Lighting is about much more than being able to see in the dark: The way you light your space influences your home’s entire atmosphere. “With good lighting, you notice the space feels really nice,” says lighting designer Brian Orter of BOLD. “If the lighting is bad, people start blaming other stuff. They say, ‘Oh, it feels dreary in here,’ but they just think you’ve done a poor job decorating your house.”
Which is why Orter suggests incorporating lighting decisions into the design of your room from the very beginning. Think about how you’ll use the space: Do you need task lighting in the kitchen? A reading light in the bedroom? A light over the craft table in the family room? “The number one question,” says Orter, “is, ‘what are you lighting?’ Typically, you don’t want to light the floor. You want to light the furniture, the walls, the art, the people.” If you’re planning to study your favorite design magazines in a certain chair in the living room, install an outlet nearby and pick a side table high enough for the lamp you plan to put on it.
Erik Retzer of eBay Collective dealer Architectural Artifacts recommends using three sources of light at varying heights in every room. For example: a chandelier, table lamps, and sconces. The easiest way to coordinate fixtures from different sources, he says, is to pull them from a similar time period—even if it’s not the same period as your home’s architecture. “If you have a traditional bronze eight-arm chandelier, don’t put an industrial fixture next to it,” says Retzer, but at the same time, don’t hesitate to use midcentury modern table lamps, sconces, and pendants in an older home.
Once you’ve accomplished the basic illumination of your room, layer in decorative fixtures: Choose colorful shades to brighten dull corners, eye-catching lamp bases as conversation starters, low-hanging chandeliers as statement art pieces, and dimmable fixtures that can set the mood during a dinner party.
A few easy tweaks can ensure that your lighting is perfect: Order custom shades for a piece that’s perfect for your home and better than anything off the rack, suggests Stuart Grannen, the owner of Architectural Artifacts. Make sure you’re using the right kind of bulb—“If it’s a clear shade, you buy a clear bulb, and if it’s a frosted shade, you buy a frosted bulb,” says Retzer—and upgrade recessed lights with accessories like a soft-focus lens or honeycomb louver.
How will you know if you’ve created the feeling you’re after? You just will, says Grannen. “The homeowner is the one to say if it’s right or wrong,” he says. “It’s your house. So you can never go wrong if you like it.”