With its ability to dictate health and mood, as well as how the rest of the furnishings in the room are seen, lighting, more specifically, the layering of light, is the most important tool we have to create the experience we want to have in our environment.
Are you sitting in the dark?
A client once told me that we had to meet in the early morning before the work day because her new apartment "was dark at night." Like many people we speak with, she focused on new furniture, but not the lighting. So when she came home from work, it was dark, too dark in her opinion for us to have our meeting.
You may not be actually sitting in the dark, but let me ask - do you think your lighting scheme supports your health?
Each of us have our own circadian rhythm. Lighting plays a huge role in regulating our brains to release the hormones we need to sleep, improve our mood, and promote productivity.
How Lighting Can Effect Your World
Here's a quick exercise:
Do you feel relaxed when you walk into your bedroom?
How about when you walk through the hallway or down the staircase?
Lighting, itself, has physiological effects on our health and well-being. It's widely known that good lighting design can improve your overall mood and reduce depression. Proper lighting can help and even increase cognitive performance and productivity.
When we first felt the energy in this entrance hall , it felt dreary, fragmented, and unbalanced. We transformed it using lighting to create a warm and welcoming entrance. Upon entering the apartment, we are pleasantly greeted with a gilded overhead sconce and table lamp to illuminate the entrance.
Remember to think about how you want to experience your space. Here, we coordinated the electrical work to combine the hardwired sconce and outlet for the table lamp onto the same light switch. Having a small detail like this planned ahead makes such a difference in the functionality of this space, day after day.
The back part of the hallway was equally unappealing when we found it. Though well lit, the lights were harsh and made you want to run past them. We added dimmable LED sconces through the length of the hallway and around the back corner. The gentle glow they created infused a cozy feeling. Coordinated with the new door hardware, all of the elements together brought cohesion to the area. We brought the black element forward with the mirror and console table to unify the entire length of the space.
The decision to have gilded fixtures in the front keeps things light and warm. Don't be afraid to mix metals when developing your lighting concept. We like to use the words "coordinate" and "compliment", more than using the word "match".
Exploring the Science
Let's expound upon our circadian rhythm. Lighting plays a huge role in providing cues to our optical nerve which alerts the brain when it's time to sleep or time to be active.
"The suprachiasmatic nucleus ... a small clump of cells—composed of approximately 20,000 neurons—sits at the intersection of your optical nerve, right in the middle of your brain. It serves as the body’s atomic clock, tracking outside information (like ambient light) to determine whether you should be wrapped up in a comforter or going for a morning run." -- Dr. Matthew Walker, British neuroscientist and author of the international bestseller Why We Sleep
Just as lighting carries us through a space, it also carries us through the day.
As we design the lighting in our home, we take into account our daily routines. Whatever they may be, we recognize regular times when we need to feel energized, notice times when we relax, and most importantly how to wind down and prepare for rest.
The better the routine, the better the circadian rhythm.
We use lighting to provide the body with all the right cues. In the morning and in the evening, we go through the whole house and adjust the lighting. We know many people that do this. We've heard it called called "lamp o'clock" and "lamp-thirty". This commonly shared routine is an example of how lighting effects our behavior. We instinctively know that the intensity of the lighting in the room supports whatever we're doing.
For example, at bedtime, we each walk in to our bedrooms and see the soft glow of our bedside lamps inviting us into our sanctuary to relax and feel at peace at the end of the day. It triggers our habit of a few minutes of reading, and sets us gently on our way to a restful night's sleep.
So when we are designing lighting in our homes, we want our lighting to support our daily routines as well as our mental, physical, and emotional needs.
Keep these ideas in mind when selecting lighting for your home or office.
Invest in quality fixtures
Quality fixtures are very much an investment that stand the test of time. My husband has a chandelier from his Grandfather. It's a beautiful family heirloom that adds warmth and love to our upstairs hallway. Lighting is definitely an investment not only in your home, but certain pieces make such an impact they travel the generations.
Lighting fixtures not only serve to illuminate the space properly, but they can also become the "wow factor" in a room. Having a clear expectation on what a high-end fixture will cost allows you to understand how to best utilize your investment in that space.
When you know the money-figures for all of the lighting in a space, it allows you to strategically allocate costs to the things that make the most impact. Since lighting is so fundamental in every room, it's wise to invest in quality merchandise throughout. In our luxury spaces, we mix high-end with low-end all the time. Low end doesn't mean cheap. And quality doesn't have to mean expensive.
Consider the function of your space
As you make decisions on your lighting plan, pay careful attention to what you will be doing in each room, and what elements are going into the space. Identify what type of lighting you will be using the most. What will make the most impact to the space and your lifestyle?
Keep in mind that lighting not only supports you in your daily activities but also supports the other pieces in the room. You could have a magnificent sofa covered in the most stunning fabric, but if your lighting is cheap, poorly made or lack-luster, the sofa won't shine like the star is it. Like a diva, it will throw a fit, and I guarantee that you will feel that energy when you walk into the room. Keeping the star happy, you will enjoy that space much more.
Know that when building a space, the electrical wiring comes first. Before the paint, before the furniture is in place, before anything goes into the room, the wires and housings need to be where you want them. As in the case that I described above of combining the sconce and the outlet to one light switch, having this small detail planned ahead allowed us to freely make decisions. Much better than worrying on the back end if it could be done, incurring unexpected labor costs, or worse having to sacrifice the feature all-together.
Layer your lighting
Without sufficient lighting, a room will feel small and cramped. Objects may appear to have different colors than they actually do. You may get a sense that room is "closed" and people may avoid the area all together because they don't feel right when they're in that space.
By effectively distributing light within a room, you take your eye on a pleasant ride which creates an enjoyable, more functional environment.
This involves combining multiple layers of light sources. There are three main ones to incorporate into each room: ambient, task, and accent lighting all serve different purposes.
Ambient lighting provides the general illumination of a room. It welcomes you into the space as a whole as you flip the switch upon entry. It enhances the sense of warmth and scale, and is usually achieved using overhead lighting such as chandeliers and other large center fixtures that hang from the ceiling, as well as sconces that may wash light across a wall.
The second layer to lighting design is task lighting. Task lighting is intended to illuminate a specific function, like cooking, doing the dishes, reading a book, making notes in your journal, whatever daily activities you enjoy. Be mindful to place these table lamps, pendant lights and floor lamps properly to avoid shadows.
The third layer, accent lights, also called highlighting, draws attention to a particular object, such as artwork, sculpture, plants or bookcases. Accent lighting includes one of my favorite fixtures - the art lamp - as well as any shelf or cabinet lighting, and other architectural features like pin lights and uplighting.
Make it personal
We create our environments to thrive - and to rest - within our home. Here are my favorite lighting details I've learned throughout the years about how lighting can be customized to the space.
The dimmer switch - If you don't already do this, have your electrician add a dimmer to any and every light possible. This gives you the control to set the intensity of the light at different times of the day. A brighter atmosphere can be set in the morning to energize you, while you can dim the lights in the evening to set an intimate and relaxing mood.
Cut the cord - Recently, I added a table lamp to a vanity in a powder bath. Usually, lamps come with very long cords, in this case 12 feet. We literally needed 10 inches. My local lamp repair shop easily took care of this for $35. Worth it to not have a big ball of cord sitting there on the beautiful stone vanity.
Customize the shade - What a difference an interesting shade makes on a light fixture! Typical fixtures come with standard plain white or paper shades. There are custom lamp shades that come in different fabrics and different sizes. You may also provide your own material, called COM (Customer's Own Material), that may coordinate with the wallpaper or drapery in that space.
This is what we do
It's hard to know what you don't know, but I hope that these simple home lighting tips have illuminated you. Lighting can completely transform and reinvigorate your space , which will enhance the way you experience your home.
With the ability to affect your health, the mood of the household, and the way the objects in the room are perceived, lighting design is the most important element to consider when planning a space.
Have you gotten into your renovations and feel unsure if you're up to the task of organizing the multiple layers of light along with the rest of the elements that go into a space? We offer consultations in our Room Reading Package. Or if you'd like for us to be more involved, we may provide you with Full-Service Interior Design. We're always happy to jump on a call to talk about how we can help you make the most out of your renovations, ensuring that after all of this time and money you're investing, you achieve the results you want.
Sending love and luxury,