Interior Lighting Tips Real Simple

November 30, 2018 1:45 am by sandiego
Tips for lighting your home from a pro designer
Pastel living room
Interior Lighting Tips Real Simple

Embedded in the ceiling, recessed lights (a.k.a. high hats or can lights) are sleek, inconspicuous, and ideal for low ceilings. When it comes to size, smaller (about three inches in diameter) is chicer. Directional recessed lights can be set to beam toward a certain spot.

Outdoor lighting not only provides ambience, but it can also secure your home. “Make sure all entry points of the home are well lit,” he says. “Outside the garage, mount a wall lantern on each side of the garage door or install a single fixture above. For added security, illuminate any side of the house in the shadows with spotlights installed on your eaves or use wall lanterns at side doors, windows, and garages.”

With summer in full swing, you’re probably spending most of your time enjoying the great outdoors—and that likely includes relaxing in your backyard, or hosting friends for a dinner alfresco. Don’t let the fun stop once the sun goes down just because your outdoor lighting is nonexistent or inefficient. Not all outdoor lighting is created the same, and it requires more than just putting up a wall light or some string lights and calling it a day. To create ambience, it’s all about choosing the right type of lighting fixture for your backyard. Luckily, Michael Murphy, Interior Design and Trends Producer for Lamps Plus, is here to help. Here, Murphy breaks down the different types of outdoor lighting, where to place fixtures, how to calculate how much lighting you need, and much more. Use his tips and you’ll be able to enjoy those fun summer nights even more.

Emits a gorgeous, rosy glow. Perfect for mood lighting in the living room, the dining room, or a bedroom. Once you switch, you’ll never go back. (Sylvania soft pink bulbs, $5.50 for two,

Use a 40- to 60-watt bulb. To prevent shadows, the lamp should be between your head and the page. A lamp with an opaque shade, like a metal reading lamp, cuts glare.

Looking to create a flattering glow yet still have enough wattage to see what you’re doing? This speedy lesson in lamps, fixtures, and bulbs (plus some room-by-room tips) will illuminate the way.

You’ll need 60 to 80 watts of light. So a 40-watt bulb in each of a pair of sconces or three to four 25-watt bulbs above the vanity work well. Add the overhead if you need more.

Aim for a cozy, insular atmosphere: Place reading lamps or sconces by the bed—but not pointed directly at it. If you have recessed or track fixtures, angle them away from the bed, toward the dressing area. On a low table, include a small, intimate lamp with a tinted low-wattage bulb to mimic candlelight.

Inspired by Thomas Edison’s original design, it has a visible filament and a rustic glow. Pricey and low-wattage, it’s worthwhile only in lamps where the bulb is exposed. (Triple-loop bulb, $25,

For a lawn quick fix, Murphy suggests using a landscape lighting kit. “Try a kit that plugs directly into any outdoor outlet,” he says. “These kits typically consist of several ground spot lights strung together on a single cord. Arrange them in a garden to cast dramatic shadows or place around the perimeter of a patio to set a festive mood.” You can also try solar landscape lighting as well.

An expert shares his best tips for illuminating your backyard or porch.

Fixtures like these hug the ceiling. In a bathroom or a kitchen, their bright, whole-room illumination is useful; elsewhere they can be harsh. Calm one down by swapping in low-wattage bulbs, aiming for a total wattage of about 60.

Circalighting.comUpscale but not over-the-top, this site features a well-edited selection of classic fixtures from designers such as Thomas O’Brien, Alexis Hampton, Barbara Barry, and Ralph Lauren.Home GoodsA great place to score affordable traditional-style one-off lamps (you might even find a matching pair).IKEAVery inexpensive, mostly modern lighting that looks far pricier than it is.Lampsplus.comYou’ll find an extensive, well-priced selection of lamps and mounted fixtures in every style. A bit of a time commitment to browse through, but worth it.Urbanelectricco.comBest known for its retro handblown glass pendants. If you’re looking for a showstopper for your entryway, this is the place. Also sells vintage bulbs.

There are two rules of thumb: You should have a mix of light sources at different levels to create a flattering ambience, and you need appropriate task lighting for whatever you do in that space (reading, sautéing, getting dressed). Here are tips for five key spots.

They should clear the head of the tallest family member and not obstruct views—figure 36 to 48 inches from the top of the counter. Start the row of lights 12 to 15 inches from either end of the island or table, and space them evenly within that span.

Focus on overhead lighting (on a dimmer that you can crank up when cooking), and add lower sources to illuminate work surfaces. Use pendants, under-cabinet lights, or a sturdy table lamp (kept away from the sink).

They’re your best friend when it comes to illumination, because they let you effortlessly adjust the feel of a room for mood or activity. Changing from switches to dimmers is a quickie job for an electrician, and it’s fairly easy to do yourself. For a demo, go to A tip: Dimmers are not just for overheads. You can put a lamp on a dimmer or even opt to have the whole room’s “lightscape”—ceiling, table, and floor lamps—all on a single dimmer switch. Dimmers also save energy and extend the lives of bulbs.

Go for a fixture one-half to three-quarters the width of the table; anything larger will cast shadows on faces. Hang the light 36 to 48 inches above the table. Choose the lower number for more intimacy, the higher one if you want to stand when toasting.

Observe your space and take measurements so you don’t choose fixtures that are too large-scale. “Check the size and position of a fixture before you buy using a simple piece of paper,” Murphy says. “Use a paper template to determine exact placement to review the size before buying. For either the front porch or the back patio, the size of an outdoor wall light should be approximately one-third the height of the door.” You’ll also want to make sure you’re choosing sturdy lighting, one that’s made of high-quality and weather-resistant materials. 

Your dinner guests won’t want a bright spotlight on them while they’re enjoying their outdoor meal, so stick with lighting that gives a soft glow. “Outdoor rooms, especially dining areas, benefit from subtle, indirect lighting that helps create a restful mood,” Murphy says. “We’re seeing more use of outdoor lanterns, pendants, and ceiling fans equipped with light kits to illuminate seating and dining areas. Use a dimmer with these fixtures; turn to full light when cooking or preparing food, or dim it down for eating and relaxing.”

Try these in a modern chandelier. Or, for a surprise, swap them in for the flame-shaped bulbs in a traditional chandelier. (GE crystal-clear globe lightbulbs, $3,

Make sure to incorporate the three basic types of lighting: ambient, task, and accent. Ambient lighting can be achieved through hanging lights, post lights, and wall lights. Task lighting includes pathway lights, plus deck and security lights. And you can get accent outdoor lighting with landscape kits and spotlights. “For a small patio and a modest budget, consider string lights, solar spotlights, or LED candles,” Murphy says.

To draw people in, make the table the brightest spot in the room. Use a chandelier or a pendant above the table, limiting the total wattage to 100. Elsewhere in the room, indirect lighting is best—it’s relaxing and flattering. Give the space a subtle glow with a pair of small table lamps on a sideboard or matching sconces on the wall above. Battery-powered votives inside a glass-front china cabinet can be a nice touch.

To prevent eye fatigue, keep the light in the room no brighter than the screen. Sixty watts in a desk lamp, supplemented by soft, ambient light (from outside or overhead) will do the trick.

These are adjustable two ways: You can slide each fixture to where you want it, then angle it to hit a specific area (great for accenting art or objects). Opt for small units in a finish that matches other metals in the room.

The best choice for applying makeup is sidelights, such as a pair of sconces flanking the mirror. An overhead light helps fill in any shadows on your face and also fully illuminates the room (important when cleaning). In a large space, you might also want a light directly over the shower.

These lights hang down a foot or so from the ceiling. Generally more charming than standard flush-mounts, they have a bit of the glamour of pendants but are short enough for head clearance in most spaces.

This can help you decide on which lighting to choose and how place it around your yard. “Consider how patio spaces, gardens, and pathways look like from inside your home,” he says. “Lighting gardens or shrubbery that can be seen from living or dining rooms give a room-expanding view to the outside at night. Think path lighting for garden areas, or use solar outdoor lighting for a quick and easy style update.”

When you hunker down in bed to read, you want the bottom of the shade to be a little below your line of sight, or about 16 to 18 inches from the top of the mattress. A table lamp that’s 26 to 28 inches tall (base and shade together) usually works well.

“They use far less energy than halogen or incandescent bulbs,” he says. “Plus, they are almost maintenance-free, so you won’t have to change bulbs.”

The term applies to any fixture suspended from a chain or a cord, including chandeliers. Best over tables and counters or in rooms with ceilings nine feet tall or higher. Tip: Add up the length and width of the room in feet and use the same number in inches for your fixture’s diameter.

A metallic finish on the top half of the bulb softens the light. A great solution for overheads with exposed bulbs, especially if there isn’t a dimmer. (Halco clear silver-bowl globe, $3,

Mount sconces on either side of the mirror (36 to 40 inches apart is ideal) to cast even illumination across the face. Position the fixtures so the bottom edges of the shades are a little below eye level, or approximately 60 to 65 inches from the floor.

Before you start shopping, you’ll need to figure out exactly how much lighting you need. “To determine how much light a space requires, try this quick calculation: multiply the square footage of the area you want to light by 1.5 to get a rough estimate of the total wattage required,” he says. “For example, 100 square feet of space would require 150 watts.”

Light three of the four corners, focusing one of those lights on an object (art, a plant, a striking chair). Use a combination of table lamps and floor lamps, some with a downward glow and some that shine upward. Allow for reading in as many seats as possible with down-glowing lamps on three-way switches. If you have an overhead fixture, put it on a dimmer (see What’s the Deal With Dimmers?).

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