk fabric.  Incandescent also has UV.  LEDs do not. You may want to consider an LED screw-in lamp from - Phillips makes a good one.

Pottery Barn has some really nice photo frames!

Yes. You are right. I got the August catalogue from Pottery Barn and thought they had a lot of new things.

Thanks everyone! I'll bite the bullet and take the tank off and paint behind it.

The Home Front regulars have spoken! I think it's unanimous! Let us know how it turns out.

Hi Jura, Hi Anna! We are in the process of renovating an 1840s cottage in Sweden. My husband has degenerating eyesight and we need the option of bright light but we don't want that all the time - we are putting in a lot of care to restore these buildings and we deal with cultural designations that prevent major changes. Do you have any thoughts about what we should be looking for or thinking about? General philosophy is that we want the lighting to look like candlelight when guests come over for dinner but we also need to be able to read the newspaper in the morning! And we don't want any "modern" plugs or spots showing! Many thanks - Anne

Ahhh…light and health / light and entertainment / historic preservation: All interesting and challenging topics lets address one at a time:

Vision challenge:  The more light the better.  Options for varying color temperatures for enhancing vision is a big topic of research.  USAI Lighting ColorSelect product shifts from daylight cool (6000K) down to candlelight warm (2200K). One light with lots of flexibility for the user.  Having a vision challenge could also mean less light is reaching the back of the eye - therefore more light is needed than average to not only see but stimulate the photoreceptors in the eye for biological functions.  

Light and entertainment:  Light should be delivered in "layers" in a residence. From the table or floor lamp, from the ceiling (down light or chandelier) with the option for independently changing the quantity of light to change the mood.  Warm light (2700-2200K) is relaxing.  Biologically speaking it does not upset circadian rhythms allowing for a natural sleep/wake cycle.  These warm kelvin temperatures should be used at a minimum of 2 hours before bed.  The reverse in true in the morning. A dose of cooler "blue" light is needed every day to re-set the circadian rhythm and balance melatonin levels in the body.  Daylight is great at this.  LEDs are too.

Lastly, historic preservation -  penetrating the ceiling with very small aperture recessed fixtures (3"/75mm diameter) will provide the focused light you need to see and perform well.  A dimmer will provide the versatility you need.   Table and floor lamps will provide the soft, general ambient illumination.

Are dimmers appropriate for every room of the house?

Yes, Dimmers on incandescent and halogen lamps save an enormous amount of energy and increase the lamp life.

No, Dimmers on fluorescent lamps in utility spaces like closets and garages are not necessary. 

Don't touch that toilet tank until you (a) make sure the water shutoff valve works (it might be stuck) and (b) you go to hardware store and buy new gaskets for attachment bolts. Always do projects like these in the morning, because you might need multiple trips to the hardware store. Trust me.

Love the tip about doing the job in the morning! We have all been there - going to the hardware store two or three times to finish our project in a day!

My house is 12 years old and I have recessed lighting in the kitchen and family room. The lights are about 6" across and look huge compared to newer lighting. Can they be replaced on a 1 for 1 basis with smaller/brighter lights or will the lighting need to be reconfigured so that all the same areas are covered with newer, smaller lights? What type of lights work best in a kitchen vs a family room? Thanks!

Great Question!  Yes now you can replace one-for-one and the energy savings will pay for the construction.  USAI Lighting is soon to launch a product called "re-fit" which allows you to use some of the internal components of the old fixture, add newer technology, a plate is plastered over to create a smaller hole in the exact spot of the old fixture.

What's the best choice for a light on the desk where you use your computer?

The best type of fixture is one that moves easily.  Great if it aims upwards and downwards.  For flexibility in mood and light output when working long hours.

LEDs are my favorite choice (3000 or 3500K) no cooler. The cooler 3500K stimulates the brain - increases productivity.

Some folks like (2700K) warmer light as it is closer to the incandescent light source.

Having a dimmer on it is also great.

Wow, that's amazing about dimming just a bit. Are you saying that in 2-3 there will be LED bulbs that fit the chandeliers so many of us have hanging in our homes now? That would be great ....

Yes, replacement lamp technology is moving very fast. Sorra, Phillips, Lighting Sciences Group seem to be leading the technology advancements.

Jura, you definitely need to do a story on that!

For sure!

Lighting sure was something you all wanted to discuss. Ann, thank you so much for your great insight into all aspects of lighting. We can all read this one over and learn from it. Also, we now know we MUST paint in the back of our toilets. Great wide ranging tips are what makes this chat fun. Next week: Steve Corbeille, a designer who is an owner of Nest 301 and is an expert in custom window treatments, bedding, upholstery and wall coverings. So we can get a lot of questions answered. Thanks to all.

(I just submitted this and got an error, not sure it my question made it through). I'm thinking of getting track lighting and mounting it in my kitchen, directly above the countertop and sink, to eliminate shadows when I'm working there. Does that sound like it would solve my problem? I like the idea of LED fixtures because of the energy savings. Do LED stay cool or do they generate heat?

Good questions here:

Minimizing shadows in the kitchen is very important - especially where knives are used. Soft uniform (wide beams) are the trick).  Track can work and LEDs can work as well - using a wide beam lamp but I prefer recessed fixtures in a kitchen.  Track and pendants collect dust and grease and can be difficult to clean.

Yes, LEDs do stay cool if the heat sink (attached to the back of a replacement lamp or integrated LED fixture to extract heat from the lamp) This part of the lamp and fixture design is critical.  The throughly engineered products extract heat to maintain the long lamp life.

Thanks for the great questions. You can find more lighting information at and on Facebook at

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Ann Schiffers
Ann Schiffers is Vice President of Specification Sales for USAI Lighting. She also served as principal of her own lighting design firm for eight years, Ann Schiffers Lighting Design, LLC. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in architectural lighting design and has spent more than 15 years teaching at the Parsons School of Design and the New York School of Interior Design.
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