Lighting, dreaded lighting.
It can make such a difference to a room, and yet it can seem like a black art.
I remember years ago reading about lighting in books – and being totally confused. Pages and pages about footcandles, light temperature and bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember now.
It seemed impossibly complicated.
But the truth is that lighting your home doesn’t need to be complicated. And it certainly doesn’t require a lighting engineer to understand it.
It can be much simpler than you might think.
Here’s the key … good lighting is all about shadows.
Sounds crazy, right?
It’s counterintuitive, yes. But it’s also true.
Human beings are drawn to light
Our eyes naturally go to sources of light – and often so do our feet. We feel pulled toward it.
But when it comes to lighting interiors, we forget is that light on its own isn’t very interesting.
Think about being out in the blazing sun on a summer’s day. It’s not welcoming or relaxing. It’s harsh – we shield ourselves from it. And while it might feel good for a short time, it’s not somewhere we want to spend a lot of time.
Now, think of walking by an open door and seeing light spilling through the window onto a chair.
Feel the difference?
If you are like most people, you would be inexplicably drawn to that chair.
Shadows are what allows the light to call you in
The contrast of the light and the shadow is powerful. That is what makes you want to go toward it.
So in your home, you want to create these pools of light. You want to create “destinations” that subconsciously appeal to people by having areas that are brighter than the surrounding space.
You do not want to fully illuminate the whole room.
You do not want to create high noon inside.
Too much light is as problematic as not enough light.
Some places – like kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and work rooms – need more light than others. But effective task lighting is another topic for another day.
For now, let’s focus on using light to make your home feel comfortable for everyday living. Here’s where I start:
Dimmers are your best friend
Put every light in your home on a dimmer. Whether that means the wall switch is a dimmer or the lamp has a dimmer built-in – make sure you can easily adjust the amount of light.
Yes, wall dimmers are more expensive than regular switches. And yes, you will need to check that the bulbs you buy can be dimmed.
But the variety of light you get from this one choice will astonish you. It means that you can change the feeling of the room with the swizzle of a switch.
Having an evening get-together? Turn down the lights in the entry, the bathrooms and the kitchen. Maybe turn them up a bit in the living room by the chairs but keep the dining room chandelier low.
Dimmers allow you to set the stage for the activity at hand. It’s like having the right shoes to go hiking and the right ones to go dancing.
Always have a light where someone can sit
A place to sit without a light isn’t practical or welcoming.
Remember you’re trying to create pools of light to draw people in, to make them want to sit down and make themselves comfortable.
A comfy reading chair just isn’t the same without a light to read by.
So start by putting a light everywhere someone could sit. Then you’re not relying on one central light to illuminate the whole space. That’s usually where people get into trouble with having too much light.
Again, a simple thing but it makes a world of difference. Use light to draw people to the space.
With more bulbs lower the wattage
Once you have multiple lights in a room, be careful about putting the maximum wattage bulb in each one.
You don’t want to be overwhelmed by the brightness of the light. You want variations in the light level throughout the room.
For instance, my dining room fixture uses 6 bulbs. So I use 25-watt bulbs, rather than 50-watt ones, because a total of 150 watts is plenty. I rarely even need to turn it all the way up.
Again, I am going for a table that is softly illuminated so that we gather around it – and the edges of the room are more in shadow.
So even if you are using dimmers, you want to be aware of total wattage. All those bulbs do add up. And a dimmer can usually only dim so much.
Just say no to cool white bulbs
The previous adjustments will go a long way toward creating a pleasant balance of light and shadow in your home – and avoiding the dreaded flat, even (read bland) light.
Now it’s time to make the most of those pools of light by using warm white bulbs.
I know incandescents have gotten a bad rap over the past few years, but here’s the bottom line for me: human beings have lived for thousands of years with the darkness illuminated by firelight.
Warm light makes us feel comfortable and safe.
It’s subconscious. Candles, fires – warm light – it feels like home to us.
So if you want your home to evoke feelings of comfort, safety and welcoming, choose warm white bulbs. Easy peesy.
The exception to this is when you need to see colour clearly. So use full spectrum – or daylight – bulbs in places like closets, laundry rooms, sewing rooms, art studios – or even by your sewing chair.
But either way, back away from the cool whites. Just leave ‘em on the shelf.
Using light in your home becomes so much easier when you start deliberately using shadows and warm light to create destinations for people. Purposefully draw them in by thinking of those long lost days of gathering around the fire. Your home will feel relaxing and inviting – everyone will feel more at ease.
Now it’s your turn
Are you doing all of these things and still stumped? Do you tend toward over-lighting or under-lighting? I would love to hear your thoughts on the power of light in the comments below.
Wondering how else you can make your home warm + inviting?
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