Mid-century modern spaces often get a bad rap for being cold, but Lee Ledbetter’s former Riverbend home is proof that doesn’t have to be the case.
Track lighting has a terrible reputation. Just saying the words can make people cringe, but Lee Ledbetter understands its potential. The veteran designer and architect is used to dissecting homes, looking at every aspect of a space to make it the place you never want to leave. (He’s literally written the book on it—The Art of Place, an anthology of his work, which is available for pre-order now.) And he’s learned that one of the most overlooked features in a home—that can make the biggest difference—is its lighting.
While he’s the first to admit that track lighting isn’t his favorite option, it wound up being a game-changer for the modernist house he and his partner lived in for years. The New Orleans home—located just eight miles from the French Quarter—immediately snagged his attention, with its pine ceilings and Philippine mahogany paneling. It was warm yet modern, with glass corners overlooking the garden, bringing a sense of the outdoors in.
There was no doubt it had great bones, which Lee took great pains to preserve, down to stripping the aforementioned paneling and matching it to the color of the wood found inside a dark closet, where sunlight hadn’t bleached it. But to truly make it a home, it needed the couple’s personality layered on top of that architecture. Specifically, it needed their art.
“We love collecting art, and we tend to move it around a lot, so we needed lighting that was adaptable,” Lee said. Though he preferred recessed lights, the mid-century modern house’s ceilings were designed in a way that he couldn’t add them without building light boxes on top of the roof. It would’ve been an eyesore from the outside, so Lee started searching for track lighting options, finding a bronze system that played up the warmth of the wood ceilings. It was discreet yet deliberate, setting the mood without competing with the existing architecture.
The look of the lights were one thing, but another crucial factor was the way they were set up. “I can’t tell you how many homes I’ve walked into where the recessed lighting is pointing straight down—it’s horrible,” Lee said. He suggests pointing it toward the walls, letting the light bounce off of them to cast a gentler glow throughout the room.
“I almost never use overhead lights,” he explained. “Nobody looks good, and it casts ugly shadows.”