Why Lighting is the 'Jewelry' of the Home

Originally published on www.previewsinsideout.com

Laura Lee Designs Iron Lighting

Step into a beautifully designed luxury home, and your eyes often need a few moments to adjust to the décor’s many layers. A textured wall here. Some intricately carved moldings there. And the perfect blend of eclectic pieces that create a meticulously, distinctively, elegant whole.

And then there’s the “jewelry”—that finishing detail that gives the room its sparkle. For many people, not the least of which is Los Angeles-based lighting designer Laura Lee DiPietro of Laura Lee Designs, Inc., that’s the decorative lighting.

I think of it as the jewelry of architecture,” said DiPietro, whose namesake company has earned a reputation for lighting design that features European flair and character mixed with modern refinement. “The principal role of jewelry is to ornament and catch the eye; modern lighting is no different.”

Previews Inside Out had a chance to talk to DiPietro this week, and she told us how her handmade lighting collections can elevate a home’s presentation, gave us tips for choosing the best fixtures for a space, and informed us about why the right lighting is so crucial when selling a home. 

Jasmine Sconces in a French Provincial style sun room.

Jasmine Sconces in a French Provincial style sun room.

Previews Inside Out First: how did you first get into lighting design?

Laura Lee DiPietro I started my lighting business in 1991, first doing art shows. Then I was introduced to the High Point Market furniture show in North Carolina, which led me to launch my career in the lighting business. I am a graduate of the Art Institute in Chicago and then went on to the Inchbald School of Design in London for interior design.

Previews Inside Out What’s your philosophy on lighting, in general?

Laura Lee DiPietro Like jewelry, the style and design of decorative lighting sends many messages about a project. For instance, a crystal chandelier or iron chandelier with crystal adornment is traditional, formal, and elegant. A deer antler chandelier is themed, semi-formal, and whimsical, and a glass and iron Italian chandelier and sconces are modern, formal, and hip. When it comes to making an architectural statement, lighting is to architecture as jewelry is to dress—it stands out and begs to be looked at first. But, like jewelry, there are design concepts that work best. 

Previews Inside Out What’s the secret to finding the right lighting for a space?

Laura Lee DiPietro A good rule of thumb for the correct location of decorative lighting is often driven by aesthetic expectations. It helps to use a traditional lighting plan as a starting point. Assume there will be a chandelier in the entry and over the dining room table, pendant lights over the breakfast table and kitchen island, sconces in hallways, and lamps in bedrooms. While it is acceptable to design a dining room without a chandelier, it gives the space a different feeling. The eye will be forced to seek other visual interest, such as an architectural detail, artwork, stemware, or table decorations. 

Previews Inside Out What’s the one mistake that you often see affluent homeowners make when it comes to lighting?

Laura Lee DiPietro Common mistakes that homeowners make involving decorative lighting include placing fixtures in inappropriate locations—often conflicting with other design elements in the room—or simply using too many or too few sources. Always remember that the key to good design is restraint! 

Previews Inside Out When you’re designing a space, do you typically start with lighting and design around that, or is every project different?

Laura Lee DiPietro When starting a project, I always take the architecture into consideration. Light is the most important factor in the appreciation and understanding of architecture; the relationship between light and architecture being grounded in the principles of physics, it is about energy and matter. The quality of lighting in a space defines its character and creates impressions.

I believe lighting has an essential effect on the aesthetics of any room, affecting our perceptions of ourselves, our surroundings, and works of art in the space. It can also affect our moods and senses of well being. The right amount of lighting can make an ordinary space seem almost magical. 

Single Tier Adonis Chandelier.

Single Tier Adonis Chandelier.

Previews Inside Out What techniques do you use when selecting lighting for a particular room?

Laura Lee DiPietro Choosing lighting for a room requires a balance of form and function. Lighting, as we know, is a great way to highlight features in a room; whether it is a painting, an antique, or a unique feature in your space, using lighting in the right way can add a finished and dramatic look to any room.

In a living room, lighting should be warm and able to be dimmed; there should be no brilliant points and instead the distribution of light should reveal textures, color, and balance the dark and clear areas. This atmosphere creates a comfortable impression that helps us to relax and enjoy the moment.  

Siena Lantern

Siena Lantern

Previews Inside Out What’s your advice for buying an antique chandelier or lighting fixture?

Laura Lee DiPietro Know the dealer, meaning: do your research. For example, if you are buying an Italian Murano chandelier, you want to make sure it is authentic. It’s important to have it appraised and authenticated by an expert.

Previews Inside Out In your opinion, how important is lighting when it comes to selling a home?

Laura Lee DiPietro Lighting is a key element when selling a home and should not be overlooked. The right light not only enhances the rooms’ features but can also make a room feel larger, more modern, elegant, and, ultimately, more inviting to potential buyers.


Lighting Essentials: Details to Know When Choosing Decorative Lighting

A well lit room enhances the mood of its occupants and showcases its design. Because of this, lighting is an essential part of any building or renovation project. Decorative lighting specifically contributes to the room by the light it gives off and also through its actual form. Read on for tips on choosing the right lighting for your home.

Photos: The Studio of Thomas Michna

Photos: The Studio of Thomas Michna

Time Frame

Deadlines have a way of creeping up on all of us! A bit of preparation, however, goes a long way in making your project run as smoothly as possible. A major factor to consider in regards to lighting is lead time. Will you be ordering custom or hand crafted fixtures?  Each manufacturer is different, but at Laura Lee Designs we typically ship within 8 weeks of order placement for standard fixtures and 10 weeks for custom fixtures.


If your chandelier will be hung over a dining table, a great general guideline is to set the diameter at 1/2 to 2/3 the width of the table. We suggest leaving 30” – 36” between the bottom of the fixture and the table. 

If your chandelier will be the focal point of the room, try using this quick equation to calculate the ideal fixture size: Add your room dimensions together use the sum in inches to dictate the diameter of the light. For example, an 18’ x 20’ room will equal 38. The sum (in this case 38) should be the approximate diameter of your fixture. Keep in mind that people will be walking under your lighting, so you will want the bottom of the fixture to be at least 7' from the floor.

Extra large outdoor entry lantern hung flush with the doorway.

Extra large outdoor entry lantern hung flush with the doorway.

In regards to sconces, there are 2 measurements to consider. The first is the projection of the fixture, meaning how far it extends from the wall. Narrow passages and smaller spaces might require a sconce with a slimmer profile, whereas spaces with light foot traffic could accommodate a larger projection. Our second suggestion is to consider the sconces distance from the floor. 60” is a good general guideline, but again, this can vary from room to room. Try using a cardboard placeholder before installing the sconce to ensure it is placed at your ideal height.

One service we offer to ensure your fixture is exactly what you envision is CAD drawing. These technical computer renderings are a great way to get a sense of the size and profile of the fixture, especially if you are electing to go the custom route. They also provide electricians, designers, and builders with information that will make the installation process a little more worry free.

Bulbs & Wattage

Will your fixtures provide task lighting or ambiance lighting? Appropriate bulbs can make a vast difference depending on your fixture’s intended use.

Will your kitchen include downlights? Will your entry chandelier be accompanied by sconces to add an extra wash of light to the space? If so, soft, low wattage candelabra bulbs or warm Edison-style bulbs could work perfectly.

Will your fixture be installed in an expansive space or do double duty as task lighting? Perhaps a higher wattage bulb would suit best.

Is environmental sustainability and the cost of your electric bill a concern? LED would be an excellent choice. Today’s LED bulbs come in a range of options and so closely resemble incandescent that it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference!


Bringing In a Professional

Some projects can be too complex to untangle on our own. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your lighting design dilemma or worried about how your decorative lighting will interact with other lighting elements in your home, we suggest bringing a professional on board to help. Interior designers know how to make the best use of light, helping you maximize your enjoyment of your home. Houzz is a great starting place when searching for a home design professional. Here at Laura Lee Designs, we also offer lighting design services, including in-home consultations in the Southern California area. We would love to help you with your next project! 

5 Ways to Achieve a Mediterranean Look

Mediterranean style is a perennial favorite in design and architecture and it's easy to see why. Read on for tips to achieve this particular brand of casual elegance. 

Tile details

Originally hailing from countries like Spain and Portugal, tile work is a hallmark of this design. This colorful detail can lend a unique and historic sensibility to any interior. Tiled fireplaces, back splashes, windowsills and staircases are just some of the ways Mediterranean patterned tiles can be used in the home. This element specifically is widespread in Spanish Revival homes throughout Southern California and the American West.


Color Palette

Think sea, sky and rich earth! Taking color cues from nature is a great way to give your home an authentically Mediterranean feel. Rich hues of tans or creamy beige are a wonderful start. Try pairing these neutral tones with pops of red, lavender or yellow for a livelier feel.  


Photo:  Houzz.com

Photo: Houzz.com

Decorative Wrought Iron Lighting and Accents

We would be amiss not to include wrought iron on this list! Iron chandeliers are often the focal point of a Mediterranean style room and candle style wall sconces offer the perfect accents. Wrought iron window grilles and balcony railings are a great way to bring the feeling of the Mediterranean to the exterior.


Photo: James Glover

Photo: James Glover

Wall Texture

Stucco exterior walls are essential for creating a Mediterranean feel. Mottling and color are two ways to play with either a more old-world or contemporary look. There are a world of possibilities out there and tons of professionals to help you get the job done! One of our favorite resources is Houzz.com. The site makes it easy to find highly-rated professionals in any area.

Indoors, it’s all about plaster! Mixing texture with the right colors will absolutely transform the room into Mediterranean style retreat. Wall treatments are one of the best places in the home to get creative.


Photo:  Houzz.com

Photo: Houzz.com


Terracotta roofing is one of the first things that come to mind when envisioning a classic, Mediterranean style home. This Spanish Revival style home in Carmel, California is a great example of this particular type of roofing. While this is certainly one of the most quintessential parts of the design, the look can also be achieved by bring terracotta indoors through flooring. Try the tile in a kitchen or entryway to get that earthy, rustic look. 

A Bright Moment: Home Tour

By Alyson Baumach 

When a lighting designer becomes the owner of a Victorian inspiration near Carbondale, she illuminates the home with a blend of European sophistication and casual charm.

All it took was one visit. She was instantly enamored. The sweeping views from Independence Pass to the Flattops. The end-of-the-road privacy. The majestic Victorian-inspired estate, about 30 miles outside of Aspen, seemed almost tailor-made for her large extended family. 

"The bones were fantastic," remembers Laura Lee DiPietro, whose namesake firm Laura Lee Designs has supplied custom hand-made lighting to some of the nation's most beautiful homes since 1991. "The scale was perfect for entertaining family and friends. We could easily fit 14 to 16 people in the house at one time and be comfortable. Everything about it -- from the top-of-the-hill setting to the views -- struck my fancy. I live in L.A., and I didn't want to have an address in Aspen. I wanted something completely rural and pastoral." 

Inspired by the panoramas and the ever-present views of Mt. Sopris, DiPietro and her husband, Dario, purchased the 9,132-square-foot house on the hill and immediately embarked on a globally inspired refresh. Because the scope of the remodeling project was so large, the DiPietros worked in stages. Ironically, their first order of business was not the lighting, and not even the interiors. Rather, they turned their focus to the home's exterior, updating the siding, roof and decks. Once inside, they tackled the main living areas first. 

"There was wallpaper everywhere," DiPietro recalls. "The whole house was rendered in this shocking pink. We removed the wallpaper in many rooms, along with the carpets. I chose to leave the wallpaper in some rooms, like the white canopy bedroom, for example. The wallpaper gave it a romantic feel. For the rest, I just worked around it. We ended up liking it!"

A kitchen makeover was an "absolute must," says DiPietro, who added Viking appliances and new cabinetry that blended with the existing cabinetry. Naturally, she eventually changed out the lighting in the entire house, including a unique antique antler chandelier in the foyer and a whimsical chandelier in the master bedroom with curving wrought iron arms. 

"Being a lighting designer, I chose lights that I thought would fit the house best," she says of her design process, which often unfolds organically. "I added a few antique fixtures befitting the house and then the rest of the house is filled with our line of lighting from Laura Lee Designs. I used quite a few of our hand-blown Italian fixtures that we design in Venice, Italy in the living room to give the space a warm glow. All of the other lighting in the house was carefully chosen, depending on size and the style of the room. When working on design projects and Laura Lee Designs has been specified, it is essential that there is a flow with style and finishes to complete any room. Lighting is an essential component to any successful design project."

Taking cues from old European country houses, DiPietro thoughtfully layered art, rugs and Italian antiques from estate sales with her own lighting and over-sized furniture to give it a worn-in "comfortable" feeling without sacrificing refinement. DiPietro, who spends a lot of time in London and finds aesthetic inspiration through her travels, "pulled items together from everywhere," she says. The result is an eclectic collection of old and new, an evolving and thoughtfully pieced-together assemblage, curated over the DiPietros' five-year Colorado residency. The effect also subtly pays tribute to the Victorian style, which often mixed interpretations and revivals of historic styles with Middle Eastern and Asian influences.

"I wanted each room to have a look of permanence, a depth of feeling," says DiPietro. "I tried to create rooms that are timeless yet livable, grand yet friendly. I believe decorating is creating an interior that appears 'undecorated.' Layering gives you that lived-in forever feeling."

The lived-in feeling applies to the open floor plan. Designed for entertaining, the large kitchen opens to grand public spaces featuring views of the Elk Range through the solarium windonws. There's also a theater for viewing movies together on the big screen, complete with wet bar and wine room. The sumptuous en suite bedrooms each have their own style. The master suite, with its tufted headboard, fireplace and ornate chandelier, oozes romance. The kids' bedroom has a touch of whimsy. The room with a white canopy bed offers both romance and sex appeal with its unexpected chintz-meets-leopard-print ambiance. 

"There is this feeling of a grand country house with room for guest to read or relax in privacy, and then we can all come together for meals," says DiPietro. "Everyone has his or her own space. It could almost be a bed and breakfast."

"It's a rural lifestyle, with views and privacy that can't be beat," she says. "You have this feeling of being away from the madding crowd, yet the propertry is just 45 minutes from the valley floor, all of the restaurants and shops in Aspen and several ski areas."

For DiPietro, it's the quiet, rural setting that is most awe inspiring. Her favorite moments in the Victorian retreat are often captured from her window: the sight of a deer meandering along the hillside or a rabbit bouncing through the shrubs. The beauty of nature is omnipresent. One visit, and you'll see.

Originally published in SOURCEBOOK