Home lighting is a very important consideration, whether you are designing a new house, moving into a new place or just redecorating. It is hard to think of any one aspect of interior decorating that is more critical than effective lighting. The plan doesn't have to be expensive, but it needs to be well thought out. This is where common sense can go a long way. In this article, I want to point out some of the factors to consider as you think about what you may want and need in the way of lamps and lighting.
An experienced furniture sales person once told me that she encourages her
customers to think of each room as a stage set in a play. You want the
room to express the kind of activity that will go on there. It makes
sense that the den, living room and bedroom all require different stage
settings. In addition to the different functions of each room, you will
want to express yourself in the particular way you like them to look. In
lighting as well as decor, it is less important these days to "follow the
trend", than to achieve the look that suits you, and makes you feel that
your space is the way you like it.
One place to start is with the big picture. Most rooms need some kind of
general overall light. This may be from overhead lights like older houses
have hanging from the middle of the ceiling, recessed cans with flood or
spot lamps in them, or indirect light bounced off the ceiling. Unless
you are designing new construction, you may just have to deal with what
you have in this department. The best substitute for built in illumination may be a torchier. These are like a floor lamp, except that they
shine light up at the ceiling. This helps provide indirect light with
good dispersion and not too many shadows. Many of the newer ones have
dimmers and 500 watt halogen bulbs which give off lots of pure white
light. The only problem with these is that the bulb gets very hot and
they can be a fire hazard if they tip over or if any combustible material
gets near the bulb. Especially with kids I would think twice about using
halogen. There are torchiers on the market that use regular bulbs and can
go up to 250 watts. These are a lot safer.
We hear several complaints about existing rooms. Sometimes there is no provision for overhead light and people want it. Other people have fluorescent light and hate it. Still other people have dark paneling and can't get enough light no matter what they do. Usually a torchier will help in all these situations.
Another way to provide general illumination is lots of white paint and large light colored wall art with track lighting as the light source. Light from the track lights reflected off these light areas can provide some general illumination. Another idea that works for some people is to make use of several table and floor lamps with large enough shades to accommodate large incandescent bulbs. Putting these near light walls also helps.
Next, I would think about those situations where specific task lighting is needed. The desk will need its special lamp, as will the piano and the pictures on the wall. The trick to solving these areas is to try to find solutions that fit your decorating concept. For example, in a modern setting track lights can light the pictures, but in a more traditional room picture lights might be more appropriate.
So far I have written only about the technical considerations of lighting
your home. The most interesting and most important part of the job is to
get the look and feel you want. I think it is important to think about
the look of each component in a room and how it relates to the whole
concept. Think not only about what a lamp will do, but also what it looks
like both when it is turned on, and when it is off. Does it have the
right "feel" for you. By their nature, lamps become a focal point when
they are turned on. That is why it is so important that they look right in
their setting . The same style lamp can be a strong accent, or blend in
with the surroundings, depending on it's color and finish. If you give
it some thought, you can get the effect you want. Be patient and don't
be afraid to experiment.
To close, I want to say a little about portable lamps, as they are called in the industry. If you walk into a lighting store, it can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of lamps to choose from, so where should you start. I think it helps to first think about size. There are four main groups of table lamps to consider.
The largest size is usually over 27 inches tall including the shade. These are used on low tables next to sofas and chairs for general illumination and reading. The height is important because it allows the light to shine out from under the shade to light up your page, and makes the lamp tall enough be in scale with the nearby furniture. These lamps usually can accommodate 3-way bulbs up to 250 watts.
Medium size lamps are usually between 20 inches and 27 inches tall. They are used in occasional situations throughout the home. The shade size will usually take up to a 150 watt bulb which is plenty for most uses. These lamps can be used on tall tables. bureaus, book shelves and anywhere where their size looks right. Medium sized lamps can even work next of a sofa if the table is arm height and the room is not huge.
Small lamps tend to be from about 15 inches to 20 inches tall and use bulbs from 75 to 100 watts maximum. These are used on bedside tables and other places where you don't need much light and there is not a lot of space.
The remaining class of portable lamps is floor lamps and torchairs. The
obvious advantage of these is that you don't need furniture to put them
on, and they can provide lots of light wherever you need it. I also find
it useful that they can be moved to give just the light you want where you
need it, and then put back where they belong when you are finished with
If all this seems like too much for you, it may be a good idea to use a home decorator or lighting designer to help you plan your home lighting. They will have lots of good ideas, and will know where you can buy what you need. My best advice here is to be sure to find someone who will help you get the look you want rather than trying to sell you what is popular, or what they like.
In keeping with my opening thought about thinking of your space as a stage set, I think I should mention dimmers. There are many kinds of dimmers available. Some are built into lamps, many are separate devices that can sit on a table to be operated by hand while others are floor dimmers that you work with your foot. These can give you control of the mood of a room just like the stage set designer has of the stage. Dimmers will work with any halogen or incandescent lamp, and often can handle many lamps at one time. Avoid using dimmers with fluorescent lamps, they will overheat and become dangerous.
I hope this has been helpful for you. Choosing your lighting can be a great adventure if you keep an open mind and think of all the possibilities. Very often a simple solution is the best. Good luck.
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