Good lighting, in a home or business, is one of those things that’s invisible – if it’s done well. You only notice the lighting of a room if it’s too bright or too dim, not if it’s just right. When a room is lit well, people notice only that the room feels comfortable, and that they want to come back again.
When thinking about lighting, first consider some guidelines: function, mood, and harmony. You have to think about what the function of each room is, decide what mood you want to create, and consider how the different lighting types will harmonize in any given room.
You need illumination in certain areas of the room for specific tasks, such as reading, writing, or playing a musical instrument. This type of lighting is referred to as task lighting.
In addition, you need sufficient overall illumination so people can simply see where they’re going, and so they don’t trip over that great furniture that you have carefully placed in the rooms. This general lighting is referred to as ambient lighting, which is the overall lighting that permeates the entire room.
In addition to being purely functional, lighting can also influence the mood of a room. A brightly lit room projects a positive, upbeat mood. A darker room is more intimate and romantic. One mistake many people make in lighting their homes is to have only one extreme or the other: so much light that you need sunglasses, or just a dim candle.
Remember that there is an important middle range in lighting: you should try playing with this range to see what works best for different situations. When giving a dinner party, for example, you want light which is bright enough so that your guests can see what’s on the dinner plate, but soft enough so they aren’t blinded from the glare off the silverware. Often, a combination of candlelight and lamps is good in this situation.
Lighting fixtures themselves express a mood. Some fixtures are traditional, some contemporary. Some are lavish and ornate, some are starkly simple. As with the furniture you select, the style of the lighting fixtures should be suitable in mood to the rest of the decor.
You can also provide accents of light in specific parts of a room for no functional reason, but simply because they will add a dramatic touch. For example, you might want to highlight a piece of artwork over your mantle.
The importance of harmony in a room cannot be overstated. Just as you want the other elements of a room to harmonize, so too the different lighting elements should act together in harmony to produce an interesting yet unified effect.
Harmony does not mean monotony. You should offer variety in the lighting of a room by using different types of fixtures for different tasks. The illumination can flow in different directions with fixtures located different heights, and by providing different levels of intensity of light.
For example, you may have a living room with two floor lamps, one on either side of the sofa. To make the lighting more interesting and to add some variety, try adding a wall sconce and a desk lamp across the room.
You can always use the simple test of telling if each lighting fixture works by asking yourself how another style of lamp would work in its place. If the answer is “much better,” then you know what you have to do.
And there is plenty of room for creativity. A Chinese lantern style may work perfectly with a room decorated in sleek gray and white; an old-fashioned painted lampshade may be just the thing to pull together a room by bringing in all the colors of the sofa, carpet, and walls.
When you are decorating your room, make sure you pay close attention to your lamps and lighting choices. People will think you hired a professional designer!