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Lighting a Room, Simplified

The right lighting can lift your spirits and make you more relaxed and productive. Here’s how the pros do it.

“Light is a powerful thing,” said Theo Richardson, the director of development at Rich Brilliant Willing, the Brooklyn-based design studio known for its striking LED fixtures, which he founded with Charles Brill and Alexander Williams. “The right light lifts the mood, inspires productivity and motivates us. At home, light enlivens the little things — our morning routines, or the moments we spend with friends.”

Here are some guidelines for creating a well-lighted space.

Mix It Up

Most designers agree that you need more than one source of light in a room. Think layered illumination: Every room should have a mix of lighting, including overhead, accent and task lights.

In the living room, for example, you might begin by hanging a decorative ceiling fixture near the center of the room. Then we look toward the outer walls for downlighting that can gently wash the walls, curtains and art with warm, functional brightness. This can be achieved with soffit or valance lighting, or even plug-in torchier floor lamps that bounce light off the ceiling.

Depending on a room’s layout, accent lights could be used to highlight art, and table lamps could be placed beside seating to add another layer of light. And for extra ambience, a candle never hurt.

The goal is to create contrast between the light at the center of the room and around the perimeter, and the darker spaces in between: “Without the darker, quieter moments, everything is flat and boring. It’s the subtle interplay between light and dark that creates appeal.”


Go Bright in the Kitchen

One place where bright light is more important than ambience is the kitchen.

Flooding the space by installing high-hats or recessed lights along the edge of the ceiling. If you have a kitchen island, consider hanging pendants overhead, which will light the space without taking up room you might need to eat or prepare food. Also, you’ll be able “to see your guests without having to look around a hanging light.”

And don’t forget under-cabinet light: Running LED light strips on the bottom of your upper cabinets is the easiest way to create an evenly lighted counter space for food prep and cooking.


Consider a Room’s Orientation

If you have a north-facing room without direct sunlight, it will generally require a little more thought.

Installing recessed fixtures along the perimeter of a north-facing living room to complement a central pendant that spread light horizontally throughout the space. Apart from that, using table lamps to illuminate dark corners and a pair of sconces to draw attention to a special piece of art. A dark bedroom, combining a central chandelier with discrete up-lights in the corners of the room, bedside lamps for reading and a pair of sconces over the fireplace opposite the bed.


Banish Bad Bathroom Lighting

“The worst option is a recessed fixture over the sink, as it casts shadows that are not flattering,”. Instead, opt for wall-mounted sconces with 75-watt bulbs installed about 66 inches off the floor, which will help cast even illumination across your face.

Another great feature to add is motion-lighting at the cabinet base, which creates “a very subtle glow” like a night light if you wake up in the middle of the night.

To create a sense of intimacy and spalike luxury, consider installing a sculptural pendant lamp.
The light itself is a beautiful object that meets the eye on arrival to the room and provides focus to the free-standing bath,” using LED strip lighting, concealed behind floating shelves, to wash the chevron-patterned floor with a subtle glow.



Light Up the Corners

When you have an empty and awkward corner, one trick of the trade is to transform that space with an oversized floor lamp. “Look for a lamp that is complementary in finish and material to the surrounding space, and an otherwise lost corner instantly becomes an intentional, polished part of the overall room design.”

To brighten up the space next to a desk in a bachelor’s living room, you may choose the Detrick Floor Lamp, from Arteriors, in an earthy finish with a gray-green shade.

“It did the double duties of providing added light to his work space while also being a statement accent piece,” she said. “It was important to find something in tone and texture that both complemented the overall design and provided enough of a contrast to the surrounding neutrals to really make a visual impact.”

“Over the years, we’ve found that one of the biggest mistakes is made with overhead lighting,” said Robert Highsmith, a principal at Workstead, the Brooklyn design firm he founded with his wife, Stefanie Brechbuehler, and fellow Rhode Island School of Design alum Ryan Mahoney almost a decade ago. “Often it can be excessive, generating spots and unwanted shadows.”

For that reason, residential clients are not advised to use recessed overhead lighting. Instead, Mr. Highsmith recommends hanging a large pendant fixture or a chandelier in common areas. In the kitchen, he suggested using globe fixtures, “for even lighting” that leaves counter surfaces free. For living rooms, he said, try subtle lighting sources like wall sconces and floor lamps, and in dining rooms, “a sculptural centerpiece above a table provides depth, while accent lighting amplifies warmth.”


Play With Ambience

Put dimmers on all of your lights: we prefer a more analog approach that allows you to manually adjust lighting to respond to changes in natural light, seasons and so forth,” Noting that the easiest way to adjust the light in a room is by putting a dimmer on each fixture, rather than replacing a wall switch with a dimmer that adjusts all the lights at once.

In the bedroom, using a bedside light with both a dimmer and a movable shade. With a dimmer and a swiveling reflector that allows the light to be directed or blocked. “We feel like the more flexibility, the better


Be Choosy About Your Bulbs

Home is illuminated by warm-colored LED bulbs, and they look like traditional incandescents. Plus, they’re made for all fixtures, including recessed cans, table lamps and sconces.

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