Ever tried to read a book but had to twist awkwardly to see the page?
Or had to chop vegetables with your body angled so you weren’t blocking the light?
Yeah, I thought so.
It’s totally annoying – and it can make you quit what you wanted to be doing.
Bad lighting is my pet peeve
And I doubt you love it either.
Life’s too short – and eyesight too precious – to waste time straining to see.
I’m particular about lighting – not because I’m a designer – but because I’m a compulsive maker of things. I make all kinds of things: kid’s clothes, adorable little gnomes, jewelry, decorative boxes and … well, more.
If you’ve ever cut yourself because you were standing in your own light, gotten a headache from squinting to see the page, or left the house with make-up so thick you looked ready for Broadway instead of brunch, then you know a girl needs to see what she’s doing.
And that means task lighting.
You want to see what you’re doing
That’s the point of task lighting – and it’s pretty straightforward.
So why then does the world seem full of dark laundry rooms and too-short lamps?
Because people forget that a person is trying to do something. And that the light has to be placed to illuminate what the person is doing.
Still people tend to take a lamp – any lamp – plop it down and expect it to do the job.
That almost never works.
You’ve got to know what you’re doing
The key to making anything function well is to know how it’ll be used. Task lighting is no different.
So what are you doing without enough light? Maybe it’s washing the dishes, putting on make-up or working at your desk.
Imagine yourself doing it. Where are you? Are you sitting or standing? Where’s the thing you’re working on? Is it on a work surface? Or is it in your hands?
Whatever the task, you need to position the light so it shines on the object you’re using … without your body getting in the way. Because it doesn’t matter how great the light is if you’re blocking it.
So how do you position the light so you’re not in the way?
Put the light in front or beside your body. Get it as close to the object as possible … without the lamp getting in your way.
If you’re washing wine glasses at the sink, you want a pendant light above the sink.
When you sit to read, you want the lamp over your shoulder shining onto the page.
At your desk, you want a lamp to the left, if you’re right-handed – or to the right if you’re left-handed. (Most people naturally turn so their writing hand is fully on the desk – check it out for yourself.)
It’s all about placing the light source so you are never between it and the thing you want lit.
That’s why central ceiling lights in a kitchen don’t work.
Next get the height right
Once you’ve got the light source in front or beside you – then make it’s at eye-level.
Sounds simple – and it is. But this is the bit people most often get wrong … even designers.
So what’s the trick?
Measure where your eye-level is.
Get a friend (or your partner) and a measuring tape – and visit each place that needs better task light.
Sit or stand as if you’re doing the thing. Then get your helper to measure how high your eye level is from the floor (if you want a wall light or a floor lamp) or from the top of your work-surface. Write it down.
Don’t forget to measure your partner’s eye-level too. Don’t worry if one person is much taller, go with the lower eye-level – or get an adjustable light.
Then it’s all about getting the right size lamp for each spot
“The right size” means a lamp whose shade bottom is level with your eye.
So once you’ve measured your eye-level, measure all your lamps – from the bottom of the shade to the table or the floor. That’s the lamp body size.
If your eye-level is 17″ above the desk, find a lamp with a 15-17″ body. If your seated eye-level is 47″ above the floor, then find a floor lamp with a shade 45-47″ above the floor. Simple as that.
Of course, you might need to move your lamps around – or get some news ones.
But try using the right size lamp – and see what a difference it makes.
And … if you find most of your lamps are too short, try putting a stack of hardcover books under the base until you can find a suitable replacement.
Too tall or too short – neither one works
If your lamp’s too short, it doesn’t cast the light far enough.
But if it’s too tall, the light from the bulb shines in your eyes … or your head’s in the way again.
So embrace your inner Goldilocks and find the right size lamp for the job.
Then make sure it’s bright enough … but not too bright
I know I’m making it sound like everything has to be just right. But there is such a thing as too much light – and it’s just as hard on the eyes as not enough.
So use a high-wattage bulb if you want, but beware of glare. If the light’s so strong it reflects off the table or the page, your eyes won’t thank you for that either.
Again, dimmers are awesome here. More light when you need it, less when you don’t.
Also, make sure you turn on the other lights in the room when you’re working at night. A really bright light in a dark room is murder on the eyes.
Bottom line … your task light is not meant to light the whole room. That isn’t its job – you have other lights for that.
Don’t let poor lighting get in the way of doing things you love. Take a few minutes to figure out where to put your lamp, how tall it needs to be, and what kind of bulb will work for you.
Then you too can be up late making things – or reading a favourite book. And rest assured, the day is coming when there will be no light bright enough for you to tell navy thread from black when the sun goes down.
Now it’s your turn
How’s the task lighting at your house? I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with lighting … and how it impacts what you do at home. Click here to leave a comment or a question.
Are you struggling with working and living in the same space?
I need your help.
I’ve been interviewing women like you, and I’ve found many are trying to make their homes work both for working and living. If that’s you, I would love to ask you some questions – and give you some free advice. Click here to find out more.