Aesthetically, lighting can be used to create the desired mood through its intensity and color. Photo: Global Views
Think of lighting from two aspects—functional and aesthetic. Photo: C.R. Laine
The most important factor to consider when designing the lighting in a space is the people who will occupy it. What is the space going to be used for? Photo: Nova
Shade of Light
The key to a great design is a balance of task, accent and general lighting. An evenly lit room is boring—variations in brightness, highlight, and shadow provide visual relief to the viewer.
Light Up Your Life (or at Least Your Rooms)
Simple, effective ways to use lighting in your home.
- by Trisha Kemerly
Proper lighting is a key element in successful interior decorating because it helps you set the mood and define the activities of a room.
“Lighting is extremely important because it can really change the ambiance in an entire space,” says designer and retailer Leeanne Heininger, owner of Fringe Home Design in Oak Park, Ill. “A combination of ceiling fixtures, sconces, lamps, up-lighting behind plants or torchiere lamps can really highlight and create visual interest in the various features in your room.”
Form and Function
Think of lighting from two aspects—functional and aesthetic. Functionally, home lighting needs to provide the correct type of light in sufficient quantity for the intended purpose. Aesthetically, lighting can be used to create the desired mood through its intensity and color.
“The number one thing I use lighting for is to create ambiance,” says Sharon Hess, lead designer at Ask Design Center. “Beyond functionality, you want a well-lit room that has light dispersed throughout, and ultimately you want to be able to control the type and brightness of the light in the room.”
There are four basic types of residential interior lighting:
- Ambient or general lighting—these are the typical overhead lights that illuminate the whole room. Certain wall sconces may be another example.
- Task lighting—helps you perform the task at hand, such as reading, cooking, shaving, etc. Task lighting should be glare-free, and it should make things easy to see without straining your eyes. “Lamps are great task lighting for reading because they help you see and focus on the words more easily than a ceiling fixture would,” says Heininger.
- Accent lighting—used to illuminate a sculpture, plant, piece of art, or architectural element in a room. Accent lighting is about three times as bright as ambient lighting. “You always want to have accent lights to highlight significant pieces of artwork or unique sections of the room,” she adds. “Manufacturers even sell little battery-operated lighting pieces that highlight art so there are no cords to mess with, and they add a very professional look to your displays.”
- Natural lighting—comes through windows, doors, and skylights. Depending on the time of day, season, or weather, it can vary in brightness and intensity.
An evenly lit room is boring—variations in brightness, highlight, and shadow provide visual relief to the viewer. Too much contrast, however, can destroy the interior design. The key to a great design is a balance of task, accent, and general lighting.
Do a little planning before you purchase your home lighting fixtures. Don’t be afraid to use multiple types of interior lighting in a room, advises Leeann.
The most important factor to consider when designing the lighting in a space is the people who will occupy it. What is the space going to be used for? Working? Viewing? Circulating? Lounging? Consider what people will be doing in the space. Will it be used to cook, study, or eat? Also, consider the quantity and quality of light needed to perform tasks, the architecture, and the décor.
“A good rule of thumb is that you want three corners of the room lit. You don’t want a lot of shadows, although a few will help to create a dynamic, but you want to avoid any eyestrain or glare,” Sharon says.
For additional flexibility with your overhead or other ambient lighting, Heininger suggests installing a dimmer in your bigger rooms so you can adjust the brightness as needed.
“I prefer to install dimmers on all switches for better control, and dimmers help to get just the right amount of lighting to create a harmonious and soothing space,” agrees Hess. “Overall though, a combination of different types of lighting will give you the best results and the highest impact.”
Lighting can also be helpful in making a room look larger or smaller. For example, if a room seems too narrow, then wash one wall with light to visually expand it. If a ceiling is high, but you want the room to have a more intimate and cozy feel, don't allow much light to escape beyond the height of the light/lamp shade.
Here are a few suggestions for lighting various rooms in your home:
- Family rooms: Place a lamp behind every reader's shoulder—about 42 inches above the floor. Highlight a framed piece of art with halogen track lighting or by attaching a picture light. Install recessed lighting as your general lighting or to bring out beautiful wall textures (try a dimmer as well).
- Bedrooms: Place table lamps on your bedside tables, but avoid halogen lamps (which can get very hot) in children’s rooms. Don't forget candlelight if a romantic setting is what you have in mind.
- Kitchens: A grid of recessed ceiling cans will provide great general lighting, and under-cabinet lights make excellent task lighting.
- Dining rooms: A chandelier over the dining room table creates a beautiful setting (use a dimmer); however, if a chandelier is not your taste and you have a long table, try a trio of pendant lights.
- Bathrooms: Use shadow-free fluorescent or incandescent lights around mirrors for grooming. And don't forget a nightlight.