Michael Sestak does more than light up a room.
The lighting designer transforms space with artful use of LEDs and other energy-efficient breakthroughs. He has 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 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 different places in 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 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."
Sestak's own house in Carmichael, Calif., 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 a pastry chef.
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 'aha' 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."
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."
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."