transformation month

This Is the One Simple Item That Can Completely Transform Your Space, According to Designers

published Sep 25, 2022
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Design a room, and you’ll probably pick out the main, big-ticket furniture players first: a sofa, bed, desk, rugs, and so on. It makes sense, considering these have the most dominant presence in a room and take up the most space. That’s not to say that the little details should be overlooked, of course. Even something as seemingly simple as a stylish side table or sculptural candleholder can become an unsung focal point hero.

That got me thinking, though: Of all the decorative touches you can introduce into your space, what’s the one specific home item that can have the most transformative impact overall (beyond paint)? Say you’re redecorating on a budget and want to know which individual element to prioritize above all others, or you just are genuinely curious about the most statement-making component of your current layout. To help get the scoop, I polled a handful of interior designers on this very question. Results varied, but one heavily repeated response became the clear-cut winner — drum roll, please — lighting.

Credit: Sylvie Li

That’s right: The majority of designers pointed to lighting as the ultimate defining piece in any room, be it sconces, pendants, and table or floor lamps. Beyond just the obvious — you know, brightening things up and all — lights largely set the tone, mood, and style of each room, even when they’re turned off. “Much like jewelry, specific lighting alters the formality of the overall look,” says Lance Thomas, lead designer of Thomas Guy Interiors. “Lighting can either dress up or dress down a space.”

Sarah Storms, principal designer and founder of Styled by Storms, admits that lighting “may not be something that is looked at as an initial investment when purchasing a new home or refreshing a space.” Nonetheless, she considers it the “biggest bang for your buck” in terms of decorating… let that sink in. Why, exactly? Oftentimes, lighting truly can be the major make-or-break design factor. “[Lighting] could be the finishing touch that helps the room feel complete and full of personality,” Storms adds.

Similar to the way the same paint color can appear different depending on the home it’s in, the look and function of lamps vary from space to space. According to Amy Youngblood, owner and principal designer of Amy Youngblood Interiors, “Each room requires different amounts of lighting and color temperatures.” Keep this in mind as you shop for and try out different pieces and lightbulbs, knowing there may be some trial and error nailing that just-right aesthetic. Take stock of the three types of lighting, too — ambient, task, and accent — and how they can be used strategically to play up certain areas, like a cozy reading corner versus a high-traffic living room. “When [these]… are all balanced, it creates an elevated and harmonious space,” adds Youngblood.

Lighting placement is key, too, even down to the specific angles and orientation, says designer Kristin Bartone of Bartone Interiors, who shares a genius styling hack. “When selecting ceiling fixtures, select lighting that points up towards the ceiling to create a larger ‘skylight’ effect and eliminate shadows that make you look tired,” she says. This idea isn’t exclusive to just pendants or chandeliers either. “Pro tip, you can even take existing light fixtures at bathroom vanities and switch them to face upwards,” Bartone adds.

To that end, don’t be afraid to swap out existing lights, even as a renter. After all, Ginger Curtis, owner and principal designer of Urbanology Designs explains, lighting essentially doubles as “one of the indicators of a home’s style,” so your lamps should ultimately read like an extension of your interior design tastes. “I love contrasting traditional spaces with contemporary lighting,” says Thomas. “It adds such a unique factor and an unexpected surprise.”

Moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of good lighting. As these design pros have pointed out, it’s versatile, practical, and another opportunity to accent your space and inject more personality into it. Don’t forget the bulbs either — matching light temperatures can make your spaces sing!

This piece is part of Transformation Month, where we’re showing off amazing home makeovers, brilliant tiny tweaks, inspiring before & afters, and so much more. Head on over here to see it all!