Peter McCarthy Electric Co., Inc. - Specializing in Older Buildings in Chicago
Adventures in Old House Wiring....

Another 5 start Review on Yelp!

  • Another 5 star review on Yelp!
  • This job was a real pleasure to do, because the clients were sooo nice and because they so badly needed the lighting improved in their kitchen! They have a 1990s townhouse in Hyde Park, with a big kitchen. I would say 15x15 easily. The developer gave them one tiny little track light above the island to illuminate the most important room in the house. Cheap or dumb, you take your pick! Anyway, Cheryl contacted me by email originally with the most basic inquiry. "My kitchen is completely dark, what can I do?"  After some lengthy email exchanges (see below the review) we came up with a plan. WE were both quite pleased with the result!


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4/23/2012
I highly recommend Peter McCarthy if you are looking for a great electrician and professional business person.  We moved into our (Hyde Park area) home last summer, and I didn't know until fall and winter darkness came how horrible our kitchen lighting was!  I had heard many good things about Peter in the neighborhood, so I decided to check in with him.  After e-mailing him, Peter wrote back with an extremely helpful and detailed response describing what our possible options might be, explaining the basics, and offering to come by to take a look.  We had a few ideas, and Peter created a design for us.  We were very excited to get started!
When his crew came on the day of the job, they were very efficient and had things done quickly.  Everything was neat and you wouldn't even know work had been done.  Peter also directed us to a place to get a decorative piece (per our request-- we were not excited about the selection at Home Depot) and even got us a deal there.  Now that the kitchen is done, it all looks great!  Every time I turn on my lights I am SO happy not to be in a dark, shadowy room anymore.
Peter was very good about returning calls and e-mails and keeping on top of things.  I wish all home repairs/work were this smooth!  We will definitely call Peter gain should we need anything.

Emails:

Hi Cheryl;
I am starting to think about you place. It is a very, very blank canvass at this point. So a few Qs are in order. Please reply with the best answers you can at this point.
1. Have you seen anything anywhere that you like? In magazines, or other friends homes? If so what was it? Conversely, have you seen or lived with any type of lighting you hated?

There are 3 basic types of lighting:

1. General lighting:  The overall lighting in the room. That which is meant to make it not dark. Ambient lighting, overall lighting. In the old days, this was the one center light fixture in the room. In modern days, is usually the center light in a bedroom, the overhead light in a bathroom, and a combination of multiple fixtures in the kitchen.
Kitchen general lighting is achieved by a combination of artistic or aesthetically pleasing fixtures (the decor portion of it) installed and located in locations that create in total a sense that the room is well lit. That it is not dark, that you can see what you are doing easily and automatically, not having to think about it. That there are no significant shadows on you or the work areas. In an older, cheaper kitchen, someone could take out the previous center fixture and install a ceiling fan with 4 little stem lights on it. Often done, never works. Not enough light. Movement of air, yes, but dim. Other times folks will take out the center fixture and install big 2x4 florescent surface mounted fixtures. Sometimes one, sometimes more. Result? Lot
of light, dimness banished! But very ugly. Are you staring to get the picture? Good residential lighting design is a combination of type of fixtures that are decoratively and architecturally/aesthetically pleasing to the client, installed in sufficient quantity and locations that the whole space is amply lit, without seeming crowded or cluttered with lights or as if they were put in as an after thought. Enough fixtures that one center fixture does not end up burnt by years of abuse with two 100 or 150 watt bulbs in it, turning it into a de facto easy-bake oven, because it is the only fixture in a big dark room.

A very common type of general lighting for a kitchen is recessed lights, (can lights). They work well because you can space them in proper locations and they aim straight down. Shadows are not thrown to front or back. Each one can have large enough lamp that in total they make a well-lit room. They throw light down in a cone fashion so for each fixture the field of light overlaps with its neighbor fixture.  When done right, the whole area is well-lit, and the source of "where is the light coming from?" is not obvious. It is just there. When it is done right, we don't notice it, either by its presence or absence. It just seems normal and natural. Tracks do not do this very well.

Recessed cans have a multitude of trim styles that can be installed to meet your preferences. They come in 6", 5" or 4" openings (the size of the round hole you see from below. The 6" is the old standard that you see all over. They are not as fashionable as the 5" these days. They seem too big or out of proportion I think. Better for a basement rec room than a kitchen. But Ok, I guess. The 4" are out there as well, but they are too small to use as general lighting. They can be installed in specific locations to highlight or frame a smaller area where larger ones would seem out of proportion. But they definitely do not work as stand along general lighting.
Tracks do not work that well as general lighting. Mostly, they are ugly and dated. Keep in mind, the issue with tracks is usually with the heads, not the "track" per se. There are places where tracks are both attractive and useful. Think a long hall in
Hyde Park railroad apartment. Track lighting is excellent there because for very little damage to existing ceilings, it can run down the center and track heads can be aimed in any direction to highlight the artwork or family pictures. The deal there is that the hall is narrow. Maybe 5 feet wide. Lights aimed at the wall are also sufficient for the overall general lighting because the light hits the wall and reflects off it as well, resulting in sufficient light for the hall, where you are not working but walking through. Not the same at all in an open space like the kitchen.

A common issue with tracks is the heads. A 20 year-old, huge cumbersome head will look like crap wherever it is used. There are nice looking heads that work well with track when it is installed in place where it fits in and works proportionately. They make numerous pendant type fixtures that can hang off tracks (Think the lovely orangish/dark reddish fixtures that often hang in the window at a Starbucks, or over the tables in coffeehouses. Or over islands in fancy kitchens. Often they will install 2 or 3 of these over an island or peninsula in a modern kitchen. These type of fixtures can be installed easily in a new construction kitchen by locating junction boxes in the ceiling wherever you will want them. But in a rehab, especially a vintage plaster building where the ceilings or walls are not being gutted, the advantage of a track is that it only requires the ceiling to be cut and broken in one location to give it power. Then the track sits on the surface, and it can be run in either direction and over as many locations as you wish to have hanging lights.

2. Task lighting. This is light for specific tasks and uses, not meant to light the whole room. In kitchens, this is almost always under-cabinet lighting. They light the counter surfaces for optimal functionality. They take the form of either florescent strip fixtures or round halogen "puck" lights. There are a lot of choices with pros and cons to each.  I like the idea of these lights, but am somewhat disappointed in the lack of durability in the products themselves. I am resigned to it. Most florescent under-cabs will require repair in 2-3 years. Most round puck lights will burn through bulbs pretty frequently. That sucks and is embarrassing to me as an electrician. But ask around your friends and relatives who own homes. I think it is a result of our societal desire to have manufactured products as cheap as possible, made in China
under loose specs, ect. Soapbox is coming out here. But this kind of lighting does have a nice utility, even though its high maintenance.

3. Decorative lighting. While you don’t want any "un-decorative" (ugly) lighting, this term means light fixtures that are installed to serve primarily the purpose of decoration by way of light. It is highlighting art on the wall or the 3 lovely cone shaped lights hanging over the island. These are there for looks and they help make it easier to see things, but they can not carry the load of general lighting. You don't find too much of this in an average kitchen. Sometimes you will have puck lights cut into cabinets that are fancy and have gorgeous crystal in them. They usually have glass doors so that you can behold the lovely items from outside the cabinets. Sometimes folks will have indirect strip or florescent lights mounted on the top of the cabinets, pointed up and not visible. They provide a nice glow if you have the design of cabinets that do not go all the way up to ceiling. That's mostly it.
So that's a jumping off point. Recessed lights, either alone or in combination with a pendant light (hanging over a table, usually smaller) if you have one in the kitchen is a good set up. Pendants can hang for decoration and ambiance over islands or peninsulas as described above. A ceiling fan can be nice to move the air, but one with a light kit is not a good choice in my mind. The dinky little lights that attach to it are not enough for general lighting, and look kind of chincy. (sp?)  In a real low budget place, where you have only that one existing center light location and you want a fan but can't loose the light, it is an adequate choice. But your place will surely be more elegant than that.

If you are opposed to recessed lighting on principle, (everyone has their own particular taste and style,) the kitchen could be lit with stand-alone fixtures, either the surface mounted or pendent type. But that would be a highly individualized configuration, and would require some good long study and inquiry into fixture preference and light/brightness options. Everything is possible. Some is more costly and also more intrusive than others, some is less flexible.

So your New Year is off to a good start. I encourage you to start looking intently in the outside world at the kitchen lighting you encounter. I would say both look at and ask your friends and relatives.  Often we don't look hard at these things until we have a reason to. I would say ask your colleagues and peers what they like or hate about the lights in their kitchen. It is valuable input. Nobody can think of everything on their own. I am a big believer in this. Also, I think seeing it in context in real life is more helpful than in a home depot or lighting store to start. That is just me. You can certainly look at specific types of fixtures, ect on websites, at lighting stores, ect. But I think that is more phase 2. First is thinking about in general, what do you like, hate, need, and want as far as broad strokes. Other issues of dimmers, low voltage vs. line voltage, "green" options, are all legitimate things to consider, especially where you feel strongly for or against. But for now, we are brainstorming the bigger picture.
Thank you much for your time. I look forward to working with you!

Peter



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