For so many of us, lighting is an afterthought in our interiors. This happens when you think of it as a utilitarian detail of the room, rather than something that adds aesthetic value. When it’s done right, lighting is the unsung element that brings your design to the next level.
Know your options
One of the most common lighting mistakes people make is assuming that one type of lighting — especially dreaded overheads — will suffice when putting a room together. Interior designers will be the first to tell you that sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth.
In reality, lighting works best when it’s used in layers. There are three main types of indoor lighting to consider and, ideally, each room will include all of them. They are:
Ambient, also known as general lighting, ambient light fills the majority of the room and allows you to move around safely. It usually comes from recessed lighting, track lighting or wall-mounted fixtures.
Accent lighting is used to highlight a particular focal point, such as a piece of wall art. Picture lights, wall-mounted-fixtures or track lighting are common, and dimmers are often used on these features to provide mood lighting.
Task lights are used to assist you in completing a particular function. This could be anything from desk lamps to pendant lights that hang over a kitchen island.
Let the room dictate the layout
Now that you know what your different lighting options are, it’s time to decide how — and where — to place your light sources in each room. While this is ultimately a matter of personal preference, there are some standard layouts that work well.
If you’re unsure where to start, use these room-by-room guides as a source of inspiration:
Start with a dramatic pendant light or chandelier overhead in the entryway. Then, supplement with either a table or floor lamp.
The living room is a good place to use track or recessed lighting throughout. If your room has a main seating area, use a larger, overhead fixture to center it. Place floor lamps where needed to light shadowy corners. Finally, if you have a buffet or other large furniture piece, you may want to consider adding a table lamp.
The dining room is the easiest room to light. Your main source should come from a large, pendant light or chandelier that’s centered over the dining table. If there are additional dark corners, you can use a floor or table lamp to supplement.
Kitchen lighting is complex. You may want to start with some recessed lighting. Focal areas like the kitchen island and dining table should have overhead pendants or chandeliers. Work areas benefit from the addition of under-cabinet lighting. Plus, you could add specific task sources at the sink and stove.
Ideally, bedrooms have a main, overhead light source and table lamps on nightstands or dressers.
Recessed lighting is common in the bathroom. You could also add task lights around a mirror or, for a dramatic touch, an overhead source above the tub.
Start with recessed lighting or a main, overhead source in an office. Be sure to add table or floor lamps in dark corners or by seating areas. Finally, be sure to use a desk lamp in your main work area.
Consider size and aesthetics
When we talk about the size of lighting fixtures, we’re mainly talking about those statement pieces that are overhead. There is an easy formula for determining how big one of these lights should be. It’s all about finding the right diameter.
If the fixture will be lighting the whole room, measure the length and width of the room and then add those two numbers together. Convert that sum from feet to inches to find the ideal diameter for your light source. For example, if the room was 10 ft. x 12 ft., 10 + 22 = 22, so your fixture should be 22 inches in diameter. However, if you’re centering the fixture over a piece of furniture, you’ll want to measure the length and width of that specific item instead of the room as a whole.
As far as aesthetics are concerned, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That said, make sure it matches whatever style is present throughout the rest of the room.
The right lighting can really make or break a room. When done well, it lends the perfect atmosphere to help your design shine, but when done poorly, it can take away from your chosen aesthetic.