We all know that good lighting makes us look better, but a well-lit room also makes us feel better. While home decorators often treat lighting as an afterthought, interior designers know that good lighting is more complicated than switching on an overhead light. Your home or apartment may come with built-in lighting such as overhead lights in the bedroom, recessed ceiling lights in the living room, under-cabinet kitchen LED lighting in the kitchen, or wall sconces hardwired onto the wall above the sink vanity in the bathroom. The quality of light cast by built-in fixtures can be modified by your choice of bulb or by using a dimmer switch, but built-in lighting should never be the sole source of lighting in a room.
A well-lit room should have layered lighting from multiple sources that include ambient or general lighting; task lighting for reading, preparing meals, or desk work; and decorative accent lighting that creates ambiance. The quality of light cast by built-in fixtures can be modified by your choice of bulb or by using a dimmer switch, but it's rare that built-in lighting will be the sole source of lighting in a room. Choosing the right mix of light fixtures will help you to create a balanced and inviting atmosphere from the living room to the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and beyond. And light fixtures often serve as decor objects that can function as a sculptural element to enhance your room design even when the light is switched off.
Here is a brief guide to the main types of light fixtures and their functions.
- Best for: Flexible lighting for selected sitting areas
Floor lamps, also known as standing lamps, come in many shapes and styles that can be adapted to various areas of the house. From a design perspective, floor lamps are often sculptural pieces of decor that add interest to a room even when turned off.
Larger formats, such as arc lights, column lamps, tripod lamps, or oversized floor lamps, are most suited to large rooms such as the living room or an open-plan loft. Smaller profile standing lamps such as metal reading floor lamps can be placed behind an armchair or at the end of a sofa. Tall thin torchère lamps can be placed in corners.
- Best for: Decorative and functional lighting for sitting areas
Table lamps come in a range of sizes, heights, styles, and materials, but are all designed to be placed on a flat surface that is not the floor—a nightstand, a side table in a hallway, a fireplace mantel, a credenza in the living room, or on a kitchen table for an extra layer of atmospheric lighting while dining. Table lamps range in style from classic to industrial to contemporary. The quality of light produced by a table lamp involves many factors, including the choice of lampshade and bulb, the height of the lamp, and whether or not it is equipped with a dimmer.
Until recently, table lamps required having an electrical outlet nearby to plug in, but these days lighting manufacturers offer a range of LED-powered table lamps that can be charged using a USB cable and moved around as desired. This includes new table lamp designs as well as re-editions of classic lamps such as the recent portable LED version of the iconic 1968 Flowerpot lamp by Verner Panton.
- Best for: Task lighting at work areas
Those who primarily work on a computer screen may be tempted to use a table lamp to add ambient light to a desk. But if you use your desk for other tasks such as reviewing paperwork, writing or sketching by hand, using a desk light that provides adjustable task lighting can make you more productive and protect your eyesight. Desk lamps typically include an adjustable head that allows you to direct light to illuminate what you are working on. Architect-style lamps are popular for their cool industrial design and ease of use. But you can also find desk lamps in styles that range from vintage to modern minimalist depending on your taste.
Chandeliers and Pendant Lighting
- Best for: Illuminating dining and recreation areas
Chandeliers and pendant lights are hung from the ceiling, suspended by chains or cords that allow them to float in the room. Branched fixtures that once accommodated candles and now most often are lit with bulbs, classic chandeliers range in style from the sparkly antique crystal chandeliers that we associate with French chateaux and Las Vegas casinos. Modern chandeliers are often made from tiers of seashells, feathers, tassels, or other materials attached to a wire base, illuminated by a single bulb. Pendant lighting includes industrial metal light fixtures, classic globe lighting, and simple lights that consist of a bulb covered in a shade made from silk, wood, plastic, rattan, or just about any other material you can imagine.
A large chandelier or pendant light may be hung in the center of the ceiling to add ambient light to a room and create a focal point. You can also hang smaller chandeliers or pendant lights on either side of a bed, over bathroom sink vanities, or over a dining table or kitchen island to define the space. You can control the light by hanging your light fixture at the right height.
Best for: Supplemental horizontal illumination, task lighting
A wall sconce is a decorative light fixture that is either hard wired into the wall for a seamless look, or powered by a plug-in cord. Wall sconces come in many styles and may be hung singly, in pairs, or in multiples depending on the space. When turned off, they function as decor. When illuminated, they spread soft light onto the wall. Sconces free up space on a nightstand, add ambient light to hallways, and provide flattering light in bathrooms.
Decorative Accent Lighting
The final layer of lighting in a room comes in the form of decorative accent lighting that will add ambiance to a room, from neon-lit signage to garland lights to strings of Edison bulbs or fairy lights, lighted wall sculptures, hurricane lanterns full of candles, or decorative light sculptures in the shape of animals, planets, or anything else you can imagine. Adding at least one decorative accent light to every room will make it feel thoughtful, inviting, and finished.