Good lighting adds warmth, color, and personality to your living space. And, compared with many home improvements, lighting is a bargain. But whether you spend a lot or a little, knowing how to light your home is as important as what you buy.
Use lighting in layers, says Joe Rey-Barreau, an architect and professor of lighting design at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. That is, provide rooms with a mix of ambient, task, and accent light at a variety of levels instead of having one large glaring light in the middle of the ceiling. He likes to use table lamps of different sizes on shelves, mantels, and other spots. “Variety is what I don’t see enough of,” he says.
Take a theatrical approach, advises Bruce Rogers, an architect and lighting designer in Evanston, Illinois, who uses light to define areas, such as seating groups, while leaving darker spaces between each area.
Control a room’s mood with dimmers. Use dimmer switches and lamps to set the ambience in each room. With an innovative, customized lighting system from Lutron called RadioRA, you can individually control your lights via radio frequency, without having to run fresh wires throughout the house.
The kitchen is one of the best places to use lighting in layers. You might have a ceiling or pendant light over an island for ambient light, recessed lights in front of the upper cabinets to illuminate your work surfaces, and under-cabinet lighting to fill in shadows on the countertops.
Lighting tips: Position the recessed lights so they illuminate the counter in front of you -- if they’re behind you, they’ll cast a shadow over your work.
Bear in mind that glare can be a problem with marble and other highly reflective countertops.
You may want to ask a professional lighting consultant to survey your existing lighting and recommend improvements. The American Lighting Association has a nationwide locator for affiliated showrooms and certified lighting consultants.
Lighting tip: We’re psychologically programmed to move toward light, which is why placing a window at the end of a hallway or interior view draws you in and engages you. You can create the same effect with a lit painting, a splash of light hitting the wall from a spotlight, or the glow of a sculptural light fixture.
Many of us hang a chandelier or pendant light over a dining table for the intimacy it creates. A common mistake, though, is to turn up a chandelier or pendant in an attempt to illuminate the whole table, or, worse, the whole room. The result is too much glare or, an uncomfortably dark table.
Instead, combine a chandelier or pendant with recessed ceiling lights spaced above the table. The chandelier provides a warm glow; the recessed downlights illuminate the table. Place both on separate dimmers so you can create a range of lighting conditions. Small wall sconces, installed at the edges of the room, can further create soft ambient light around the table.