It does not matter which part of the world you are in, and if you live in a house or an apartment, all designers agree that lighting is a fundamental ingredient when you are decorating your place.
Light is something that has fascinated the human race long before we were able to produce it. From ancient candles to the modern smart bulbs, light has always been a symbol of comfort, truth and even joy. We have curiously been afraid of the absence of light. Light makes us feel better. From Aristotle to Ghandi life has been a subject of many quotes: “In the midst of darkness, light persists.”
Light is a powerful thing that not just brightens dark corners. Light affects our emotions and should never be an afterthought when we are doing the last touches in decoration. The right light composition can lift your mood, inspire and motivate you, not to mention that light is the ultimate resource that gives multifunctionality to any room: you change the light and suddenly the room is transformed.
With the light industry evolving immensely during the last decade, our choices became almost unlimited but with it, we have found ourselves needing to learn about different types of light and several different units to measure it. I am often asked: What is the right amount of light one needs in a living room? In a kitchen? I must admit, at some point the whole process and the amount of options made it difficult to give simple and straight answers.
So here I would like to give you a general guide to help you simplify the task of transforming your place with light. There are 4 big areas that we need to consider.
- Determining the lighting needs in your rooms.
- Establishing the light color.
- Selecting your bulbs
- Choosing your fixtures.
1.- Determining the lighting needs in your rooms.
This is a question that can take you to complicated formulas and measurements, involving candelas, lumens, candlepower and watts that can simply scare you away so, I much rather use this rule of thumb using incandescent watts (usually written in the package of all bulbs):
Sitting Room or bedroom: 1.25 Watts per square foot – If you prefer the metric system: 14 Watts per m2.
So, for example: if your bedroom has 200 Sq feet, you will need roughly 250 Watts (200 Sq f x 1.25) and if your bedroom has 25 m2 you will need roughly 350 Watts (25 m2 x 14)
Kitchen or bathroom: 3.5 Watts per square foot and 40 Watts per m2.
So, if your bathroom has 30 Sq f, you will need roughly 105 Watts (30 Sq f x 3.5) and if your bathroom has 6 m2 you will need roughly 240 Watts (6 m2 x 40)
These references should be adjusted as needed. The level of wattage should be higher for instance where task-specific work occurs or rooms particularly dark or even where elderly people reside, that require higher levels of light.
2.- Establishing the light color.
Color temperature is a way to describe the light appearance provided by a light bulb. It is measured in degrees of Kelvin (K) on a scale from 1,000 to 10,000. The lower the number, the cozier/yellowish. The higher the number, the cooler/whitish.
Once again, the basic rule is:
2700K – 3000K – This warm/soft white range, best suits areas in the home where you want to relax or entertain.
3500K – 4500K – This neutral white light range can be used for dining areas
Over 5000K – Generally referred to as daylight and best suited for use in offices, kitchens, bathrooms, or other areas where high detail visibility is important. It can also help energize you in the morning if the room does not get good sun light.
3.- Selecting your bulbs.
There are four popular types of lightbulbs: incandescent, compact fluorescent, halogen, and LED (light-emitting diode).
Incandescent: The most commonly used type of bulb and the least expensive. They emit a warm light, can be used with dimmers, and usually last up to a year – longer than halogen lightbulbs, but not as long as fluorescent or LED lightbulbs. They are also not as energy-efficient as other lightbulb types.
Compact Fluorescent: These bulbs are energy-efficient bulbs and depending on the model you choose can emit a wide range of colors. They often take some time to warm up and get bright and are used to illuminate large spaces, such as basements, great rooms, and kitchens. They are usually less expensive than LED lights and can last longer than incandescent lights. These lightbulbs contain mercury, so handle them carefully.
Halogen: These lights are energy-efficient, dimmable and emit a white light that simulates high-noon daylight. It has the shortest lifespan of the four and it is important to note that they heat up quickly, so they should be kept away from fire-hazardous materials.
LED: One of the most energy-efficient lightbulb types, it gives off no heat, contains no mercury, and are long lasting. Nowadays, they come in all types of colors and shapes and smart versions. Actually, for a fully customizable environment, LED smart bulbs are highly recommended. They connect through wifi/Bluetooth to an app or remote and allow you to dim and change color with the touch of a button.
4.- Choosing your fixtures:
Using more than one fixture/source of light in each room, with different heights (this is why we say “layer the lights”) is essential to create ambiance and interest in a room while making its usage more flexible. All you need to do is to divide the amount of watts you need to for each room in different sources.
Actually, most designers will tell you to use at least three different sources of light in each room: Ambient lighting (overhead or pendant), Accent lighting (sconces, candles, or decorative) and Task lighting (task or table lamps).
Here the most common light fixtures:
Floor Lamps: This light fixture is very versatile and depending on the shape and size they can be an option for ambient lighting, specific light or even general light. As the lamp has decorative base, it can really stand out as a statement-making piece on its own. Floor lamps are most effectively placed in the corners of living spaces, especially behind chairs used for reading, writing, or other relaxed tasks that could benefit from having a little extra light.
Table Lamps: while they may not be the best option for illuminating an entire room, they are considered must-haves for end tables, side tables, nightstands or desk spaces that could benefit from some soft or directed light.
Wall Sconces: fixtures that are installed into your wall and protrude outward. A wall sconce’s light may be upward-facing, downward-facing, both, or neither. The appearance and effect of a wall sconce can vary widely from fixture to fixture; making this piece also very versatile. The power source can be wired or plug in which can be a great option to bring light to corners where you don’t have power source and it can be also perfect when you have small kids and want to get lights out of their reach. They are widely used as vanity lights in bathrooms are picture lights.
Chandeliers: the most common ceiling light, chandeliers are a beautiful ornamental statement light fixture. Its typical structure can accommodate multiple bulbs and has a wide radius, being the perfect fixture for general lighting. Some people do not consider them that much as they view them as old, but there are lots of designs that are quite amazing as modern art statements.
Flush-Mount & Semi-Flush-Mount Lights: more subtle than a chandelier, a flush-mount or semi-flush-mount light can be the perfect choice if you have a low ceiling.
Directional Lights/Spotlights: these are ceiling-mounted lights that can direct a strong, focused beam of light onto a specific object.
Track Lights: as the name says, track lights are light fixtures composed of a track and a set of lights that are affixed to that track. The simple structure of a track-light fixture make it perfect for a modern living space and they can assure an equal distribution of light.
Recessed Lights: these are the most functional type of ceiling light. Designed to be inserted into the ceiling, this low-profile light fixture can effectively light a large space in general lighting. Recessed lights should be a go-to fixture if you’re looking for a way to add all-encompassing ambient lighting to any space (even your shower!) without the fixture itself being distracting.
With the ability to affect the mood, and the perception of shape, and size of a room, lighting design is a very important element to consider when designing a space. I would say fundamental.
So, next time you find yourself wondering why your living room is not cozy enough or your kitchen does not look fresh and bright, reconsider your lighting. And don’t feel shy about having a go for it, and experiment with lighting. Remember Maya Angelou’s: “If one has courage, nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”