Whether your room is bright or moody, big or small, top-of-the-line or thrift-store-chic, the wrong lighting will make it look bad. Your lighting scheme has the power to accent your favorite colors and shapes, to make your room functional and lovely. But the wrong lighting can ruin an otherwise beautiful room – distorting colors and creating unflattering shadows.
You can avoid these problems with a little extra planning and some know-how. You just have to understand what questions to ask.
Here are 5 things to think about before you create a new lighting scheme for your space:
1. Will these lights compliment my lifestyle?
If a space is uncomfortable, you’re not going to want to stick around there for long. One of the biggest mistakes people make when installing lights is not having a clear idea of how they’ll use the space.
If you plan on taking daily soaks in your bathtub, you don’t want recessed lights shining directly down into your eyes. If you like to cook elaborate meals in the kitchen, you don’t want your work space engulfed in shadow. If you want your living room to be a game room, a romantic hideout, and a place to read all in one, you don’t want lights that operate at only one brightness level.
How are you planning to use your space? Let’s work from there…
2. Will these lights match my color scheme?
You can put a ton of time and effort into decorating your room just right, but when you add the wrong lights, all that isn’t worth a hill of beans.
Always pay special attention to the color temperature of your lights. It should flatter your color scheme, and you shouldn’t use lights with contrasting color temperatures in the same space. That can be jarring.
As a general rule, use lights with a warm color temperature (below 3,200K) with warm colors (reds, pinks, yellows), and lights with a cool color temperature (above 4,000K) with cool colors (blues, greens, whites). Using a cool light with a warm color can make it look washed out, while using a warm light with a cool color can make it look a little…wilted.
3. Will I have layers of light?
Ask any lighting designer what they think the first rule of lighting design is and they’ll tell you this: layer your lights. A single ceiling can never provide enough light for an entire room, not to mention it’s visually lame.
You should have at least 3 different light layers in your room: ambient lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. In a living room, this might include recessed lights for overhead lighting, table lights or reading lights for task lighting, and tape lights lining certain architectural features for accent lighting. In a kitchen, this might mean you use track lighting on the ceiling for ambient light, under cabinet lights for task lighting, and a few picture lights to accent some artwork.
The key is to create points of visual interest, and diminish shadows. After all, this isn’t an old dungeon we’re talking about – it’s your house!
4. Will my lighting scheme have focus?
Of course, you don’t want to throw up light layers haphazardly, without any guiding vision.
Good lighting design requires the strategic placement of fixtures in order to create a beautiful, cohesive space. Pick lights that compliment your room’s style, without distracting from it.
You may want to pick an area to focus on in the room – a wall-hanging, a piece of furniture, or an architectural element. To achieve this, you’ll want to direct the brightest light in the room to this area. You can do this with track lighting, adjustable recessed lights, or other kinds of accent lights.
5. How much will these lights cost?
You never want a money pit on the books. So a final thing to consider before making the big decision is how much your lights will cost – both initially and over time.
A good fixture will be fairly affordable to start with, but it will last you for a long time without much maintenance. A good light will also use minimal energy, so as not to inflate your power bills.
In general, we recommend you avoid incandescent lights, because they burn out quickly and use much more electricity than other light sources like xenon, fluorescent, and LED. Confirm that the lights you choose have a good reputation, and can keep their promises before you invest.