Tips For Lighting Your Party

Tips For Lighting Your Party

Mat Sanders
Nov 9, 2010

You've planned the menu, made the playlist and pressed your tails - but don't forget the lighting! Because proper lighting can often be one of the most overlooked elements in the formula to an evening's ambience, let's shed a little light on how to keep your party aglow.

Soft lighting brings people closer, creates cozier affairs and can even make small spaces seem bigger. Variations in lighting can change the mood from room to room and keep your guests circulating. Because good lighting is so important to the success of a party, and because it's often one of the last things considered before the doorbell rings, you might want to keep some of these simple tips in mind while you run around pulling up those stockings or straightening that bow-tie.

Tips For Lighting Your Party

Keep the Lighting Low

    • Replace those 100 watt bulbs with bulbs of 40 watts or lower.
    • Use dimming cords to temporarily adjust your current lighting.
    • Consider paper lanterns as an easy and temporary solution for subtle lighting. They can be purchased at a reasonable cost and look great when configured into decorative clusters.

Indirect Lighting

    • Have light coming from many different sources and try bouncing it off walls and ceilings by redirecting tracks and spotlights.
    • Opaque lampshades are also clever in that they keep the light out of people's faces by directing it only upwards and downwards.
    • Try focusing low-watt task lamps directly against the wall to offset the light.

If You Got It, Flaunt It

    • Accentuate interesting elements in your space through lighting.
    • Place uplights behind plants and furniture to create drama, cast interesting shadows and create focal points out of existing elements like bookcases and artwork.
    • If you have high ceilings, consider low pools of light. The effect can actually raise the height of your room even further by creating a vastness above your head.
    • Highlight interesting moldings, beams or fabulous ceilings with rope lights or Christmas lights hidden above cabinetry.
    • Remember that strings of Christmas lights can be used in many versatile and beautiful ways indoors. Create an illuminated canopy above the party or separate different areas of one space with a many strings acting as curtain of light.


    • Line ledges, mantles, shelves, and/or window sills with votives and consider placement of mirrors to help reflect the flickering light.

Mood Swings

    • Consider your lighting design and how it will change throughout the evening. As the night progresses, the lights should get dimmer. Set the mood by blowing out candles and dimming lights throughout the evening.

What to Avoid

    • Keep in mind any accidental lighting that may spill in from other rooms. This is especially important in small spaces when the constant opening and closing of the bathroom door can continually interrupt the evening's ambience. I have a friend who actually disables certain lights with the circuit breaker, opting for only candlelight in the bathroom.
    • Remove the overhead lighting! Light shining from above casts unwanted shadows down on people's faces. Blemish be gone! Keep the lighting low and indirect.
    • Avoid colored lighting. Yes, colored lights can add a festive flare to your party, but consider what certain colors will do to one's complexion. For instance, green lighting is often used in theatre and film to make people appear older - great for Halloween...not so great when everyone is dressed to the nines.


    • Give your space a trial run the night before the party, moving around your different light sources and finding the best fit for the different "stations" of the evening. If there is space for a dance floor, keep that area the darkest. Create conversation corners with pools of light and attract people to the buffet and bar with twinkling party lights.


    • When decorating with candles, use sturdy bases and keep them away from areas where people may be walking or swinging their elbows.
    • Keep cords safely out of the way of traffic patterns so nobody trips on them.
    • Keep lamps and cords away from sinks.

For more tips on lighting, check out these previous AT posts:

Image: White Paper Lanterns

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