By Design

Sometimes the lighting can make all the difference

by Patricia Cove
Posted 2/1/24

Besides a room’s layout, its proportions, balance, colors and textures, a critical feature that can make or break a room is the lighting.

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By Design

Sometimes the lighting can make all the difference


Have you ever entered a room that was sparsely decorated, had few accessories,  minimal window treatments and was minus a carpet but yet had a quality that was hard to describe – and created a memorable and welcoming feeling as you entered the space? The room had a unique quality that was easy to recall, but that you could not replicate within your own home. 

My guess is that the room’s unidentifiable quality was due to the way that the space was lighted.

Besides a room’s layout, its proportions, balance, colors and textures, a critical feature that can make or break a room is the lighting. It is often taken for granted. Sometimes the floor lamp you use to locate the buttons on the remote, or an Ikea lamp resting on an end table are the only light sources in a room.  

There are numerous ways a room can be lighted, but using a combination of sources is the best way to create the perfect ambiance. 

The most natural light, of course, comes from the windows. Knowing which direction your room faces, and determining which times of day it sees the sun, becomes the first step in how the room’s natural light will appear.  Knowing this will become a huge advantage when it comes to establishing a “lighting plan”.

Beyond natural light, your designer, architect or electrician can provide you with a plan that will address three types of light that every room should consider. They are accent, task and ambient lighting. 

Task lighting is the most functional, and is installed in areas where serious work requires a focused light source. Home offices, kitchens and reading nooks all require task lighting. They are a higher wattage and can be installed right above a work surface or within the ceiling. Even a high-voltage desk lamp can take on the function of a task light.

Next, some form of ambient lighting should become an element in every space. It provides general illumination, and at the same time begins to create the overall “atmosphere” of a space. “ High hats”  or “downlights” as they are often called, are the most common form of ambient lighting.

Whoever completes your lighting plan should consider placing high hats approximately three feet apart and approximately two and a half feet from the wall.  A special high hat called an “eyeball” can be used to provide directional light toward a fireplace, a piece of art, or a decorative wall feature. Remember to put all downlights on dimmers, which will give you the option of choosing between a brightly lit space or a more romantic one.

Last, but definitely not least, is the use of accent lighting. If there is one feature that makes a room, it is the correct installation of accents. 

Decorative lamps, chandeliers, sconces,  up lights, and recessed fixtures are all forms of accent lighting. These are the light sources that give your room character.

A table lamp can add to the style of the space, whether it be a decorative ginger jar or a brass candle stick lamp. They are the pieces that can define a specific area in a room. Chandeliers and sconces not only provide accent lighting but also make a modern or traditional statement that adds to the overall style of a space. Uplights placed below foliage, or to highlight an important furniture piece, not only draw the eye but also create interesting shadows on an otherwise plain wall.

A critical decision that you will have to make with any light source is the use of LED bulbs. The color quality of the light, no matter what the source, is critical to its success.

I have gone kicking and screaming into the LED world, and have been known to purchase every incandescent bulb on the hardware store shelf for fear I would never see a “warm” light again. 

Luckily, things are starting to get better, and I have discovered an LED bulb made by Feit Electric that has a brightness of 1500 Lumens in a “soft white” 2700K which comes pretty close to the warm glow produced by a 100-watt incandescent bulb. 

So, I started to buy up all of those instead. Because if you are not careful with LEDs, your room could end up with the luminosity of a Mcdonalds'! There is only one drawback.  They are not dimmable!

Oh well…one step at a time!

Patricia Cove is the Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design and can be reached through her website