Who can resist a room with sunlight streaming through freshly washed windows? It bathes everything with warmth and well being! Unfortunately, there are days (and nights!) without sun, so bathing a room with light on command requires careful attention to lighting fixtures and accessories. Your choices should be governed first by the function of each room. Then you need to evaluate your General, Task and Accent Lighting needs.
General lighting provides a basic, functional level of illumination. Table lamps, wall mounted and ceiling fixtures all provide general lighting. So do recessed ceiling lights, track lighting, pendant lamps and chandeliers. Some require professional installation, so consult the instructions enclosed with the fixture.
Hanging fixtures shouldn't be hung so high that bulbs shine in your eyes, cast heavy shadows or leave awkward space between fixture and table. Hung too low, they are in the way and narrowly focus the light. Kitchen and dining room fixtures are generally hung 30-36" above the table or work surface. Many hang from chains that allow you to fine tune the height after the fixture is installed. When used over nightstands or end tables, they can hang much lower. They'll produce focused, downward light for snacking or knitting - without reflecting on the television screen.
Task lighting, which supplements General Lighting, is often the most difficult to assess. It's the kind of lighting most people complain about not having enough of! For reading, the light should come from behind your shoulder so it illuminates the page. Floor lamps, especially those with swing arms and height adjustments that position the light exactly where you need it, can be moved right behind your favorite chair.
Adjustable wall fixtures are good choices for sewing rooms and home offices where work space is limited. Some can be plugged directly into the wall with no costly installation.
Some task lighting is designed for very specific uses, like bed reading lamps that clip onto the headboard. Because the lamp is closer to both the book and the reader, it requires a much smaller bulb than most bedside lamps so you won't keep your partner awake!
Accent Lighting is used to spotlight architectural or decorative features in a room. It plays an important aesthetic role and requires fixtures than focus the light more directly.
Wall sconces, candle sticks and period lamps are used to distribute light throughout a room to eliminate dark corners. Placed near mirrors, paintings or china cupboards, they are functional while contributing to the overall mood of the room.
You should choose bulbs and shades for specific purposes. Floodlights will bathe a room with general light. Task lighting requires much more focused light, so look for fixtures that accept 75 to 100 watt bulbs. Lamps that uses 15 watt bulbs are intended for accent, not reading! Don't, however, be misled by watts alone. A chandelier that uses six 40 watt candelabra bulbs will provide lots of light!
As fragile as they look, light bulbs are quite sturdy unless you drop them! Don't bother with the so-called bargain bulbs. Their filaments are often weak and you'll end up replacing them more often, negating any initial savings.
You can modify light by choosing bulbs that cast yellow or white (daylight) light. Frosted bulbs are easier on the eye and faceted bulbs reflect sparkle patterns on the walls behind them. Use 3 -way, halogen or fluorescent bulbs only in fixtures that are designed for them.
Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) is an independent, non-profit organization that conducts product safety testing. Always rely on their recommendations when you buy lighting fixtures. The UL label on the base, shade or sales tag will state the lamp's maximum wattage.
Without shades, most lamps produce harsh, undirected light. The shade's shape and the material it is made from influence how light is distributed. Conical shades, open on one end only, tightly focus light and can be used for accent or work lighting. Traditional cylinder shades diffuse the light and send it out in several directions, suitable for general lighting.
Shades don't have to be fancy or expensive. Fabric, parchment and glass shades are common, but you'll also find mica and stained glass used in many decorative fixtures. Just remember that translucent shades provide the most light.
Multi purpose rooms require more versatile lighting schemes. While installing dimmer switches will allow you to control the amount of light in the room, you should also determine where and why you need specific kinds of lighting. For example, if you love to cook and entertain in your kitchen, plan enough general and mood lighting to take over when you remove your apron and turn off the working lights.
Strings of novelty lights around a houseplant, tea lights and candlesticks on a mantle all add light and sparkle to a room. Period pieces like hurricane lamps, railroad lanterns, and glass wall sconces reinforce a decorative theme. Make sure you pay attention to the small details too: decorative switch plate covers are an inexpensive and effective way to add some style to your rooms!