How To Create The Best Lighting Solutions For Your Home
Creating the best lighting solutions for your home will not happen by accident.
BUT…armed with a little information, forethought AND a plan, it’s easier than you think. You have come to the right place for everything you need to know to achieve the best lighting solutions for your entire home.
home, Be it ever so humble…
A great lighting plan will make your home feel more comfortable, be more efficient and look TERRIFIC.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but an “ugly” room almost always turns out to be poorly lit.
Don’t make these bad lighting decisions
Most of us, for lack of a better experience, under-light our homes with too few light sources, or worse…
“Over-lighting” with the same too few light sources at very high wattage will give you more light, no doubt. It’s a default fix to create brightness in a room.
Unfortunately, this solution is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. Very bright lighting is very unpleasant.
This isn’t to say high wattage bulbs don’t have a place or use. Outdoor patios come to mind. Or, you might have a task that requires the brightest light possible to discern all the details. Hopefully you won’t need the light on high alert for very long.
The main point is that high wattage bulbs aren’t a universally great solution for your lighting needs. Along with the already referenced problem of too few light sources, you really can’t create a lighting plan that will function for comfort, efficiency and beauty.
How much lighting do you need?
Notice the emphasis made on “too few light sources”. The key to creating a wonderful home is to ask what you would need to improve any situation in terms of comfort, utility and beauty. The actual number of additional fixtures needed for a better lighting experience is well worth the investment. This is a case where less is definitely not more.
It’s a common (default?) assumption that just one light source, usually an overhead light, is sufficient for lighting any room. Sooooo not true! The very best lighting solutions are based layering different lighting types.
A strong harsh light anywhere or nearly dark corners in any room is NEVER going to feel like HOME.
How to create well balanced lighting solutions
Some types of lighting are typical in certain rooms for a reason. It’s because they are the tried, true and best solutions for the function and aesthetics of those rooms.
Types of lighting sources can be broken down to three main categories. Using all three in some combination will give the most successful results.
- Ambient lighting is general or background lighting. It could come from overhead lights, standing floor lamps, table lamps, wall lights or indirectly from behind a valance, torchieres or screens.
- Task lighting is what it sounds like. Some examples are the table lamp you use when you read, counter lighting in the kitchen, or spotlights above work surfaces. It should provide sufficient lighting for the job at hand and will also contribute to the general ambient lighting in the room.
- Accent or decorative lighting calls attention to possessions or vignettes. It adds a touch of drama too. This category includes wall washers, spotlights, track lights, up-lights, down-lights, picture lights, candlelight and even firelight. Some of these types of fixtures can also be used to create interesting pools of light and shadow elsewhere in the room.
For unexpected interest and delight, try using small canister lights in hidden places. For example, place one on the floor behind a big indoor tree. The play of shadows on the wall is wonderful and interesting.
These categories are general. Most lighting sources will be multipurpose when used in the same room.
A rule of thumb for background lighting
It should be strong enough to avoid a huge contrast between it and bright task lighting. You don’t want an effect similar to a street lamp on a dark night.
By the way, nobody looks great under strong ceiling light. Too many shadows on your face is never a good look.
Keep the overhead lights to a minimum. Use only what you need to do the intended job.
If you have ceiling fixtures
They are best used to provide the soft, low, all over glow of ambient light as a base line only.
Yes, the standard light-bulb-with-frosted-glass fixture-in-the-middle-of-the-ceiling is utilitarian, but rarely attractive. Convert the overheads to recessed, track and/or chandeliers where possible. You will be happier with the range of lighting options these other fixtures can provide.
Better and more attractive is definitely a win/win
By and large, the only kind of overhead lighting that actually looks good is a chandelier or a sizable pendant. It also doubles as a specific visual statement and effortlessly contributes to the overall Wow Factor of any room.
Track lighting is versatile and will offer multiple lighting solutions
It can provide background, task and/or accent lighting. AND it can work with any décor. In terms of an overall lighting solution, it’s akin to one-stop-shopping if you have the right wiring.
Unfortunately, the ceiling outlet can usually only be used where it’s installed. It can’t be moved because of the way the ceiling is constructed. Just ask any contractor.
In this case, consider cord covers. Painted out the same color as ceiling color, they can be used to “carry over” the wiring unobtrusively to where you want it. Or sometimes “swagging” the chain for pendant/chandelier lighting will serve as well.
Individual track lights can be focused independently
- On a workspace for task lighting.
- For accent and/or decorative lighting. It was originally designed as museum lighting, so it’s perfect for focusing on a piece of art, a flower arrangement, or an interesting table arrangement.
- For different uses on the same track, point according. If you don’t have a particular item to highlight, turn the cans towards the wall and lower the light with a dimmer to create soft ambient light.
just be mindful of where the shadows fall, or you’ll be living/working in the dark, again.
If you already have track lighting
Be sure to replace those bulky old cans, with tiny MR16 halogens. These are unobtrusive even with multiple sockets on the track. They are more energy efficient too.
Classic lighting solutions for every room of your home
Good lighting design starts with identifying all the things you would like to do in any given room. What kind of lighting would add to your comfort and convenience? Consider how you might use different lights, at different times, in the same area. It’s amazing how fast you can change the mood and use of any given area with a flick of a switch.
This is where the notion of “magic in the logic of design” begins to take hold.
living room lighting solutions
Even if this isn’t an especially large area in your home, it’s called the Living Room for a reason. The term LIVING ROOM is a bit of a misnomer these days. LIVING FAMILY ROOM might be more accurate. In studios, the LIFE ROOM rings a bell. The point is, this room, whatever you call it, is where we relax, entertain, binge watch anything, eat, etc. We do the most stuff HERE.
Because THIS ROOM, is central to the way we live, it’s a good place to lay out what lighting solutions could be used in different areas for best effect.
start by Planning ambient light sources
Think of this type lighting as a nice, warm, low level, all-over-room glow.
- Track or recessed lighting use throughout will insure against dark corners.
- An overhead fixture is a great additional lighting solution. Using one to center your main seating area looks spectacular. Over the coffee table usually works best. Don’t hang it lower than 7 ft. to avoid someone hitting their head.
Task lighting is multipurpose
As mentioned above, task lighting contributes to ambient lighting by default. BUT, if you only use your lamps with tasks in mind, without considering if there will be enough ambient lighting overflow, you might still have dark areas and corners.
This is the main reason why multiple light sources are important to build effective overall lighting solutions, even though they won’t all be switched on at the same time.
Bonus: Your Rooms Will Have A Much Warmer And Friendlier Feeling.
fine tuning the details
- Table/standing lights are task lighting and a MUST for a well lit living room.
- Is there a console, buffet or entertainment unit? Small lamps or sconces can be used to flank art work or a mirror to great effect.
- Are you reading in the dark? Your favorite reading chair needs a lamp beside it. So does your sofa. A pair of lamps, flanking your sofa will give you a balanced look as well as better lighting. As mentioned above, a high wattage bulb in a lamp is unpleasant, but inadequate lighting is simply pointless. Why cause eyestrain?
- As a baseline, good reading light is around 60-75 watts.
- Everywhere else, when several fixtures will be used at the same time, then 40 watts per lamp is sufficient.
- It’s smart to put your light sources on dimmers where possible too. They are cheap and easy to install.
Accent/decorative lighting for “special anything”
This could include not only possessions, but also vignettes, artwork, flower arrangements, etc. A little well placed “drama” adds a lot of interest without a lot of fuss.
Highlighting your favorite things and vignettes is a wonderful way to personalize your home.
Think of it as your own “special Sauce” in high relief.
ENTRYWAY lighting solutions
Coming home, only to walk into a dark room, is not a welcoming experience. The most obvious solution is a pendant light or chandelier overhead. But don’t stop there. Having alternate lighting options in addition to the overhead fixture are great.
- It’s very useful (assuming you have room) to use a small table or even just a bench to set down the things you carried in with you. Use a mirror or hang art over the table, with a pair of sconces or small lamps.
- Equally, a place to sit and remove your boots and/or shoes is very convenient.
These small gestures will add a great deal to your sense of comfort.
Modern living means that the way we use our rooms is fluid
- Your dining room might also be in your library.
- Your office is located either in the bedroom or living room.
- Your office could even be in a closet.…still, let there be sufficient lighting.
- Your living room is every room...AKA a studio apartment
Regardless of how your rooms are used, the main points about ambient, task and accent lighting still apply…with a little more focus on task lighting where needed.
Dining Room/Library lighting solutions
- Use a large pendant or chandelier centered over your table, of course. It should hang roughly 34″ from the top of the table.
- As in the living room, use pairs of lamps or sconces for your buffet or any other case piece in the room.
BEDROOM lighting solutions
- You will want a main, overhead light source, recessed or otherwise, but in here, the overhead is best as a quick full lighting option. Install a dimmer anyway for the ambient option.
- Bedrooms always look and feel best with table lamps on nightstands and dressers. Standing floor lamps are great behind corner chairs.
- Don’t forget to light your closet. Fumbling around for that favorite shirt is a waste of time when you could just flip a switch.
Office lighting solutions
- Start with ambient lighting as usual, either recessed or from a main, overhead source.
- Use floor lamps as additional ambient light for dark corners as needed. Table or floor lamps are both ambient and task lighting for seating areas.
- A desk lamp specifically task oriented in your main work area.
What about all those lighting wires and cords?
Here are a few ideas.
- Tape a single cord to the back or underside of a piece of furniture against a wall.
- Snake the cords under area rugs where possible.
- Plastic cord covers are available that can be painted the wall color.
- If you have a mess of spaghetti-like cords, use cord-control kits. This is a mess you can master.
Can you have too many lighting fixtures?
It’s unlikely you would have all of the fixtures switched on at the same time. BUT…If you put the light sources in the recommended places…
You’ll be ready to…
- Set the mood as you set your table.
- Stage your living room for optimum comfort to watch your favorite shows.
- Curl up with a great book and good reading light
- Light up for a party with your friends.
these are the small layers of lighting that add up to creating a comfortable, versatile and beautiful home.
Kitchens have special lighting needs
Lighting a kitchen adequately, let alone well, is complex.
- Using recessed lighting where possible is a given.
- Areas where you might eat, dining table or kitchen island are best served by hanging pendants or chandeliers.
- Strip lighting under the cabinets are a huge help. You don’t want dark shadowed places in kitchens.
- Extra lights above the sink and the stove are great additions.
Bathroom lighting solutions
Recessed ceiling lighting is standard. But to be honest, that fixture above the medicine cabinet is rarely great.
- A better looking idea might be sconces or long lighted rectangles at the sides of the mirror. It depends on how much light you need for shaving or make-up…or both…
- A light source above the tub is very nice.
- It’s particularly nice to have a light in the shower when separate from the tub. No sense soaping up in the dark!
I love small chandeliers in bathrooms. they add a little luxe along with a sense of humor.
A sophisticated, well-designed lighting scheme looks as if an artist painted with light.
The peaks and valleys of light and shadow give the illusion of movement which defines a real “living space”.
Great lighting solutions can be more effective than any other single factor for increasing a sense of overall satisfaction in your home.
Go For It!
Over To You!
I’d love to know what you think. Was there a tip that was especially helpful? Hopefully, you found a little inspiration and maybe even resolved a long standing quandary brilliantly!
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about the author
Cindy Bergersen is a professional design consultant turned full time writer about home design: what is it, how it works and how to make it work for anyone.
Drawing on her years of private design consultation and experience working with the public to help retail clients solve their design dilemmas as well as writing about home design for various publication, she has become know as a “Home Design Professor”. She is both passionate and committed to sharing her experience and knowledge to help anyone, to help themselves to a beautiful, comfortable home, without feeling confusion or overwhelm about where to start and how to proceed.
She lives in New York City with Olivia, The Cat. When not writing for the Library, she can be found cycling though Central, Riverside and Hudson River Parks, watching way too much film, or curled up on the sofa with a good book.