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

Rustic Cabinet Makeover Using Liming Wax

rustic cabinet liming wax

Lately I’ve been really thinking about the style direction of our home. (Okay, let’s be real, I’m overanalyzing again!) I like quite a mix of styles, and while I want to say our home is eclectic, I really think the style I’m going for is much more specific than that. After pouring over the design book Modern Rustic, I finally feel less weird about my affinity for primitive furniture alongside shiny and bright mid century duds. Rustic modern? Makes so much sense! So I’ve finally settled on a style descriptor for our home: Polished rustic modern with plenty of mid century funk. Does that make sense? I’m sure I’ll find another description I like better next week. And then another the week after that…

So going along with my affinity for rustic elements in my home, I have this cabinet that I had painted a few years ago, which I now felt should be stripped down to its natural wood state. I figured this would take a couple hours of sanding, and then a bit of waxing. Easy peasy, right? NOPE. Here’s how it all went down.

When I first purchased this cabinet at an antique expo years ago, I loved it for its teal green stain, but it didn’t feel right in my home. So I painted it gray, scraping away some of the gray paint to reveal bits of the green. But now I was ready to strip down both the gray and the green to reveal the beautiful wood underneath. The only problem was, the wood turned out to be, well, not so beautiful.

rustic cabinet before

After a few hours of sanding with 60 grit sandpaper and my palm sander, I had removed all of the paint and previous green stain, but could not get the greenish tint off of the two boards on either side of the door. So the next day I took a belt sander to it with a 50 grit belt. Just got done sanding. Dust everywhere. Jan everywhere. And still greenish wood. I then realized that the wood species is poplar, and as is often the case with poplar, the wood itself had a greenish tint, with a warmer streak to it on the edges. The middle board and side boards were a lovely warm shade of wood that I had been hoping for the entire cabinet. But not the most visible boards on the front. Ugh!

rustic cabinet refinishing

I would never be able to get rid of the green, and if I kept going at that rate, my cabinet would’ve turned into a pile of dust. So I decided— lime it! Then I’d still be able to see the grain of the wood, but not necessarily the color tones I wasn’t loving.

I had heard great things about Briwax Liming Wax, so I ordered some on Amazon (I couldn’t find it at Lowes or Home Depot), and was excited to give it a go.

rustic cabinet liming wax

I recommend really making sure your sanded surface is evenly smooth. What I mean by that is if you had been sanding with low grit paper like I was, you’ll want to incrementally get to a high grit paper (120 grit should be high enough) so that your wood will equally absorb the wax, without splotches occurring where the wood is rougher and therefore thirstier. I had a little bit of trouble with mine absorbing evenly, and regret not taking more care when sanding. When I was sanding I didn’t think it mattered since I was going for a rustic appearance. Oops!

I used a metal spatula to apply some of the wax, and then used a fine cloth to rub it into the wood using circular motions. After covering the entire piece, I took another clean cloth and wiped with the grain to remove any excess. I probably should’ve finished with a clear wax, but I couldn’t find mine, so I’ll do that after I finish unpacking my craft supplies.

rustic cabinet liming wax

So the cabinet refinishing didn’t go exactly according to plan, but I’m just going to embrace it. I was hoping to have a warmer appearance to the wood, but it feels a bit gray because of the greenish tones of the wood beneath the liming wax… and I feel like that’s just so ironic considering the cabinet was already gray before I even began this process! Ha! Still, I like it better with being able to see the wood through the wax, which gives it an extra element of texture that the painted wood just didn’t offer.

Have you all ever used liming wax before? I’ve seen such varying results across the web! I’d love to see your limed projects if you care to share.

rustic cabinet liming wax

How We Built a Floating Shelf

DIY floating shelf

When I first imagined making a floating shelf for our kitchen, I thought, Oh, this is going to be so easy! Why haven’t I done this before? Of course, once I began the project, it ended up being more intimidating than I had thought, so when my dad offered to take over this project, I enthusiastically said yes, please! A number of people on Instagram have asked about the process we used, so I thought I would share the details here. There are ways this can be done which would be more accessible to the average DIYer, but my dad is a retired manufacturing engineer with loads of fancy tools and skills, so fair warning: This process is probably more complex than what the majority of DIYers are able to do on their own.

Step One: Make the Shelf

I edge-glued pieces of 2×6 poplar boards to create the body of my shelf, then sanded, primed, wet sanded, and painted the shelf. If you want to stain your wood rather than paint, I would not recommend poplar as a wood species because of its uneven coloring. But it’s a great wood for painting! The reason I chose poplar over pine is because of its density. Pine is soft and easily dents, not to mention is typically full of knots and seeping tree sap. If you don’t want to shell out money for wood that will just be painted, you could try your hand at building the shelf with inexpensive pine or composite wood on the inside and then cover it with 1/4″ birch plywood on the top, bottom, and front edge. It would be more labor intensive to build a shelf this way, but less expensive. Keep in mind, however, that wood composites like particle board are typically heavier than a material like pine or poplar, so you’ll need to factor in the extra load when you decide how you’ll mount the shelf to your wall.

DIY floating shelf

Step Two: Router out space on the back of your shelf to inset your mounting hardware.

This is where things got a bit complicated for my skill level. It would’ve been a great learning opportunity if I didn’t have one million other projects to do in our home! The way you router out the back of your board will depend on what mounting hardware to use. Initially I thought I would just need to router or chisel out small rectangular sections for the individual blind shelf supports I had purchased on Amazon. But my dad had the idea to connect each of the rods to one long piece of steel.

DIY floating shelf

Why did we use one long piece of steel rather than individual pieces? Because our shelf could support more weight, and also because my dad knew where to source inexpensive pieces of cold rolled steel in the width we needed and he also has the tools to thread the holes where the rods I purchased on Amazon could be screwed into place. We were able to use 5 rods to support the shelf that was mounted where there were only two studs in the wall. This meant the steel was sturdily mounted to two studs, but it held 5 linked brackets rather than only one individual bracket per stud. We could have mounted individual brackets where there were no studs by using toggle bolts, but my dad seemed to think this was a better idea because all of the rods would for sure be in a perfect line and be perfectly spaced to match the holes in the shelf. A bonus of using the steel plate is that after you’ve threaded the holes for where you’ll attach the metal rods, the steel plate makes the perfect jig to match up where your holes should be drilled into the shelf!

drilling into tile

Step Three: Mount your Shelf to the Wall

One of the most nerve wracking aspects of this job, for me, was drilling into tile. Basically because I’ve never done it before, and I know how brittle the tile is because I installed the tile myself, and had to throw away a lot of chipped pieces! So I felt a little silly when I learned how simple it is. You just need a glass and tile drill bit, and lubricate it periodically during the drilling of each hole. We just had a cup of water to dip the drill in every few seconds. Easy peasy!

DIY floating shelf

After mounting the steel bracket, we used a level to make sure the rods were level, which they weren’t, probably because of choosing to mount the bracket right along the grout line. So we used feeler stock as shims behind the bottom of the steel plate to lift up the rods a bit. You can’t use wood shims in this instance because the wood is too soft and can’t stand up to the weight and pressure behind the steel.

DIY floating shelf

DIY floating shelf

Step Four: Slide the Shelf onto the Mounting Hardware

This part is also nerve-wracking, because if your holes are perfectly matching the rods, this is a no-go scenario. Thankfully my dad is as much of a perfectionist as myself (probably moreso, actually), so they were a perfect match! He used a wax candle to lubricate the rods, making it much easier to slide the shelf into place.

Floating kitchen shelf

The shelves are super sturdy, and I don’t feel limited as to how much weight I can put on it, thanks to Dad’s steel plate idea! You can also buy welded steel plate and rod brackets on Etsy and other places, if you’re not comfortable sourcing parts to make this yourself. It will be more expensive, but considering the labor involved, I’d say it’s worth it!

I’m so glad I decided to create a floating shelf rather than using shelf brackets in this kitchen, because it allows the modern tiled wall to stand out and become a predominant element in my moderately minimal kitchen design.

modern farmhouse kitchen

If you all have any questions about the shelves, my dad and I are happy to answer them in the comments below! Thanks as always for following along. It’s much more fun being about to share these home renovations with you guys.

Product Sources

Blind shelf supports: Amazon
Feeler stock / steel shims: Amazon
Wall paint: Benjamin Moore’s Super White
Outlets and switches: Legrand Radiant
Cabinet paint: Annie Sloan’s Pure White
Lighting: Hinkley Congress collection
Wall tile: Home Depot
Tile grout: TEC Silverado
Pink sink: Thermocast
Faucet: Kraus from Home Depot
Island butcher block: Lumber Liquidators sealed with Waterlox
Flooring: Lumber Liquidators maple engineered wood
Knobs: eBay
Stove: KitchenAid from Home Depot
Dishwasher: KitchenAid from Home Depot
Coffee maker: KitchenAid
Island stools: The Classy Home
Rug: vintage Turkish kilim from Etsy