How Important Is the Temperature of Your Light Bulbs? Very, According to These Pictures

If you’ve ever fallen in love with a paint color only to hate the swatch the second it’s on your walls, it’s not you. It’s also not the paint. It’s probably your lighting.

We’ve heard for years that the right light can transform the way a space looks and feels, but it’s easy to dismiss that with an eye roll—how much of a difference could a light bulb really make? A massive one, it turns out, but it’s not as obvious as adding another lamp to a room. Because you need to consider the temperature of the light (as in, how warm or cool its tones are, typically measured from 1,000 to 10,000 Kelvins), an argument lighting company Ketra proves pretty simply with a single image:

the same room with different lighting temperatures
Courtesy of Ketra

Yup, that’s the exact same room, lit the same way, but the bulbs are adjusted to different temperatures. Benjamin Moore’s 2020 Color of the Year, First Light—a pale, ballet-slipper pink—is on the wall, but in each photo, you’d swear it was a different shade. As the Kelvin temperature of the bulbs changes from left to right, the color shifts from having yellowy undertones to appearing like a neutral white to giving off a bluish tint.

"The first image (far left) is an example of the bright white light you'd see at midday (about 5,000 degrees Kelvin), which highlights the paint's cooler, more blue undertones," says Liana Frey, Ketra's VP of marketing. "The second demonstrates a warmer, afternoon light (about 3,200 degrees Kelvin), which lets the natural pink shine." The third image shows the lighting adjusted to a warmer tone, about 2,400 degrees Kelvin, which makes the paint look rosier.

Seeing the three side by side makes a strong case for actually following that old rule of looking at paint swatches on the wall to see how they appear throughout the day as the light changes, but designer Young Huh would take things one step further and consider the direction your windows face before choosing your swatches.

“Northern light tends to be more blue, while southern light is more yellow, which can significantly impact the paint color in different settings,” she says. “A light pink can wash out near a southern window or look too bright in northern light.”

It also explains why a color you loved in aisle three of Home Depot suddenly seems garish on your walls. Often, commercial stores use a higher color temperature (think 3,500 Kelvin and above) than most people use in their homes.

one kitchen in three different lighting temperatures
Courtesy of Ketra

If you find you like the color in a room most of the time, you could always install adjustable LED lighting (that is, in fact, how Ketra got its three takes on the same room). If it’s a cloudy day and the walls are suddenly looking drab, you can make the lights cooler or warmer without having to change out a bulb (because, honestly, who would do that?!).

There’s no hard-and-fast rule on the optimal light temperature for a room—you simply have to play around to get a sense of what you like best. But Frey does suggest one thing across the board: Whatever you do, layer your lighting so the room has more depth and visual interest.

“Layered lighting is achieved by mixing different types of lighting,” she says, offering three types to consider working into any room: “ambient lighting, like overhead fixtures or recessed lights; task lighting, like under-cabinet lights, vanity lights or reading lights; and accent lighting, which often spotlights artwork or architectural elements.”

So, if you’re totally tired of a room, consider switching up your lighting before busting out the drop cloths and paint rollers.

candace davison bio
Candace Davison

VP of editorial, recipe developer, kitsch-lover

Candace Davison oversees PureWow's food and home content, as well as its franchises, like the PureWow100 review series and the Happy Kid Awards. She’s covered all things lifestyle...
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