Everything You Need To Know About Lighting Your Home

Everything you need to know about choosing lighting and light bulbs for your home

There are a lot of fun elements to consider when decorating a space, like the color of the walls and the kind of furniture you’ll mix and match. But one of the most important details that affect how a room feels is lighting, and it’s often so overlooked in homes! Because I’ve been pretty open about my crazy, detailed light bulb preferences on Instagram, I’ve had so many people ask me lighting questions— and I’m always happy to answer. Because there’s so much to say, and because lighting advice varies depending on the application, I knew I should probably write a blog post with some helpful information… But it’s very overwhelming to think about what a blog post about lighting should entail!

I took two college level courses on interior lighting, and I’m not afraid to admit that during one particular class I left to go to the bathroom and cry because it was so completely overwhelming. But if you’re just figuring out lighting for your home, you can certainly leave out all of the algebraic equations and candlefoot requirements, and just stick to the basics, such as how many lights should you have in a space, what type of lights should they be, and what kind of bulbs work best for which light?



Everything you need to know about choosing lighting and light bulbs for your home

What Kind of Light Fixtures Should You Use in Your Room?

Assess the activities that will be taking place in your room. For high activity zones like kitchen work counters, offices, or playrooms, you’ll want more light sources and in a variety of places so you’re never working in a spot shadowed by your own figure or by other objects in the room. You also just need brighter light in work zones to see what you’re doing, but I’ll talk about brightness levels later when I talk about lumens.

My personal preference for light fixtures in a room is to have a bit of overhead lighting such as surface-mount lights or can lights, but only a limited amount of them and always wired to a dimmer switch. Overhead lighting is not flattering for humans (it’s like the flashlight effect when telling scary stories, but in reverse), but overhead lighting is a great way to give general lighting to a space. I prefer to supplement overhead lighting with heavy use of fixtures that are placed evenly with where human faces will be in the room, like floor lamps, table lamps, and wall sconces. They’re more flattering for humans, but having a variety of dim light sources also makes a room feel very cozy and inviting. If you don’t have wiring in place for an overhead light, or don’t prefer to use them, consider wiring an outlet to a switch on the wall so when you enter a room you can flip on the switch and turn on a floor lamp or table lamp.

While I miiiight be wall sconces’ number-one-fan, they’re often tricky because they usually need to be hardwired. Hardwiring requires electrical skill but also means your lighting is practically permanent, so your furniture arrangement can’t easily be changed. This isn’t a big deal for some spaces like dining rooms, bedrooms, and hallways which may never be rearranged, but in other rooms such as a living room or office, you can use sconces that plug into the wall, rather than ones which must be hardwired.

Pendant lights are also great sources of light because they create more of a gentle glow closer to the height of human faces, but they’re also a permanent choice that should be used around built-in fixtures that won’t be moved, such as a kitchen island, a bar, or a built-in desk. When you use more than one pendant light, you can achieve a generous amount of light needed for a task, and when put on a dimmer, they create a beautiful glow in the evening.

One of my personal interior design quirks is that I typically detest can lights, AKA recessed lighting. But I will admit, they do have their benefits, though I have very limited ideas as to where they should exist. If you want the ambient lighting that can lights give, I recommend considering using eyeball lights or wall washers placed close to a wall with no seating below them. For me, I have some old track lighting in front of my fireplace wall (see first image in this post) that I decided to keep because I can point the lights onto the stone wall and still receive the boost in general lighting, but the light reflects off the wall rather than awkwardly skimming light down faces or causing annoying glare in eyes or off reflective surfaces. I do have a can light above my sink for task lighting as well as a row of standard can lights in the soffit above my credenza in my living room, but again, it’s not above a seating area and they’re on a dimmer, so the lights can provide more of a glow than a glare.

Everything you need to know about choosing lighting and light bulbs for your home


What kind of light bulbs to use

What Light Bulb Should You Use in Your Light Fixtures?

There are four things I usually consider when selecting a light bulb for my fixtures: The type (Incandescent, Fluorescent, or LED), the size, the lumens (brightness), and the color temperature. When I was younger, we always used incandescent bulbs in the home, and the only factors to consider was bulb size and wattage. It used to be that fluorescent lights needed large ballasts to work and therefore were only used in large, boxy overhead lighting, and LEDs only existed in electronic applications like alarm clock numbers and microwaves. These days, lighting technology has advanced to the point where fluorescent bulbs can be as small as incandescent bulbs (called CFL or compact flourscent lights) and LEDs can now throw light further and in various color temperatures. We have a world of lighting to choose from, which is great because we can control all elements of interior lighting now, without using as much energy or putting out heat like the now old-fashioned incandescent bulb.

Bulb Types

As I just mentioned, there are three main types of residential interior lighting: Incandescent, Fluorescent, and LED (light emitting diodes). Often people choose incandescent because it casts a warm glow without the strobing effect of fluorescents (where the light flickers, but faster than the human eye can perceive). I actually visited the GE Lighting Institute when I was in college and learned that the strobing effect of fluorescent lighting is more controlled now than it was ten years ago. So while in the past the rapid strobing was inpercievable to the human eye, the brain still perceived the stroping and it could actually cause seizures in epileptic people. In the newer, more advanced fluorescent light technology, the strobing is so fast that apparently the human brain cannot perceive it, so it can be enjoyed the same as a less efficient incandescent bulb.

Both fluorescent and incandescent bulbs are often preferred over LEDs because LEDs are light emitting diodes which create a bright light, but not necessarily a glow around the light the way incandescents do. That’s basically because incandescents are creating a fire-like glow, but it’s incredibly energy inefficient compared to other technology and also puts out a lot of heat, which can be inconvenient as well as unsafe. LED lighting technology is increasing by leaps and bounds, so it’s my preferred choice of bulb type in my home. LEDs are still young enough that it can be tricky to get all of your bulbs to match in color temperature, even if the bulbs in question are labeled the same. The minuscule color temperature variance might not bother most people, but I noticed when I bought the same color temperature and lumen bulbs, but from two different companies, one of the lights had a more greenish tint to its glow, while the other felt a bit more purple. I can’t tell you the amount of bulbs I’ve purchased and returned in order to be happy with the ones in my home!  (I did mention at the beginning of this post that I’m a crazy person when it comes to light bulbs!)

bulb shape and sizesabove chart from Bulbs.com

Bulb Sizes

When most people need a light bulb for their fixture, they head to the store and purchase an A19 size bulb, maybe stopping to take a look at the wattage and general light temperature of the bulb. But lately I’ve been getting a variety of sizes for my lights depending on the fixture.

The standard A19 size is great for general surface-mount lighting and table lamps, but for reading lights and some wall sconces the A19 bulbs available are often too bright. So I now have A15 bulbs that I use in those applications, and also in my pendant lights and chandelier in my dining room. (That chandelier has globes over the bulbs.) For larger lights with exposed bulbs, such as a basket light or large bowl-style pendants, you often want a brighter glow, but not a harsh light. So I’ve purchased G40 bulbs to use in those applications.

Bulb Lumens

Lumens refers to the brightness of a light. It’s a common misconception that a light fixture determines the brightness, when in actuality both the number of bulbs as well as each bulb’s lumen capacity is what makes a light bright or dim. It’s also a common misconception— and a holdover from the incandescent age— that wattage affects the brightness of a bulb, but really wattage only measure energy used by a bulb. You can make a light fixture brighter by purchasing higher lumen bulbs, but be careful about doing that because when a light fixture isn’t designed to provide bright light, it can be uncomfortable to look at a light with high lumen bulbs when it should have dimmer bulbs instead. Bare-bulb lights, mini pendants, and reading lights are all instances where you should use lower lumen bulbs.

The amount of lumens should you use in a space is sometimes just a personal preference, but there are some standards involved. For a small light, such as a mini pendant or reading light, I prefer around 200-300 lumens. For a two-bulb surface-mount bedroom light that is generously diffused, 800-900 lumens for each bulb provides a generous amount of light. You can use a dimmer to control the lumen output of a bulb, but not all CFL or LED bulbs are dimmable, and those that are will never go as low as a dimmed incandescent bulb. Another thing to consider is that many light fixtures are not dimmable, such as table lamps and reading lights, so it’s even more important to get the lumens right for those applications.

above graphic from The Lighting Practice

halloween toastBulb Color Temperature

The color temperature of a light bulb is something you’ve probably already formed an opinion on before ever reading this blog post. Most people prefer a “soft white” bulb, while others prefer the even warmer glow of a “warm white” bulb, or perhaps the more pure light of a “daylight” bulb.

A personal pet peeve of mine is when manufacturers label bulbs only with these layman’s terms for light temperature, when a more accurate way to present the information is with the Kelvin temperature of the bulb. The color of light is measured in Kelvins, as shown in the above graphic I borrowed from The Lighting Practice, but often bulb packaging says nothing about the Kelvin temperature—Very annoying to a detail-oriented shopper like myself! “Soft white” is a term invented by bulb manufacturers to give a general idea of the color of the bulb, but the exact Kelvin temperature of “soft light” bulbs can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Most often you’ll find soft white bulbs to be 2700 Kelvin, but that’s not always the case.

It’s also annoying to me that mid-toned bulbs (in between warm white and cool white) are labeled “daylight bulbs,” but the actual color of daylight coming from your window is never the same. The color temperature of window light varies depending on the orientation of your window (north, south, east, or west) as well as the season or the time of day. Bulbs labeled as “daylight” bulbs vary in color temperature even more than ones labeled “soft white.” I’ve seen daylight bulbs range from a more neutral 5000K all the way up to cool 6500K, which can look pretty bluish in my opinion.

In our old home, I purchased 4000K light bulbs because our home didn’t have a lot of natural light and I often had my lights on dimly during the day to make it feel like there was more of a natural light presence in our home. But if I went cooler than 4000K, the light from the bulbs felt abrasive and sterile in the evenings. In our new home, I have plenty of natural light, so I choose something warmer to feel cozier and more inviting in the evenings, since I don’t often turn on lights during the day. Of course I annoyingly had to choose a color temperature bulb more difficult to find in stores (3000K), so I have to order most of my bulbs online from Amazon. But the more readily available 2700K “soft white” bulbs just felt too warm for my preference, so for me it’s worth the hassle to get the look I want. (I did mention I am a crazy person about lighting!)

I try to keep all of the bulbs in my home the same color temperature, because as a photographer it annoys me to no end when I can’t properly set my white balance because of varying color temperatures in a room’s lighting.

Everything you need to know about choosing light fixtures and light bulbs for your home

Other factors to Consider

halloween toastLamp Shade Color

The color of a lamp shade will affect the color temperature of your light bulb. Whether it’s translucent or opaque, when the light shines through or reflects off the shade, it will take on the color of the shade. A trick of the trade I learned from a professor in college is to paint the inside of a lamp shade either a warm or a cool color to affect the temperature of your light. The bulb on my dresser in the photo above is the same color temperature as the others in this room, but it appears more warm because the inside of the shade is a warm ivory, not a pure white. The lamp shade is opaque, so I just need to paint the inside of it a pure white in order for the light color to match the rest of the room.

Wall, Floor, and Textile Colors

In the same way a lamp shade does, the adjacent colors in a space will actually affect the color of the light in your room. When a light is near a warm colored wall, it takes on warmer properties, the same way a light on a cool wall will cast a cooler glow.

Legrand Dimmer Switch

Dimmer Switches

As I mentioned in the segment about lumens, dimmer switches are amazing ways to control the lighting in your home! If you need a brighter light for tasks in the kitchen, but later in the day just want a soft glow for entertaining, the dimmer switch will give you what you need.

I have dimmer switches from Legrand, and three-way switches (switches where two switches control the same light) that have have master/remote locations, so when you change the brightness level from one switch, it will instantly match the brightness level of the other switch. You can also set up a control panel for all of your lighting with the ability to control all of your lights from your phone! Isn’t technology freaky great?

Smart Bulbs

There is also newer technology that allows you to control the lumens and color temperature of your bulb, without changing it to a different bulb! IVIEW is one of the manufacturers of this type of smart bulb, but there are other great bulbs like this too. This is obviously a more expensive feature to have in a bulb, but the expense it might make more sense for applications not easily controlled, like table lamps and reading lights.

 

There is so much more to say about lighting for residential interiors, but I think that I managed to cover everything that would apply to you and your home, without making it too overwhelming. As always, if you have any questions about anything I’ve covered in this post, let me know in the comments below and I’ll happily help as I am able!

Everything you need to know about choosing light fixtures and light bulbs for your home



5 Responses

  1. Melissa says:

    How much light do you think a small walk-in closet would need. Is 80 watts enough? It has high ceilings. Does that make a difference?

    • Mandi says:

      I would check out the section I wrote about lumens. Wattage isn’t an accurate measurement of light, just the amount of energy used to supply light. In the age of LED, fluorescent, and incandescent, it’s not a term that’s really useful to convey any practical information for light bulbs, unless your’e talking about energy-saving capabilities. But I’d probably use two 800-900 lumen bulbs in a fixture that has a decent diffuser to it. You want to be able to see well, right? But if you’re looking for more ambience in the space, and not so much bright light, I’d say probably 1000 lumens total (mixing two bulbs, or using one bright bulb) should be good. That’s the best I can recommend without knowing the square footage of the closet. :)

  2. Melissa says:

    Thanks! That is super helpful ?

  3. Melissa says:

    Oops, that question mark was supposed to be a thumbs up emoji…

  4. Anna says:

    We have, what I guess could be considered, a “galley” bathroom. It’s small and ugly and in need of renovation, including lighting. What do you consider the best-case scenario for bathroom lighting?