Let There Be Light: A Beginner’s Guide to Indoor Lighting
Think of your home as a theatre stage. It can have everything a home needs to look the part: the right paint colors, the right furniture, the right appliances, etc. Everything could be exactly where you want it and look exactly how you think it should, but the thing that really ties the set together is the lighting. The right lighting ensures that each room sets the mood you want to convey and is properly set up for the activities that occur there.
There are two broad categories of indoor lighting: natural and artificial. Each creates its own unique effect, and each has its own set of rules. Most rooms in your home will include natural and artificial sources, so it’s important to factor both types into your plan.
Arguably the most beautiful type of lighting a home can utilize, natural lighting is also the hardest to control. It uses windows, skylights and other open designs to let natural sunlight into your rooms. It’s also subject to the whims of the weather, the time of day and the direction the home is facing.
Louise Procter, a writer for Natural Home Solutions in Australia, describes the benefits of natural lighting. “By flooding the home with natural light, you can dramatically reduce your electricity consumption. Energy efficient windows allow maximum light in, without causing heating or cooling issues, which means you can enjoy the benefits of cost saving without compromising the comfort of your home.” Major natural lighting changes can be made by altering the windows in a room, but subtle alterations can be added with the right curtains or shades.
Learning which direction your rooms’ windows are facing will help determine the type of natural lighting you’ll get throughout the day so you can plan for artificial lighting.
These rooms will be the darkest out of all the directions, so they require more attention when planning your artificial lighting. The type of light will also be “cooler,” so brightening the room requires adding warm colors to your decorating. Finally, this natural light will be soft and free from glare.
These rooms get bright, “cheerful” light in the morning, followed by a darker light similar to the north side for the rest of the day. Long shadows will be created during the switch between morning and afternoon. Designing for these rooms will involve planning for the natural sunlight early in the day and for the lack of it later on.
Widely considered the nicest side for natural sunlight, the south side of your house will have the brightest light during both the summer and winter months. This light will be warm and welcoming, so if possible, plan to have the rooms you spend the most time in facing this direction.
This side of the house can have a lot of hot, bright light during the summer months, so easily drawn curtains will help you regulate your home’s temperature. The light will also be brightest during the afternoon and can cause glare, so picture frames or your television will need to be placed strategically.
This category is far more flexible and customizable than natural lighting, and the right setup can be just as beautiful. According to Adam Watson, the head interior designer at Decorelo, “Good lighting improves your mood, the look of your home and quality of life.”
This is considered the most general type of indoor lighting and is usually placed on ceilings to light a room with a broad glow. However, floor lamps and recessed lighting can also be used to create this effect. The main idea here is that ambient lighting provides uniform illumination throughout the room. When lighting a room, this is where you want to start.
This type of lighting is all about utility. It’s what provides direct illumination for areas such as tables and your stove. The purpose of the room will play a big part in deciding what sort of task lighting you will need and where. Tina Carpenter from Juice Electrical Supplies describes task lighting as “lighting that is focused on assisting a particular function. For example, in your kitchen you might have countertop lights that allow you to see what you’re chopping. Reading lamps are also task lighting.” That’s where the name comes from: It’s the lighting you use to aid in “tasks.”
Accent or Object Lighting
Similar to task lighting, accent lighting is all about adding light to only a specific portion of the room. However, this category is less about functionality and more about adding artistic touches. According to Carpenter, this is for “highlighting particular areas of the room for aesthetic purposes. You might have paintings or photos hanging on the walls of your living room that you want to highlight. Wall-mounted directional lights are perfectly suited for highlighting artwork and other hangings.”
When planning your design, start with rooms you spend the most time in. For many of them, you’ll end up employing all three types of lighting, so planning will depend heavily on what you want to do in the room. A living room, which is set up more for guests and relaxed sitting, will most likely employ more accent and ambient lighting than task lighting. But if you’d like a reading nook in your living room, then a brighter lamp in that area would be something you may want. For rooms where you plan to watch television, “you want light sources that work both when the TV is on and when it is off,” says Ricki Kline, owner and principal designer of Ricki Kline Design + Build. “Light sources should also be on the side of a TV, not in front of it,” explains Kline.
There are a number of bulb shapes, and each vary in their brightness and color tone. Evan Rice, an account manager at Lighting Supply, has a few tips about understanding bulbs and ensuring you’re going with the right product: “It’s important to know the purpose of different bulb shapes. For instance, a PAR30 and BR30 look similar, but PAR lamps are a little better at highlighting a specific area while BR lamps are a little better at general lighting.” Even if they look similar, one bulb may be better suited to your needs than another. Know what you want the light source to do before you go to the store, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from a salesperson when you’re shopping.
Lumens, Watts and Kelvins
“We measure light output by lumens, not watts. So, if you’re comparing types of bulbs, look at the lumens to see if they will provide similar lighting,” continues Rice. While lumens measure light output, watts measure the power consumption of the bulb. The lower the wattage, the less power the bulb will require. Changing to lower watt bulbs is a great way to cut down on your energy bill. Fixtures will have watt limits, so it’s important to check the watt requirement before buying your bulbs. Finally, Rice discusses kelvins. “This is the apparent warmth or coolness of a light,” explains Rice. “Lower kelvin ratings (around 2700K to 3000K) create warmer looks while high ratings (3500K to 5000K) create cooler and sometimes even cold appearances.”
There are three main kinds of light bulb: incandescent, halogen and fluorescent. Incandescent bulbs produce a warm, yellow glow. Halogen light is clear and clean. Fluorescent light, which can be blue or full spectrum, creates a more modern appearance and only needs to be changed every few years. Also, bulbs can have different features, such as being dimmable or the ability to work with a motion sensor, so if you’re looking for something specific, make sure to check the packaging.
Chandeliers provide more than just light. They are a focal point and can dazzle a person by adding beautiful flecks of light to a room. For an eye-catching effect, seek ones in a non-traditional color like black crystal, smoky brown or teal. They can also be found in a variety of sizes, so choose one that doesn’t overwhelm the room but still provides the statement you’re looking for.
Lamps and Sconces
Table lamps and floor lamps complement existing overhead lighting by enhancing a corner that might normally be dim. Lamps and sconces “are the most varied type of lighting; they are wonderful,” says Kline. “I like the light to help create a rhythm and pattern in a room and using these forms of lighting helps establish this. Using them creates an intimate seating area. For example, if you have a couch you can put a table lamp at each end and then a few wall sconces.” You can also try different lampshades in various shapes and textures for a quick transformation in any room, especially as the seasons change.
Track lighting allows each light to be positioned to focus on different areas, making it easy to direct light toward the stove or the sink. Under-cabinet lighting makes your workspace glow and focuses light onto the countertop, where you likely spend a good deal of your time. In-cabinet lighting helps you find what you need quickly and looks chic in glass-paneled cabinets.
If you’re not sure what to select or where to start, consider contacting a professional lighting designer for suggestions on how to make the most of your design. The right setup can immediately alter the mood of any room and will go a long way toward turning your house into the home of your dreams.