Plato himself said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Sure, this ancient philosopher may have said this centuries ago. Also, he was probably talking more about intellectual enlightenment than, you know, sconces. But these words are as applicable to modern home décor as they were to classic philosophy.
Too often we stick with the safe, the simple and the expected when we light our homes. As a result, we end up with design that looks boring, monotonous…even dated. So today let’s explore some more creative ways to light your home and all the beautiful decor within.
Light it right
LED technology is the way of the future, according to Shuly Zion, showroom manager at the Lighting Loft in Atlanta. “One big mistake [many people make] is not thinking about what is most important, which is the light source, the light bulb. Another mistake, he says, is spending several thousand dollars on a beautiful light fixture but only using cheap bulbs that give off feeble or ugly lighting. Instead, they should be investing in slightly more expensive bulbs in order to preserve the intended beauty of the piece. Lighting has improved by leaps and bounds over the last 40 to 50 years, especially in the realm of light quality. When most people think of fluorescent lights, they think of large, humming, bluish-green fixtures and unflattering glares. But because of improvements in quality and aesthetics, people are able to use smaller LED fixtures that are capable of providing just the right amount of light you need for any given room, along with more natural coloring.
Another important consideration, according to Zion, is the wattage and the level of light needed for a given room. “When you want to light a space, you need to think, ‘What kind of light do I need for this space?’ and ‘Why do I need light for this space?’” Your bedroom lamps, for example, would require a slightly lower wattage than the bulbs you might use to light your kitchen because you shouldn’t be straining to see what you’re doing when you’re wielding a meat cleaver any more than you should be squinting in the blinding reflection of the white page of your latest novel. Keep in mind as well that many eco-friendly bulbs last far longer and produce much safer light—and could be easier on your wallet, too.
This space should be soft, with good lighting for your morning routine but restful enough to allow for bath-time relaxation. Most people limit themselves to vanity lighting with round bulbs encircling the mirror, or wall sconces.
While vanity lighting can be flattering, it isn’t always a practical option depending on the mirror’s placement in the bathroom, and sconces can cast unflattering shadows on the face due to the direction in which the light falls.
Instead, suggests Zion, “…mount two ‘light lines’ on the mirror, which would typically be about one inch thick, so a very clean, simple and even type of illumination is achieved instead.” Try one-inch thick strips of LED lights on either side of your mirror. These minimalist lighting fixtures cast a healthy, natural-looking amount of light into the room, ideal for your morning or evening toilette, all while consuming less energy and sitting unobtrusively on your mirror while not in use. For extra softness and luxury, add a chandelier. It will provide a decadent touch to an otherwise utilitarian room.
This is a place of repose, a retreat from the chaos of the outside world. It can also be a space for reading (and working for those of us who take our MacBook to bed). Boudoir lighting should be versatile – capable of being soft enough to lull you to sleep, yet bright enough that you can see the outfit you’re putting on in the morning as you’re getting ready for the day.
This means investing in more than just your typical middle-of-the-room ceiling light, which is not only outdated in appearance, but is also outmoded technology. Technology that has been far outstripped by newer fixtures that are capable of supporting new bulbs that provide better light for longer. “We used to go into a master bedroom and put a ceiling fan with a big light on it, but you can’t get high wattage out of it anymore, and it’s an old look,” says Phil Sherer, vice president of sales at Masterpiece Lighting.
Sherer suggests that instead of your typical bedside lamp, try a low-hanging light fixture, like a chandelier, on either side of the bed that will sit right where your bedside model would traditionally rest. You’ll achieve the same effect, but save yourself table space. Alternately, invest in spotlighted recessed lighting with a dimmer switch so that you can adjust your light level to suit your needs. (Just make sure that you’ve got a switch right by your bed so when you’re ready for lights out, you don’t have to leave the warmth of your comforter to get the lights!)
“The kitchen has become the main congregation space in the house,” says Zion. It’s a gathering place, an area for socializing and entertaining, even more so than the dining room, in most cases. For this reason, an important thing to consider when lighting your kitchen is what is termed in the lighting design industry as “layering,” or incorporating different types of light all around the room in a way that isn’t overpowering, but is understated and suits every function you’d require of this central room.”
Instead of one big fluorescent fixture, you should have different types of lighting and under-the-cabinet lighting, according to Sherer. “You can’t just rely on that one, bright fixture anymore,” he says. The typical approach most people take when lighting a kitchen is to hang a long task light over the island or central food prep area, which can wash out the rest of the kitchen and limit the room to only one unwelcoming zone of light.
Better to use a few oversized hanging pendant lamps in warm tones over your island. Install spotlighted recessed lighting at key places in your kitchen to highlight areas of interest or frequent use, such as a tasteful piece of artwork or your stovetop or refrigerator. Zion is a big fan of “indirect lighting,” which highlights these areas subtly and reflects the light back into the main space instead of concentrating too much of it on one specific surface.
The Great Outdoors
A common trend often seen outside homes today is the tendency to install what Zion terms “glare-bombs,” more commonly known as “floodlights.” These lights are found on the corners of most homes and switch on when movement is sensed, often taking guests (invited or unsavory) by sudden surprise. While these lights are practical, a more tasteful and updated approach to the same idea is one that also addresses the problem of safety is to keep your home spot lit outside in regularly trafficked areas. Instead of placing sconces on either side of your entrance, place one spotlight above the door with the light trained in front of it to minimize time fumbling with your keys and to clearly see anyone who might pay an evening visit. To enhance your home’s aesthetics, place lights in a few well-chosen spots outside your home to highlight key features. “A neat idea one can do with lighting is to convert an old bird house into a unique focal point by adding a light,” says Ricky Prewitt, a design consultant for The Outdoor Lights. “A common mistake homeowners make when designing outdoor lighting is thinking they need to illuminate everything for it to look good. In many instances, by concentrating light on just the main feature of a home, one can make a huge impact.”
It’s extremely important not to over-light your exterior, which will tip the scale in favor of your home appearing to be ostentatious instead of tasteful (not to mention the toll it would take on your power bill – yikes.)
An oft-overlooked aspect of any lighting design is the most pure light source of all: the sun. Use this source to your advantage, allowing plenty of light flow between rooms. Think skylights are dated? With the right placement, a skylight can be the perfect statement for your entryway or dining area, whether it’s a sudden spot of sunshine before an incoming guest or a romantic moonlit dinner.
Make sure that any windows or glass exterior doors come with “dimmer” settings – that is, purchase blinds, shades or curtains to adjust the amount of natural light you want in that room. For instance, many people enjoy a bright kitchen on a beautiful sunny day, and use light curtains for evening privacy. Many people would also prefer to shut out the sunlight in favor of a mid-afternoon snooze in the bedroom, and use thick curtains to create a night-like atmosphere. Whatever your preference, the sun will light and heat your home all day long. So throw those shades open and let it all in.
Evolve Your Lights
At the end of the day, when shopping for new fixtures to update your home, the most important consideration is what makes YOU feel good. You don’t have to break the bank outfitting your entire house with all-new fixtures to give it a fresh vibe; sometimes all it takes is a bright, high-end bulb in an old lamp, or one spotlight over the front door. Assess the existing lighting in your home today and decide what works, what makes you comfortable in the space, and what needs to be replaced by something newer. After all, your lighting needs to shift and change as you age, Sherer says. “As someone who’s lived in the same house for a while, that same room where the lights were fine to me at 25, is now not as bright as what I need at 45.” In other words, as homeowners and home décor evolve, so should your lighting choices!