Michael Sestak does more than light up a room.
The Sacramento lighting designer transforms space with artful use of LEDs and other energy-efficient breakthroughs. He's helped many clients see their homes or businesses in a whole different way.
"You want to make it magic," Sestak said. "You don't want to see the wires or the glare of bulbs. Lighting is supposed to illuminate space. It's all about placement. That affects what you see and how you see it."
And with LEDs, there are a lot more options on where those lights can go.
LEDs light-emitting diodes are coming into their own, pushed by both industry innovation and recent federal mandates to develop energy-saving alternatives to traditional incandescent bulbs.
The nationwide switch to more efficient lighting not only saves electricity, it offers opportunities to put lighting in very different places in very different ways.
"The technology behind lighting is different, but we still see it as light," Sestak said. "We've also become increasingly aware of the cost (of lighting) when we open our electric bill."
Energy costs have everyone paying more attention to lighting options. While more expensive to install, LEDs can save a lot of money over their very long lifetimes.
"The LED market virtually exploded the last five years," Sestak said. "The whole industry readjusted in such a short time. But that also meant that designers had to adjust. There's so much to learn what's a driver? What's a chip? But it just gives us so many more options to pull from our toolbox."
In Sacramento, Sestak has worked on many unusual and varied lighting projects. He created the dramatic lighting for Badlands night club (with a rainbow of colorful LED effects) as well as lighting of historical artwork in the Sutter Club library. His lighting helps the L Street Lofts stand out at night and underlines the distinction of the Governor's Mansion.
Sestak's own Carmichael home, which he shares with former legislator Dennis Mangers, is a prime example of what can be done with LEDs. For example, the path to the pool and outdoor bar is lit with 25 in-ground LED fixtures that can put on a colorful light show.
More LEDs turn glass plates into a fanciful sculpture. After dark, they make glass ornaments sparkle and the water in bubbling fountains glisten. These little lights make the nighttime garden come to life.
Indoors, LEDs work their electronic magic, too. In the living room, they offer pinpoint spotlights to accent paintings and sculpture. Tucked under cabinets, they brighten kitchen counters. Behind glass plates in the master bath, they seem to light mirrors from within.
Sestak uses other energy-saving options, too. Over the dinner table, halogen spotlights on a circular track create an unusual chandelier. The lights make ribbon-hung glass ornaments dazzle. At the same time, diners can still comfortably see their food, thanks to other lights focused at the table.
"In this chandelier, it catches the light instead of being illuminated from within," Sestak explained. "Other lights illuminate the center of the table like a little stage."
In his professional life, Sestak used to be focused on the food. He was the pastry chef at the Hyatt Regency.
His lighting business started with remodeling his home.
"Friends said, 'I like what you did; can you do that for us?' " Sestak recalled. "One thing led to another. I love learning. I became fascinated by what light does and how it works."
Both lighting and pastry offer outlets for creativity.
"That creative thread runs through me no matter the medium," he said. "I'll always find a way to be creative, whether it's sugar or electricity.
"I specialized in pastry because of the wow factor. Lighting is all show you want that ah-ha factor that you get with the right light in the right setting. It was a nice next step."
And science is at the root of both.
"Pastry is all chemistry; lighting is all about electricity," he said. "You've got to know wiring. It's a science, too."
Consumers also are learning more about the science of lighting.
LEDs continue to evolve along with their uses. So does their appeal and acceptance in the marketplace.
"We've seen tremendous growth in the LED category," said Alyssa Steele, an associate merchant at the Home Depot's national headquarters in Atlanta. "The retail prices have dropped, too. People are reaping the benefits of energy savings."
The Home Depot, the nation's leading light bulb retailer, stocks more than 100 bulb options in its stores, Steele said. So much choice can be confusing to consumers.
"For a hundred years, light bulbs basically stayed the same," she said. "We shopped for 60-watt light bulbs. But watts are a measure of energy consumption. Instead, look at lumens; that's a measurement of light."
LEDs offer a lot of lumens along with exceptionally long life and energy savings.
For example, Phillips recently introduced a 17-watt LED bulb that offers as much light as a 75-watt incandescent bulb.
"It's 1,100 lumens and gives 25,000 hours of light," Steele said. "That's roughly 22.8 years in a typical table lamp.
"The easiest transition to make with LEDs are lights that are hard to reach, such as a ceiling fixture," she added. "You put one of these LED bulbs in and you'll never have to get the ladder out again."
Outdoor lighting holds its own challenges. Fixtures may not only be hard to reach, they can get wet. They're exposed to weather. Wiring can be nibbled by animals.
"I like the idea of expanding light into the backyard along with our living space," said Sestak, a licensed electrician as well as a designer. "But you're dealing with electricity. We love it, we live with it, but you need to know how to handle it safely."
After seeing other gardens transformed by his light touch, Dell Richards asked Sestak to solve her "backyard nightmare."
Every night, a city light in the alley behind her east Sacramento home cast a huge diagonal swath across her garden.
"It looked like something out of a 1930s horror film," she said. "When I saw what Michael could do, I asked him to come over. I thought he was going to have to talk to someone at the city to do something about that alley light.
"The light in the alley is still there, but you don't notice it now because everything else is beautifully lit from ground level," Richards added. "He totally changed the whole look of my garden."
Sestak picked out features to accent. An "uplight" focuses on the red bark of a eucalyptus. Another brings out the sparkling white trunks of birches. A low light at ground level creates a soft inviting mood and nullifies the old monstrous glare.
"It's just amazing what he did," Richards said. "And he never had to talk to the city about the alley light."
The use of LEDs makes the project easy to maintain, too.
"There's no bulb changing," Richards said. "That's a consideration. You don't want to be changing bulbs in your garden all the time."
Sestak sees lighting options continue to evolve along with the technology. That has his imagination working, too.
"To me, lighting is a labor of love," he said. "It's not just about being able to see, but about creating atmosphere and all that goes with that. And if you can dream it, someone can build it."