If you want full functionality and total aesthetic control of a space, you can’t really rely on just one form of lighting. Ideally, you’d have some form of all three. That said, lamps really are your best bet for adding brightness (at many levels) if you can’t retrofit a space to add more lighting.
Ambient lighting refers to fixtures that illuminate a whole space, making it possible for you to see and move around safely. Task lighting is a much more direct, bright source of light in a concentrated spot for performing detailed work such as reading or chopping vegetables. Accent lighting is used to turn something—a piece of art, an architectural feature—into a focal point. Check out this kitchen by Christine Markatos Design, which has a hit of all three. You have pendants for task lighting over the island, the ceiling flush mount for ambient and then a recessed can over the sink as an accent that draws attention to the pretty window. It may also add a little task lighting for dishwashing as well, to be fair.
Overhead lighting changes are often the most dramatic. Once you start making them (and always consult an electrician if you’re unsure about anything with wiring), you have to keep a few numbers in minds when it comes to hanging fixtures.
Pictured Above From Left To Right1. Light Switch Timer: for $39.95 from Hammacher Schlemmer. This unit will turn on and off any wall switch up to 9 times a day and can leave things on for 1 minute or the whole 24 hours if you wish.
One of the best ways to protect your home while you’re away is to appear you never left. Leaving a light on in the front window doesn’t cut it any longer and sometimes you need a little extra believability to help others think you’re still home (though anti-social) while away on vacation.
Ideally, you want at least 7 feet between the bottom of a light and the floor. For ceilings over 8 feet, add three inches of hanging height per foot. For anything hanging above a table, you’ll need about 30 to 34 inches of clearance so no one whacks his or her head when standing up from a meal. Be careful with lights above bathtubs, too, since you’ll have to get in and out without any obstruction.
We’ve already established the importance of size and shape when it comes to lighting, but finish and material can be just as important.
Do you wait for full minutes with your hand in the shower, just waiting for the water to warm up enough to step inside? This little gadget will let you step away. Installed on your shower head, it allows the water to run until it reaches a certain temperature, at which point it cuts the flow until you get in and pull the tab to begin your shower. Saves time, saves water. Win-win.
Want to dry something quickly that’s too delicate to tumble? Get one of these clever racks that attach to the center of your dryer and provide a steady shelf on which to place your item (the dryer barrel spins around it). In fact, you may have gotten one with your dryer — many come with these mesh plastic racks and some people never identify it’s purpose. It’s great for shoes, sweaters and other things you don’t want to be tossed around.
Without lighting, our homes would pretty much be out of commission once the sun sets. So not only is lighting practical from a standpoint of needing to see and do things at home, but a strong lighting game can also take your house’s design from average to exceptional. That’s because people tend to notice the things that literally brighten up a space. Each fixture in your home then is an opportunity to make a decorative statement, so seize it. Follow these professional designers’ rules of illumination, and no one will be able to throw shade at your space.
Dimmers aren’t just for in-wall application. A bedside table lamp is a great place to add a dimmer, so you can turn off lights from bed. A hallway or bathroom isn’t a bad idea either, especially if you have a tendency to wake up during the night. Point is: dimmers are a relatively cheap way to instantly take control of the mood and look of your space, so you should go for it.
Donna has her clients put as many fixtures on dimmer switches as possible, so they have an endless option of lighting scenes. On movie night, for example, you can lower the lights to just bright enough to see your popcorn and drinks. Or when you’re trying to get work done, you can put fixtures on full blast.
There’s also something to be said for variety. Birgit likes to mix fixtures, so all lighting isn’t totally uniform. This could mean mixing finish or form. For example, she’ll pair a great organic, sculptural porcelain chandelier with streamlined zinc exposed bulb sconces, which are two totally different things but both modern. Matchy-matchy fixtures are nice for wall sconces that flank a bathroom mirror or bed, or even pendants in a kitchen. But you wouldn’t want your table and floor lamp to be exactly the same color as your chandelier and so on.
These gadgets have actually gotten pretty popular recently so there’s a good chance you’re already rocking a roku, but if not, time to jump in. My dad bought me one of these little boxes years ago (thanks, Pops!) and I’ve been into it ever since. It’s such an easy way to stream movies and TV from services like Hulu and Netflix on your TV and it’s a lot cheaper and easier than a device like an Xbox. It might make your entertainment so available that you can finally cut cable once and for all.
Technically, lights in a home or apartment fall under three categories: ambient, task and accent.
I love finding new things to solve annoying problems at home and these savvy gadgets do just that. Some are electronic, some are about as low-tech as you can get but all are useful.
5. Westek Daily Segment Timer Power Strip: for $19.99 from Home Depot. 4 outlets are always on and 4 are programmable with this power strip. You can set lighting or electronics to turn on and off 48 times a day in 15 minute increments.
Apartment Therapy supports our readers with carefully chosen product recommendations to improve life at home. You support us through our independently chosen links, many of which earn us a commission.
Sometimes bigger is better when it comes to lighting fixtures, at least when you’re trying to make a decorative statement. “A large, dramatic fixture with a pared down interior really makes an impact, especially in an entry,” says Birgit Klein of Birgit Klein Interiors. You can also go this route in a dining room, bedroom, breakfast nook or even over a tub in a master bath, if you’re fancy like that.
This gadget makes any outlet into an outlet you can control with your phone. It’s just an intermediary plug. That means you can turn on the lights in the next room before you trip over your shoes, turn OFF the curling iron you accidentally leave on every single morning or turn on your air conditioner unit 20 minutes before you get home so you can walk into a nice, cool home (without having to leave it on). So so handy for so many things.
4. Heavy Duty Outdoor Programmable Timer: for $17.14 (on sale) from Smart Home. This unit controls all your outdoor lighting, fountains and other outside features. It’s weatherproof and can turn things on randomly, at set times, or with the sun!
Time to tell us: What are your best under-the-radar gadgets that everyone should know about?
“Lighting is like the jewelry of a room,” says Christine Markatos Lowe of Christine Markatos Design. So why should you settle for the plain overhead “boob light” flushmounts and uninspired vanity lights your home came with?
Even if you live in a rental, it’s possible to swap out your generic lights for something special (like this great, affordable DIY from East Coast Creative) if you feel like the investment would be worth it. A lot of designers allocate a large chunk of a budget for lighting, but these days, it’s possible to find striking lights at big box stores and online.
I have not tried this drain-saving gadget but I really, really want to. If the reviews are correct, it’s a lifesaver for the long-haired ladies who don’t like calling a plumber to snake their shower every other month. It’s not a perforated cover like all the rest, it’s a chain attached to an anchor which threads through the drain and hangs down the pipe. When hair flows by, it catches it instead of letting it clog the pipe. Then, after a few months, you pull the chain out and throw it — and all your hair — away. There are even a few styles so it’s available for any type of drain.
3. Heavy Duty Digital 7 Day Timer Switch: for $36.46 (on sale) from Smart Home. This switch is strong enough to control lighting of all sorts and even your radio or appliances. You can set up to 42 weekly on/off settings, up to 6 per day and that makes it a winner in our book.
2. uTimer Sensor LED Light and Lamp Controller: for $29.95 from Brookstone. This timer knows when the sun goes down and automatically lights things up. It can keep light sources on until sun up, or turn them off after 4, 8 or 12 hours.
Don’t be afraid of a little bling. It’s not always gratuitous. In fact, when Christine is dealing with a darker space, she looks for unique, unusual pieces and vintage finds in reflective materials—chrome, brass or even crystal—to enhance brightness. If a piece can add extra shine or throw a pretty pattern around the room when illuminated, all the better.
Here’s a few of our favorite choices for making your home a little brighter when you’re away. Do you have a favorite that didn’t make the list? Be sure to leave us a comment below!
According to Donna Mondi of Donna Mondi Interior Design, it’s always a good idea to layer light sources so you have options depending on the setting you’re trying to create or what you intend to use a room for—work, relaxation, entertainment or some combination of all three. “The best overall lighting plans incorporate functional lighting like recessed cans, a decorative ceiling fixture, wall sconces or table lamps and floor lamps for dark corners,” says Donna.
Best to decide on the main fixture first—say the chandelier—which Birgit says really sets the stage. Then move on to wall and table lamps. Keep in mind that all of your lights shouldn’t be huge. If you go big with an overhead fixture or even a set of pendants above a kitchen island, everything else needs to be smaller in scale as not to compete.