Lighting is a subtly powerful thing. It can impact everything from your sleep schedule to your brainpower. So it’s understandable that you want your home, the place you presumably spend a big chunk of your life, to be lit nicely. But with so many different options to choose from, what do you do? Here’s a basic guide to get you started.
The right lighting can make you feel relaxed or productive, but beyond that, there’s function. Certain types of lighting serve a specific purpose, and when it comes to your home, you want the right type, depending on the purpose of your room. To optimize your home’s lighting, first consider how you’re using each room.
Step 1: Consider Each Room’s Function.
Generally, lighting function falls in one of three categories: ambient, task, and accent.
General or Ambient Lighting; acts as the overall lighting of a room. It illuminates all of the room and is considered the room’s “natural light”. You might use a chandelier, pendant light, track lighting or wall sconces to create ambient light that fills the room.
Task Lighting; lights up a work or reading area. You want this lighting to be brighter than your ambient lighting, so the contrast focuses the light in the specified area. Desk lamps and under-cabinet kitchen lights are common task lighting options. But pendants and track lighting can be used for task lighting, too, but it depends on how you layer the lighting in your room, and how bright your bulbs are.
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Accent Lighting; highlights a particular area, like a work of art or a bookcase. It usually creates shadow around the object for a dramatic effect. Wall lights and landscape lights are common accent lights.
To properly light your rooms using these techniques, consider how you’re going to use each room and whether there’s anything you want to accent in the room. Then, start layering. We recommend you start with ambient lighting, and then consider task and accent lighting. With rooms that are heavily task-oriented, such as home offices, some designers focus on task lighting first. And in a hallway that doubles as a photo or art gallery, accent lighting might be the first consideration. Then, think about where that lighting will go in the room. Don’t worry about the fixtures yet; just think about where you want different lighting to fall in the room. If you’re not sure where to start, consider these general, room-by-room suggestions:
Living Room: In Addition to ambient light, use an accent light in one corner of the room. Focus on an object, like a piece of art or a chair.
Kitchen: Add your ambient light overhead, and then add lower task lighting to illuminate the counter space where you work, If possible, the sink is also a good spot to add task light.
Bedroom: It’s common to have task lighting in your bedroom on nightstands. We recommend pointing any light away from the bed. Try angling overhead ambient light away from the bed and toward the dressing area, specifically.
Bathroom: Bathroom lighting can be tricky. You want task lighting for the mirror, but an overhead task light can create shadows. Consider lighting the mirror on either side. Then, use an overhead ambient light to fully illuminate the room.
Of course, if you’re a renter, you may not be able to do much about some of the lighting position in your home or apartment. But these general guidelines can give you an idea of how to work with what you’ve got.
Step 2: Choose The Right Bulbs
Incandescent: These are the traditional bulbs most of us have used for decades, but they’re starting to phase out in favor of more energy-efficient options. They produce a warm, glowing light.
Compact Fluorescent Bulbs: These use 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb and last longer. They usually emit a cooler tone, but you can find them in a range of brightness levels and temperatures. They do however contain mercury and require you to dispose of them properly.
LEDs: These are just as efficient as CFLs, but can last up to 50,000 hours. They used to be mostly used for task lighting, because they only provided a harsh, direct light, but like CFL’s they’ve come a long way. They now offer the same look as incandescent, but they’re more energy-efficient, and they’re less hot to the touch.
There are other types of bulbs, but these are the most common you’ll use in your home. If you want to know more about how they work, check out this helpful post from the American Lighting Association.
Step 3: Pick Your Fixtures
Now that you know the function of your lighting, how bright you want it, and what temperature you prefer, it’s time to pick the best type of fixture for optimizing all of those factors. Here are some common fixtures, along with how (and where) they’re typically used:
Ceiling Mount: Pretty standard for ambient lighting. Hermitage Lighting Gallery says they’re ideal in entry foyers, hallways, bedrooms, task areas and stairways. In hallways, they recommend spacing out fixtures every 8 to 10 feet for adequate illumination.
Chandeliers: When used for general or ambient lighting, they’re best used in dining rooms or bedrooms. To find out the correct size for your room, measure the width or diameter of your table. Then subtract 12″ from that number. That’s the maximum limit for the width or diameter of hanging light. Keep in mind that a fixture with a busy or complex design will actually appear larger, so if that’s what is catching your eye, you’ll want to scale your maximum width down slightly. Assuming you have 8′ ceilings, the bottom of the fixture should hang between 30 to 36 inches above the tabletop. But if your ceilings are higher, the suggestion is to add 3 more inches above the table for each additional foot of ceiling.
Wall-Mounted Fixtures: These are usually sconces. They can be used in any room for ambient, task, or accent lighting, depending on where you put then and what kind of bulb you use. The closer you will be to whatever the sconce is lighting, the smaller the sconce should be. So for example, in bathrooms where you will be close to the mirror, for for tiny ones of about 9-10 inches. In bathrooms, mount sconces 36 to 40 inches apart, flanking the mirroe, 18 inches from the sink’s center line. If the sconces have shades, put the bottom edges of the shades a little below eye level (60 to 68 inches from the floor).
Pendant Lighting: Used for task or general lighting, they hang from the ceiling and are equipped with shades to avoid glare. They work best over dining room tables, countertops or other work areas. To find out the correct size for your room, measure the width or diameter of your table. Then subtract 12″ from that number. That’s the maximum limit for the width or diamter of hanging light.
Recessed Lighting: Again, recessed lighting can be used anywhere for general, task or accent lighting. It all depends on how bright they are and where they’re located.
Track Lighting: You can use track lighting for pretty much anything, too. It’s especially versatile because you can often move the individual lamps around and point them in whatever direction you want. This might be as an accent to highlight some artwork, or you might just use them to illuminate the whole room.
Table Lamps: Great for accent lighting in a living room or task lighting in a bedroom. A great general rule of thumb is that the lamp should be no more than 1.5 times the height of what ever the lamp is sitting on and the lampshade diameter should be no wider than the table top.
Remember: different fixtures call for different types of bulbs. So as you’re picking a fixture, consider what type of bulb it requires. This is more of a design rule than a lighting rule, but when picking the right fixture, you also want to consider size. A fixture that’s too small or too big can make your room’s proportions look odd.
For some, home design comes naturally, and it’s easy enough to eyeball your lighting when decorating. For the rest of us, it can take following a few rules and guidelines, and these should get you started in the right direction.
At Hermitage Lighting Gallery, our staff of Certified Lighting Consultants and Lighting Specialist, can help you get started and make that final decision.