Recently in a showroom, I overheard a woman saying to the sales assistant –
“I’m looking for a bright ceiling light. I mean, REALLY BRIGHT!“
She went on to tell how bad the lighting in her living room was, and how tired she was of sitting in the dark.
And off they went to find the brightest light in the showroom.
My heart sank into my feet, because I’m sure she’d find that REALLY BRIGHT light, and install it.
And it won’t make her happy.
A too bright ceiling light sits like a bad omen above your head, causing glare in your eyes, and a harsh reflection off the ceiling. Furthermore, the colors in the room will look off, and the textures will be flattened. If you thought before that your room lacked atmosphere, well now you’ve destroyed it completely.
A BRIGHTER CEILING LIGHT IS NEVER GOING TO SOLVE A GLOOMY ROOM
It will add more light, sure, and for a small storeroom or hallway, yes, a brighter light will help.
But for a room where we spend time and do everyday things, where we read and watch TV and gather with friends – a single dazzling ceiling light will be NO GOOD.
Have you ever been in a room where the ceiling light is so bright, you feel you need a hat to reduce the glare? I’m serious. Once I had dinner at someone’s house where the pendant light above the table was incredibly bright, everyone was squinting as if we were out in the bright sunlight. For most of the evening I literally had my hand on my forehead using it as a shield.
It felt nothing like this. Can you see the warm and cozy light above the table vs the bright task light by the kitchen counter? Different type, brightness, and color for different activities… (Source)
After years of design consultations and seeing hundreds of rooms in all areas of life, I came to realize two things:
#1 MOST ROOMS ARE BADLY LIT
And it’s because …
#2 THERE’S ONLY ONE SOURCE OF LIGHT
Or not enough. When there’s just one light point, of course you’re going to want to have it bright.
When the light is too bright, it causes horrible glare, flattens everything and sucks out the last bit of life out of the room.
The problem with your dark room is NOT that you need a brighter light, you need MORE lamps.
How many lights and lamps do you count in this beautifully lit living space above? There’s a soft-glowing table lamp for atmosphere, a floor lamp for reading, an uplight for interest on the back wall, and small recessed lights in the celling for general illumination. And this is just on the side we can see from this angle.
Does it feel overdone? NO. It feels cosy and welcoming.
The most common mistake with lighting, is trying to fix the brightness when you should really add more lamps.
In design, lighting is everything. It is the single one design tool that has the ability to instantly and completely change the look and feel of any space.
One of the most amazing things about lighting is that it has an actual effect on the functioning of our brain and body. Lighting is very important in stimulating the release of certain hormones that affects behavior, emotion, and health. With the right lighting it is possible to improve sleep patterns, work more focussed, reduce stress levels.
LIGHT IS LIFE.
If you suspect that the lighting in your home is not quite right, don’t wait for “one day”. Lighting is too important, it affects your health! Do something about it right now.
But where do you start? Sounds so complicated! There’s type, size, style and layout. Then there’s also light levels, and things like Kelvin (the color temperature of the lamp), and the CRI (color rendering index).
STOP! It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Over the years, I’ve narrowed down the question about lighting to four important things, and I’m going to share that with you 🙂
When you check these things in your own space, I guarantee you will be able to pinpoint the weaknesses in your space, and make the right changes to improve your lighting setup.
Here are the 4 MOST IMPORTANT RULES FOR LIGHTING
1. ARE THE CORNERS LIT UP?
This is a game changer.
If you take away only one thing from this article, it must be this very simple rule. There should be a lamp or light close to every corner of the space. When the corners are dark, it robs the room of depth and energy. A simple floor or table lamp makes the world of difference.
It sounds obvious when you think about it, but do you know how many rooms I’ve seen where the corners are forgotten?
I love a simple change that makes a drastic difference. Lighting up the corners of your room is one of those little-effort-big-impact shifts.
What about YOUR living room, dining, bedroom, kitchen, home office. Are the corners lit up? Where can you add a floor or table lamp?
OH, if you are worried that it may be too much to place a lamp in every corner? In the words of color expert, Maria Killam…YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY LAMPS!
Just add some variation in scale and height.
…which brings us to the next rule!
2. VARY THE HEIGHT
The way to a cozy and comfortable lighting setup is VARIETY.
It is not enough to only spread out the lighting into the corners. You have to make sure there’s a variety of lights and lamps, and that they’re spread out also vertically.
1. High Layer | SOME LIGHT FROM ABOVE – and I say this with utmost care, and want to emphasize SOME, because the light at ceiling height is there only to provide soft, general illumination that reveals the room and tells us where we are. It’s not a bright light, and it’s not an accent light. It’s like the primer coat on the canvas before we start adding color and shape. Of course the light fitting itself can be a beautiful accent piece, but the light coming from it should be a quiet glow at a comfortable brightness – like elevator music that softly plays in the background.
2. Middle Layer | LIGHT AT EYE LEVEL – This is where the fun starts, and often the layer that is most overlooked. There should be some lights at human height creating visual interest at eye level. Wall sconces and floor lamps, art lights and directional accent lights that create patterns of light and dark on the walls. Often they highlight a beautiful object, or amplify a texture.
Just look how these brick walls come to life with the wall sconces shining up and down to create patterns of light and shadow. (Source)
3. Lower Layer | LIGHT ON YOUR HANDS – These are under-cabinet lights, pendant lights, desk lamps, table, and reading lamps that light up the surfaces where we work and read. It is crucial that they are adjustable, and easy to switch on and off. It is especially nice if these lights can be adjusted in brightness according to need, because often they also double up as accent lights.
If you have some wall space that you don’t know what do with – get a plug-in wall lamp, hang a piece of artwork, and add a chair. (Source)
For most rooms, three layers of lamps are great, but you don’t have to stop there. In the right spot, a light below eye level can have a stunning effect when it shines a pool of light up against the wall, or illuminates the staircase steps. There is no reason that up-lights should be reserved for outdoors.
3. CHECK THE COLOR OF THE LIGHTBULBS
Warm white, Soft white, Cool white, Daylight – which one is right?
The color of everyday LED lightbulbs today vary from cosy Warm-whites to stark Blue-whites, also called Daylight. Blue-white light triggers the brain to be more alert and stay focussed – great for display areas in retail stores, but bad for the home environment where we want to be calm and have relaxing evenings.
With all the options and flexibility of LED lighting, most of us get the color wrong.
Too bright and too blue.
The first generations of LED lights were ultra-bright blue-white and not very friendly. It rendered materials, textures, colors, and even our skin tone to a nauseatingly dullness. See the far right image below?
Sadly, many manufacturers stayed stuck there, and without realizing, you may end up buying a light with a lamp that is far too blue and too bright. You need to look at the color temperature of the lightbulb. It’s measured in Kelvin, and the lower numbers are warmer, the higher numbers bluer. For your home, you never need more the 3,000Kelvin. Ever.
BE AWARE WHAT YOU BUY!
Where are the blissful days of incandescent bulbs, where the only thing you had to check was the brightness of the bulb, 40W or 60W? Nobody cared about the color temperature of the light – because the filament of all incandescent lightbulbs glow at the same warm, yellowish color. Calm, soft on the eye, non-disturbing.
Measured at about 2,700 Kelvin, WARM WHITE it is the perfect light color temperature for most homes.
The color of the lightbulbs in the wall lamps above has the perfect color temperature for this space. It’s warm and friendly. If we were to get a closer look at these bulbs, I bet they’re around 2700 Kelvin.
If you remember only one thing today, it is the magic number of 2,700 Kelvin.
Sorry, am I repeating myself?
Go check the light bulbs in your lamps, and make sure the color temperature is right for your space.
4. MAKE IT EASY TO USE
Good lighting means flexibility. Different lights and brightness for different times and different activities.
Here is the problem. It’s of no use to have a fleet of lovely lamps to cozy up our space, but we couldn’t be bothered to go around and switch them on and off all day long. Nobody’s got time for that.
You have to make it easy for yourself, or you won’t use it.
In our house, most of the floor, accent and table lamps in the living and entrance areas are on timers. It works like a bomb. At a certain time of day, CLICK! they automatically switch on, and around the time we go to bed, they go off.
I don’t have to think about it.
There’s no one brightness that is perfect all of the time. A dimmer switch is easy to add, and not expensive.
Every hard-wired light switch, except maybe the storeroom, needs a dimmer toggle.
This is another one of those simple changes that makes a huge difference. Just do it, don’t even think about it further.
3. SMART TECHNOLOGY
Today there really is no excuse to not have it all. With phone apps and voice command devices, you can remotely choreograph an entire show at home.
For those of you who are a bit old school, like me, there’s one product that I love, love, love. We have it for our basement, and it’s so amazing, I cannot help sharing it with everyone.
What do you do when you need to light a large space that’s used for a whole bunch of different activities at different times, and all you have are rows of bad fluorescent lighting?
Here’s what we did. We ripped out all the fluorescents, and placed a variety of floor lamps, plug in wall sconces, and table lamps throughout the space. Yes, in the corners, and at different heights :).
Then we fitted each lamp with a Trädfri bulb from IKEA. Up to ten bulbs all connect to a single remote control that you can keep around, or stick to the wall at the entrance, like a normal light switch. At the press of a button, all the lamps in the basement switch on.
The beauty is that these lightbulbs can adjust not only in brightness, but also in color temperature. Ikea sometimes has some of the greatest innovations. This system is simple, and easy to work. And the effect is truly stunning.
A friend just moved into a charming home that was built in 18- something. As with most old houses, the lighting a mess. Mostly, there’s a not enough of it. You can imagine the WTF look I got when I suggested she adds dimmers to the (few) light switches there are!
DIMMERS! We need more light, Mia, not less.
Yes, back to point one.
1. Add more lamps
2. Get the right color temperature bulbs
3. Plug them into a time, or connect them to a single remote control switch
4. Add dimmer toggles to all hard-wired switches
What about your space?
Are there lamps in the corners? Do they give off a cool blue, or warm white glow? What can you do to make it easier to switch them on and off? Are all the ceiling lights dimmable?
You may not make all the changes at once, but start with one thing you can do right now.
WE’D LOVE TO KNOW…What’s bothering you with the lighting in your house?
You are welcome to ask me a question in the comments below, I answer each one of them. 🙂
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