Let in the light! Anyone who knows me knows I'm a firm believer in the importance of natural light. As we designed our home, we were sure to include plenty of windows and creative ways to let in as much sunshine as possible. Few things compare to the power of natural light.
But of course, even in the sunniest climates, we can’t rely on natural lighting alone. Choosing light fixtures that flatter, beautify, and enhance the health of your living space is a crucial piece of the puzzle. But how do you choose the right fixtures? Are overheads always necessary? What temperature light is best?
Here, we’ll explore the importance of choosing light fixtures that compliment your home while keeping you healthy and in your best light (pun certainly intended).
Photography: Jennifer Lavelle
How to Choose Light Fixtures for Your Home
At first blush, the question of how to choose a light fixture seems simple enough. We've all seen the homes with the default round ceiling fixtures that go mostly unnoticed. If you're selecting light fixtures for a new home or exploring an update of your existing lighting scheme, chances are you’ve been down the rabbit hole of light fixtures.
From table lamps to pendant lights, from antique chandeliers to gorgeous cage lanterns, lighting fixtures range to fit every style and taste. From a design perspective, I recommend a mix of light sources. Be sure to check out the WxD Shop where you can browse a wide variety of some of our most favorite lighting fixtures. Most of us would find it challenging and even jarring to stick to all overheads, but there are times when lamp light isn’t quite enough.
With a world of light fixtures out there, don't limit yourself. Explore the options to find a lighting setup that works for you. Yes, it may mean rearranging and adjusting, as the purpose of a room evolves too. For example, if you're working from home in a closet-turned-office, new lighting might be required to keep up your mood and productivity (not to mention eliminating eye strain).
So if you're wondering how to choose a light fixture, look for something you like, something that compliments the room's style, and something that fits the space's size.
Why is Lighting So Crucial for Health?
How is lighting good for your health? It seems like an obvious question—we need light so we can see, right? But lighting is also super important because it can affect our mood, productivity, and even our sleep cycles. When choosing light fixtures for your bedroom (or any area where you spend time), the effects of light on the body are essential considerations.
For example, studies have shown that blue light emitted by electronics can be disruptive to our sleep. It can contribute to stress and strain on the eyes and can lead to headaches and fatigue. For these reasons, many eye care professionals recommend taking regular screen breaks, minimizing electronic exposure at nighttime, and limiting our time on the computer.
Our bodies naturally react to the light. We have more energy when the sun is up in the day, and we feel calmer and more ready for sleep when the sun goes down at night. This pattern is known as our circadian rhythm. Now, with our modern, 21st-century lifestyles, most of us aren't up at dawn and down at dusk anymore. We stretch our days beyond the natural light.
But there are ways we can mimic the body's natural circadian rhythm. This approach to lighting has become popular in healthcare, but up until recently, we didn't see it as often in residential design. Now with smart home options, you can include settings that soften the light in the evening and adjust the lighting scheme of your home to mirror these natural, healthy patterns.
Layer Lighting to Build the Right Effect
If you want to create a particular effect in a room or if you need to use a room for different purposes (such as a bedroom that doubles as an office), I recommend layering and mixing your lighting. You can think of your home's lighting in three types: ambient, task, and accent.
Ambient lighting or general lighting refers to overhead lights—light fixtures that illuminate the entire room. When you flip on a light switch, that's usually ambient lighting. This lighting is vital to setting the overall tone of a room (and to see every space in the room clearly), but it can be jarring and harsh to rely on ambient lighting for every task.
Task lighting refers to the lights we use for activity. We may use a desk lamp while we write, a reading lamp on a bedside table, or light above the kitchen sink. A light above a bathroom mirror might be great for most tasks, but we may also want sidelights to see some of the detailed endeavors (like applying makeup or tweezing a hair).
The third type of lighting is accent lighting. These lights are often in the form of lamps, directed recessed lights, candles, wall sconces and picture lights. These are your real mood lights that can create the ambiance and the mood of a room, add visual interest, soften, and draw your eye.
When you're choosing light fixtures, layer a nice mixture of all three types. Some rooms like the kitchen, office, and bathroom might require more task lighting. Other spaces like the bedroom may feel soothing with accent lighting. Depending on the room type—lighting can make, break, or transform a space.
Choosing the Right Temperature for Your Light Fixture
When we discuss lighting choices, there's a lot of discussion of "temperature." In this case, the temperature doesn't refer to the heat generated by the lightbulb, but the effect. You might hear light referred to as cool or warm. For those new to choosing the right light fixture, these terms can be a little confusing.
LED lighting is highly energy-efficient, using 75% less energy, and lasts 25 times longer than traditional (incandescent) lighting. The use of LED lights has grown exponentially in the last decade, and LED bulbs are becoming standard in homes. So how do you decide which LED lighting is the right “temperature” for you?
Of course, it depends on the room and the use of the light. In general, I recommend the following lighting options.
· Kitchen and bathroom recessed lights: 12 W in 5000K, which offers a bright, cool, natural-type light.
· Bathroom sconces: 6 W in 3000K, which offer flattering, soft lighting.
· Living room and bedroom recessed lights: 8 W in 4100K, giving bright, soft, natural-type light.
· Lamps throughout living spaces: 8 W in 3500K, which is bright enough for tasks, but soft enough to flatter.
Look for higher temperatures in rooms where you want a brighter light. Think of the areas where you want to see yourself naturally, or mimic outdoor lighting—spaces like the bathroom and the kitchen call for higher temps and brighter lights to illuminate your activities.
Lower temperatures create softer, cozier lighting. These lighting options make a room feel warm and comfortable. Look for lower temp lighting for your living room, bedroom, and study.
Choosing the Right Light Fixtures for a Room
So besides the right temperature lighting, what other considerations should you make when choosing lighting for a room? If we break it down room by room, I recommend the following.
Kitchen & Dining
The kitchen is a workspace (now, admittedly, I don’t LOVE cooking, but I still need to see what I'm doing in the kitchen). This space requires bright, ambient lighting. You may also want task lighting to cook on the stove, work at the counter, or work in the sink. For a fresh take, consider long, linear lighting over traditional pendants above a kitchen island.
Consider using accent lighting in the kitchen to highlight open shelving and artwork. Even a table lamp can look perfectly appropriate on a countertop! In fact, a lamp might become your favorite kitchen accessory. It gives a soft, calming light rather than harsher shadows from overheads. When you choose light fixtures for the kitchen, you're not beholden to a specific fixture or type. Layering in the kitchen is an excellent idea for creating a space that feels nurturing and inviting.
For dining spaces, the scale is key. Whether it's a breakfast nook or a formal dining room, getting the right fixture above the table is important. I suggest a fixture that's about 12 inches less than the width of your table (in all directions). This size gives plenty of light for the entire surface but doesn't get in the way of eating. Consider a dimming feature to create soft, flattering light while you eat.
Office and Workspaces
Want to beat the afternoon slump? Bright, cool temperature lighting will help improve your focus and keep you alert. The task lighting for your desk should still be diffused, whether you use a lampshade or choose an adjustable fixture.
Photography: Caroline Sharpnack
Wall sconces look lovely just about everywhere these day—above a formal desk or along a sideboard and also add extra lighting for essential jobs. When choosing the finish for your fixtures, look for one that complements the room's other details and finishes. Never be afraid of mixing metals in a space—I prefer to keep it narrowed down to two different metals or a maximum of 3, with one metal being most predominant. Keep in mind that polished nickel, silver, chrome, and pewter, will give a cooler effect, while brass, gold, and bronze will add warmth.
Bathroom and Vanity
In the bathroom and alongside your vanity, great lighting is crucial. Choose light fixtures that feel a bit glamorous, fun, and playful. I love the look of sconces on either side of the mirror versus a light fixture from above. The side lighting really helps eliminate shadows and diffuse light naturally across your face. If you’re looking for the ultimate makeup mirror—you can find the one I can’t live without here.
Photography: Jennifer Lavelle
What about a chandelier in the bathroom or a pretty cage lantern? Consider adding fixtures that offer sparkle and make your bathroom feel more like a retreat than a utilitarian space. Even a floor lamp can look amazing in the bathroom or in the corner of a dressing area.
Open & Living Spaces
What about wide-open spaces in your home? The hallway? The living room? Big spaces call for impactful, eye catching light fixtures. When sourcing lighting, I'm often drawn to modern pieces. These modern fixtures feel refreshing and minimalist, yet they still complement a wide array of design styles.
Another point to keep in mind is that you aren't limited to one big pendant light or chandelier. Consider a pair of lights or creating repetition with several hanging lanterns down a long hallway. Using lighting in this way adds visual interest and feels fresh.
Choosing light fixtures and creating the right lighting scheme for your home may seem like an afterthought, but it's one of the most important, impactful ways you can alter your space. Changing up lighting can make a room feel brand new, and the right lighting will help your space feel bigger, cozier, or more energizing, depending on your approach. Don't overlook your lighting! Give it some thought, and most importantly, have fun exploring its dramatic effects!
What are your lighting dilemmas? Let me know in the comments!