In older homes, the closet was usually designed as a very small room located in the bedrooms or in a hallway, usually by the front and/or back door. Its purpose was strictly to store clothing or other items that were not on display throughout the year. A single ceiling-mounted incandescent bulb of relatively low wattage usually provides illumination.

Most newer homes, and particularly new construction, have moved toward the walk-in closet and/or dresser, especially in bedrooms, as a more desirable alternative to the outdated clutter-collecting closet. If you’ve been shopping for new homes, I’m sure you’ll remember the positive feedback when the walk-in closet areas were discovered.

If you plan to include closets/dressing rooms in a remodel plan, there are a number of things to keep in mind. Many, if not most municipal codes have restrictions on the types of lighting that are allowed in an area designated as a closet (or any area where clothing is stored). These codes often include limitations on the lighting allowed in a dressing room where clothing is also stored. Without going into too much detail, codes generally prohibit exposed incandescent bulbs due to their potential fire hazard. Some codes even prohibit exposed compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Although your redevelopment plans will most likely be subject to review and approval by your local building department before a permit is issued, you may want to check with them regarding planned lighting in the areas we are discussing. .

Although not generally prohibited by code, a skylight or exterior window is generally not a good idea in an area where clothing is stored because natural light will fade clothing over time. If an exterior window is installed, be sure to include blinds to block the sun as part of the plan.

My main recommendation is to consider an alternative to true natural light in the form of full spectrum fluorescent lights. These fixtures were originally designed to be used as grow lights for indoor plants, but have evolved to the point where there is a wide variety of such lighting. This is due, in part, to the role they play in relieving some of the symptoms of what is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

People with SAD experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms during seasons of the year when natural sunlight is not available. A 5000 Kelvin fluorescent is not the best choice for a dressing room because it tends to cast a bluish-tinged light that doesn’t flatter your natural skin tones. The 3,500 Kelvin fluorescent provides a warmer light and provides the user with a light that will allow makeup to be applied that will look good in daylight or under incandescent bulbs.

While can-style recessed light fixtures can be attractive and stylish, there are some special considerations to keep in mind if you plan to use them. First, make sure the code allows them if the bulbs are not covered with a lens, and second, make sure the cans are fitted with directional wall washer trim that allows the light to illuminate the entire area with light instead of only what is directly under the accessory. You may find this specialty lighting more difficult to find and a bit more expensive than off-the-shelf fixtures, but the extra cost and trouble involved in finding it is well worth it.

Avoid any type of lighting that generates considerable heat. Consider using more lower wattage lights instead of just a few higher wattage ones. This will ensure more even lighting in the dressing room and/or dressing room and provide a softer overall appearance.

If you have a fairly large walk-in closet, consider installing surface-mounted directional lights in the ceiling above the area where clothes are hung. Another surface-mounted system should be used to illuminate the area in front of the vanity mirror to make applying makeup and dressing a shadow-free experience.

In closing, don’t let lighting in closets and dressers be an afterthought. Instead, pay as much attention to it as you do to the rest of your home’s lighting design.

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