Creating the best lighting solutions for your home will not happen by accident. You can easily arm yourself with a little information, forethought AND a plan. You have come to the right place for everything you need to know to achieve the best lighting solutions for your entire 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 lighted.
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 with them.
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 on 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. 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. The table lamps for reading, counter lights in the kitchen or spotlights above work surfaces are good examples. Task lighting should be sufficient for the job at hand. It contributes 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. These types of fixtures can sometimes 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. Try placing one on the floor behind a big indoor tree. The play of shadows on the wall is wonderful and interesting.
These categories are general. Used in the same room, lighting sources are automatically multipurpose.
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.
Let’s be honest. The standard light-bulb-with-frosted-glass fixture-in-the-middle-of-the-ceiling is utilitarian. It is 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. These fixtures provide beautiful lighting solutions and double as specific visual statements that effortlessly contribute 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 work with any décor. Track lighting is like one-stop-shopping for a total lighting solution.
There’s a catch, however. The ceiling outlet can usually only be used where it’s installed, because of the way ceilings are constructed. Just ask any contractor.
If this is the 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. Originally designed as museum lighting, 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
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.
THIS ROOM is central to the way we live. It’s a good idea to plan in advance a variety of lighting solutions that 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 the fixture lower than 7 ft. from the ground. Otherwise, you run the risk of someone hitting their head.
Task lighting is multipurpose
As mentioned above, task lighting contributes to ambient lighting by default. Don’t forget to notice if there will be enough “ambient lighting overflow” to minimize any dark areas and corners in your rooms.
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 lighted 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. Flanking your sofa with a pair of lamps will give you a balanced look as well as better lighting.
- A too high wattage bulb is unpleasant but inadequate lighting is simply pointless. Why cause eyestrain?
- As a baseline, good reading light is around 60-75 watts.
- When several fixtures will be used at the same time, 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”
“Anything special” could include possessions, 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.
Adding additional lighting options, along with the overhead fixture, can make coming home much more pleasant.
- 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.
- For extra convenience, have a place to sit and remove your boots and/or shoes.
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 can be in your library.
- Your office can be in the bedroom or living room.
- Your office could even be in a closet.…with sufficient lighting, please.
- 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
- Using a large pendant or chandelier centered over your table is a classic solution. 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
- Use a main, overhead light source. It can be recessed or otherwise. 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. It’s a waste of time to fumble around in the dark for that favorite shirt. You could just flip a switch.
Office lighting solutions
- Plan your ambient lighting first. Recessed or from a main, overhead source are good options.
- Use standing floor lamps as additional ambient light for dark corners as needed.
- Table or floor lamps provide ambient and task lighting.
- A task oriented desk lamp is the best choice 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 not likely 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 good book and great 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 the 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 an overhead light in the shower too. 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 to increase 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!
are there other topics you might be interested in?
Setting out to create the best version of beautiful home design, tailored especially for you, has a lot of potential questions built in. Please let me know. I’m here to help.
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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.
Nearly 30 years experience as a design consultant to private clients in addition to consulting with clients for well known, high end furniture retailers proved to be invaluable training.
In 2010, Decoding Decor won a $1000 cash prize as one of four editors top pick for best content from Demand Media, the largest media content aggregate in the country, with access to over 45 million articles.
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.