Let There Be Lots of Lighting

Let There Be Lots of Lighting

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Dabney Frake
Oct 16, 2015
(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)
Today's topic: Learn the basics of lighting up a room.
See all the lessons! Apartment Therapy's Design School

Lighting is not just about function. It's about setting a mood, and enhancing parts of the room that you think are worth looking at. Good lighting can make a room look glamorous and sparkly, or warm and comforting. Every sconce, lamp, or chandelier you choose should meld together to create a harmonious whole.

Here’s the key to lighting a room: it’s all about variety.

The best way to demonstrate this is to imagine an office conference room with buzzing fluorescent lights that, while blanketing the room completely, also make you feel like your eyeballs wig out, and you want to curl up in a ball on the floor with an eye mask on, begging for respite from the artificial brightness. There’s a reason that cop flicks show a single swinging lightbulb, shining directly in the suspect’s eyes, as they wait for him/her to crack and spill their secrets. It’s disorienting and just plain uncomfortable.

Think instead of sitting in a living room, all cozy with a lamp next to you that illuminates your book in a perfect pool of light. When you go to the kitchen, a wall sconce lights your way through the hallway so you don’t trip. As you walk by the bookshelves, your eye catches on a painting that your mutual friend did back in college, and that you hadn’t thought of in years.

Step #1: Use These Three Types of Lighting

Lighting generally falls into three categories and you want a blend of them all, to have and use as options.

Ambient lighting is your all-purpose stuff. It’s the overhead recessed lights, chandeliers, and sconces which you can choose to use or not use. It generally blankets the space, and can create harsh shadows that don't do anyone any favors.

Task lighting is needed for a particular use, like a desk lamp as you pay your bills, or the overhead stove light that lets you see what you’re cooking. Having a party? Strobe or black light baby. And of course, for a night of loving, bring on the dimmer.

Accent lighting draws attention to certain features in the room, like an art light shining down on the painting mentioned above, or an uplight to highlight the ornate decorative molding in your Victorian home.

Step #2: Spread the Light Around

Once you know what type of lights you need, try to vary the height, location and brightness. Keep different parts of a room at different brightness levels to prevent over-illumination. It helps to have as much control over lighting as possible, so dimmers are nice to adjust the level of light that you need or want. (This is why track lighting became so big — it’s flexible enough to act in many capacities.)

Next Lesson: You’ll bring it all together, and take a big important step off of a decorating cliff (and you’ll learn to love the leap).

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