Lighting is a key element in creating a welcoming and functional living space — you can even argue that it’s the most important element.
As a homeowner, understanding the essentials of lighting design can make a significant difference. In this concise guide, we’ll discuss four crucial aspects to consider when planning the lighting for your apartment or house, focusing on aesthetics, functionality, and to a lesser extent, energy efficiency (we’ll explain why later).
1. You Must Balance Ambient, Task, and Accent Lighting
We can categorize all home lighting fixtures into three general categories: ambient, task, and accent.
To create a comfortable and visually appealing environment, it’s crucial to understand what these types of lighting are, and then to find the right balance between them in your home.
Ambient lighting provides overall illumination, task lighting is used for specific activities, and accent lighting highlights architectural features or artwork. Striking the perfect balance between these three elements is essential for a harmonious and well-lit space.
The balance that you need in your home is largely defined by your taste, but as a general rule: make sure to incorporate ambient and task lighting into every room in your home, focus the least on and be conservative with accent lighting.
2. Fixture Positioning and Light Scattering Is Critical
Most home builders put little thought into lighting. They give you a few ceiling “boob” lights in every room and call it a day... This is a huge disservice to the future homeowners and/or tenants, as ceiling lights are some of the least flattering available on the market, they cast awful shadows on everything.
The placement and scattering of light play a vital role in determining the ambiance of a room. Consider the following recommendations for various spaces in your home:
- Living rooms: Combine floor lamps, table lamps, and wall sconces to create a warm atmosphere. When possible, avoid ceiling lamps, which cast harsh shadows. Be strategic about light placement so that you don’t e.g. create glares on TV screens. Before permanently mounting a light fixture, try to mount it temporarily (but above all else: safely). Use the room as you might on a regular basis and be sure the placement meets your expectations.
- Kitchens: Install recessed or pendant lights above countertops and islands for ample task lighting. Use under-cabinet lighting to brighten work surfaces without creating shadows.
- Bedrooms: Opt for bedside lamps and wall-mounted fixtures for both ambient and task lighting. Install dimmers to adjust light levels for activities such as reading or relaxing.
- Bathrooms: Combine overhead and side lighting around mirrors to minimize shadows and ensure even illumination for grooming tasks.
3. Color Temperature’s Influence on Human Physiology
Color temperature, measured in Kelvin (K), affects how a space feels. Warmer tones (2700K-3000K) create a cozy atmosphere, while cooler tones (3500K-5000K) are better suited for task-oriented spaces. Research suggests that exposure to cooler light during the day can enhance alertness, while warmer tones in the evening can promote relaxation and sleep.
At home, we generally want to relax and unwind, so warmer color temperatures are usually preferred.
Some areas can benefit from a “neutral white” color temperature, i.e. something around 4000K. Namely, these are bathrooms and work surfaces (desk tops, kitchen countertops, etc.) When doing makeup, cutting fruit, or drawing something, being able to see the true color of something can be important, and a neutral color temperature offers the best color accuracy. That said, for color-critical tasks, it’s important to take into account not only color temperature, but a light bulb’s color rendering index (CRI). What CRI is exactly is a topic for another article, but just remember to check what the CRI of a light bulb is before buying it. Aim for a CRI equal to or greater than 90, and avoid anything below 80 or that doesn’t even specify one.
4. You Shouldn’t Lose Sleep Over Energy Efficiency As Long As You Buy LED-based Fixtures From Reputable Brands
In today’s market, it’s hard to find highly inefficient lighting options, so unless you’re buying antique incandescent bulbs… don’t sweat the energy efficiency of anything you might buy for your home — modern light fixtures are very comparable in this regard.
Most stores offer LED-based fixtures and bulbs exclusively, and even relatively “inefficient” LEDs that you can buy at major retails are vastly more efficient than anything we had a few decades ago.
Put simply, energy efficiency is already built into just about anything that uses LEDs. So buy LED-based fixtures and bulbs from reputable brands, and don’t put too much thought into energy efficiency.
While it’s important to consider energy efficiency, rest assured that as long as you choose fixtures with LEDs, minor differences in an energy efficient rating won’t make a significant impact on your energy consumption or costs, even in the long run.
When lighting your home, it’s essential to consider the balance of ambient, task, and accent lighting, fixture positioning, color temperature, and with all due respect to the planet, chill on the energy-efficiency. By keeping these four aspects in mind, you can create a comfortable and inviting living space that suits your needs and preferences.
Plan carefully and enjoy the rewards of a beautifully lit home.