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Choosing the Right Lighting

Lighting can make or break every room in the house, so it’s essential to devise a lighting plan from the start. Read up on our tips for effective lighting to get it right.

Choosing the Right Lighting

There’s no room that can’t be made to look better—and function more effectively—with the right lighting. Lighting is everything! That said, it’s a fairly complex subject and it does require some trial and error, as well as natural instinct, to get your lighting plan right.

One of the reasons lighting is so complex is because our homes are lit by a combination of both natural and artificial light. Natural light infuses a room with life. It also varies greatly day-to-day, and throughout the day. Consider how colors and fabrics appear in bright sunlight versus on a gloomy gray day. The difference is in the intensity of light and depth of shadow.

Artificial light has advanced quite a bit, so these days it can imitate nature quite well—however, not even the best artificial lighting plan can close to the magic of natural light. The quality of artificial light is as much about shadow as illumination; Both are important.

Types of Artificial Light

Types of Artificial Light

Different types of artificial light help us achieve different levels of illumination. Standard incandescent light bulbs show more red, orange and yellow colors. Fluorescent light, which had a bad name in the past, is now often color-corrected to simulate daylight. Fluorescents are available in standard tubes as well as in bulbs that fit screw-in sockets (CFLs). Halogen bulbs produce the whitest light of any bulb and do not influence the color of furnishings or art, they’re considered the best choice for task lighting. Soft white bulbs are usually a good choice—especially for shades that are see-through.

And let’s not forget LEDs (light emitting diodes), which are essentially a miniature light source encased in a plastic lens. LED lighting is ultra-compact and more efficient than incandescent bulbs (some reports say up to 85% more efficient) and 10% more efficient than CFLs. They produce minimal heat and there is no filament to burn out, so they can last up to 20 years. They also don’t contain mercury or other toxic materials.

Lighting Wattage

Lighting Wattage

Wattage is also quite important when it comes to designing a lighting plan. Wattage is based on the Kelvin scale, which used to measure the temperature of color of a particular lightbulb. Household fixtures are commonly found in color temperatures on the Kelvin scale of 2700K (warm incandescent), 3000K (warm white halogen) and 3500K (household fluorescent). Color temperatures higher than 3500K are typically used for commercial and hospital applications. If there is a glare from the lamp, the wattage is too high.

Key Considerations for Your Lighting Plan

Key Considerations for Your Lighting Plan

When you are devising your lighting plan, you should consider how it will suit your daily activities, as well as be flexible to support special occasions, such as entertaining. Different situations require different lighting. Think about what lighting is critical for the function of the room. Consider what mood you want to set when entertaining.

Don’t forget safety and comfort, either—improper placing of lighting can lead to serious accidents. Wires should not be placed where people might trip over them and switches should be easily reachable.

If you’re selecting upholstery for your home, use your fabric swatches to view the colors in your design plan under different lighting conditions and at different times of day and night. Ensure that you still like them!

The Four Basic Lighting Categories

The Four Basic Lighting Categories

There are four basic lighting categories: general or ambient lighting, task lighting, accent lighting, and decorative lighting. All four functions of light should be used within a room to create to create a fully usable, adaptive space. Good lighting does not draw attention to itself but to the other design aspects of the environment.

General/Ambient Lighting

General/Ambient Lighting

General lighting provides an area with soft general illumination that fills the volume of a room with a glow of light and softens the shadows on people’s faces it is the most important of the four functions of light. Most homes are wired to have a central light, such as a chandelier or pendant, hanging from the ceiling in the middle of each room to provide general lighting.

The best ambient light comes from sources that bounce illumination off the ceiling and walls, such as opaque bottom wall sconces, torchieres, chandeliers, indirect pendant lighting and cove lighting, which can provide a subtle general illumination.

Task Lighting

Task Lighting

Task lighting provides concentrated lighting used to illuminate one area brightly—for example a work surface, desk or reading chair. The optimal task light is located between your head and the work surface. Good sources of task lighting are portable task lamps, and table lamps and bedside lamps that are low enough to avoid casting a shadow from the head.

Accent Lighting

Accent Lighting

Accent lighting provides directed illumination to spotlight paintings, sculpture, plants, and other prized possessions. Track lighting and recessed adjustable cans, for example, are great sources of accent lighting. Accent lighting should not be the only source of illumination in a room. If you use only accent light you end up with the ‘museum effect’ where the art visually takes over the room.

Decorative Lighting

Decorative Lighting

Lastly, we have decorative lighting. This type of lighting is used for effect—to provide shadow and subtle illumination. They add drama to a room by creating visual interest, either by highlighting key objects or areas in a room or through the shape and design of the light fixture itself. Lights placed low in a room and giving local illumination are used to this end—table lamps, floor lamps, bedside lamps, wall lights and decoratively shaped lamps.

General/Ambient Lighting

Dimmers

General lighting provides an area with soft general illumination that fills the volume of a room with a glow of light and softens the shadows on people’s faces it is the most important of the four functions of light. Most homes are wired to have a central light, such as a chandelier or pendant, hanging from the ceiling in the middle of each room to provide general lighting.

Daylight

Daylight

You should make optimal use of day lighting, if you have it! Daylighting can certainly brighten and open up a room or area. Windows, doors, skylights, mirrors, and other reflective sources are the primary sources of day lighting. If you want to let the light in, by all means, open your curtains and blinds, but remember to be cognizant of the sun damage that flooring, furniture, and textiles can endure. On the contrary, if you prefer not to light in (for instance if you have an unusual sleep schedule), it’s a good idea to invest in black-out shades or heavy curtains or drapes.

Work with an Interior Designer

Work with an Interior Designer

Williams Sonoma Home offers free design services to our customers. Work with our stylists and decorators, in your home or at your local store, to create your dream home. Schedule an appointment with the Williams Sonoma Design Crew or work with your local store to get started.