6 Secrets to Lighting Your Home, Straight from Pro Designers

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Even spacious homes with enormous north-facing windows bathing in sunlight require special attention when it comes to lighting. If you’ve ever been in a bar at closing time when all the overhead bulbs come on, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Lighting is a complex aspect of decor, but it’s worth your time and attention. Lucky for us, we were able to snag some secrets from interior design professionals about how they make their strategic decisions.

1. Go As Natural As Possible

“Nothing beats real daylight,” says Joanna Crowley, owner of Joanna Crowley Design. Even small windows offer a lot to a space, so keep the glass clear of clutter or heavy drapery. “If you need something for privacy, opt for an open weave to allow more light to filter in,” she says. We like these sheer pom-pom curtains.

2. Layer In Ambient And Task Lighting

A single light source in each room usually doesn’t cut it. As Crowley puts it, “Layered lighting adds dimension, ambience and function to a space. You’ve got to outfit each room with several layers of lighting, depending on what it needs. For example, a kitchen requires good task lighting as well as overall lighting, which are different requirements from what a dining room needs.”

Basically, you don’t want the same bright light you use when pitting prunes at the counter as you do when serving up Ina Garten’s updated chicken Marbella. Ambient, or overall, lighting is what’s needed to function in a well-lit room (think recessed lighting or track lighting). Task lighting focuses on or sets the mood in specific areas (like reading by this Safavieh marble lamp or dining at a table under this Zabel chandelier). Accent lighting is reserved for more dramatic spaces (like enhancing depth under and inside cabinets with small, bright lights or displaying artwork). Unless you’ve got a Picasso you want to show off (in which case, congrats!), focus primarily on ambient and task lighting combinations in each room.

3. Define Areas With Dramatic Accent Lights

However, if you live in an open-concept home, accent lighting can help distinguish one zone from the next. Crowley says, “A light source, whether it’s a pendant over a table or a floor lamp next to a chair, can define the center or focal point of an area.”

Use changes in lighting strategically, essentially creating a pathway through your space by setting a new tone in each area. For instance, this brass Sputnik-style chandelier can establish a vibrant dining area on one side of the space, while this gorgeous mid-century modern Versanora floor lamp illuminates a cozy reading nook on the other. And definitely highlight all those Picassos with chic accent or picture lighting.

4. Explore Unexpected Shades

But wait! What if the light source is the artwork? Beyond keeping rooms well lit, light fixtures add zest to a space. Hector Albizures, an interior designer at Sasha Adler, says, “Installing unique fixtures adds character to your home and doubles as artwork.” He recommends using shades in materials like wicker and rattan that offer additional texture and depth to rooms, like this awesome rattan pendant from the Drew Barrymore Flower Home collection. Albizures is also a huge fan of vintage and antique pieces, though it can be hard to track down the real deal. Lamps like this Tiffany-style dragonfly lamp are bold conversation pieces you don’t have to get dusty to find.

5. Use Dimmers…everywhere

Every designer we spoke with swears allegiance to dimmers. Being able to adjust brightness according to mood, need and available natural light is crucial. Whenever possible, especially with recessed lighting, give yourself the gift of dimmers. They aren’t terribly difficult to install either, which is always a plus. Just make sure you purchase dimmable bulbs.

soft white 150w light bulbs

6. Buy The Right Bulbs

Here’s a real inside scoop: Never blindly trust a manufacturer’s wattage recommendation. Often, according to Albizures, the manufacturer is simply stating the maximum wattage the fixture can safely handle. So try a few bulb options before settling on one. Definitely don’t go beyond the recommended wattage (this could cause a short or overheating), but as Albizures put it, “Your light fixture isn’t being installed over an operating table.” (Let’s hope not.)

Jacquelyn Morrison, a designer at Craig & Company, also points out that a bulb’s color temperature is crucial. “Color temperature can change the color of the whole room,” she adds. “For LEDs, I recommend a 60-watt bulb with a color temperature of 2700K or less for a warmer tone. For incandescent bulbs, I recommend a soft white.”

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Sarah Ashley

Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...
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