Alright readers of the Kuotes, get out your thinking caps, massage your temples, and prepare for a catch-all lesson in lighting (don’t worry though, there will still be a plethora of beautiful images). This week on the blog, we’ll be covering a variety of topics regarding lighting. Not only is lighting one of the most shopped categories at KKH, but it’s also a topic that we constantly get questions about. How do I choose a chandelier? What sized table lamp do I need? Track lighting or recessed lighting? And what’s the deal with dimmers? By the end of the week, you’ll have all of these answers, but first we want to introduce lighting basics, the lighting terms every designer should know, and the reasons why lighting is a critical (if not the most important) part of your design. Welcome, to Lighting 101.
What is light?
Let’s hop in a time machine and teleport to our high school physics class (minus the boring instructor, disheveled classmates, and unfortunate case of oily teenage skin). Here, we learned that light is a type of energy called electromagnetic radiation. Light radiates from hot objects, such as the sun or a lightbulb, and it is then absorbed, reflected, or refracted by the surface of the object it hits. So, super cool…but what does this have to do with interior design? Understanding the way light works helps us to best illuminate the designs we pour our hearts into. For example, direct sunlight lights a room much differently than an artificial light. Or, if you purchase a table lamp with a tungsten light, the narrow wavelength of the lighting will distort colors to be tinged with orange. These minor details make all of the difference. Check it out:
Light and Color
When designing, we often think about color as something that belongs to a wall or a piece of furniture, but in fact, the color we see belongs to the light. Wait…what? When you think about it, it makes sense. Turn off the lights in a room, and all of the colors vanish. When light falls on an object, its surface will absorb some colors and reflect the rest. The colors that are reflected are those that we see. For example, blue objects reflect blue light while absorbing the rest of the color spectrum. So no object is actually blue, it only reflects blue light.
Lighting can add to or subtract from the overall colors of a room. For example, if you light a particular surface, that color is going to be accentuated in your design. More importantly, the eye sees some colors better than others. Imagine a rainbow (remember Roy G. Biv?). Colors with mid-level wavelengths (like greens and yellows) require less lighting because they’re naturally easier to see. This is why too much lighting on green and yellow surfaces can make the surface appear saturated (and also why yellow may not be the best wall color). Colors on the ends of the spectrum (like reds, blues, and violets) are more difficult to see and require more lighting. This is why it’s sometimes difficult to decipher between different shades of blue and purple, even if you have a good eye for color.
Light and Direction
Perhaps the most important role of lighting in interior design is lighting direction. Think of yourself as a film director. Your lighting choices are the camera guiding our eyes. The areas best lit are the elements of your design work that will be (quite literally) highlighted.
We will hit this concept again when we talk about different types of lighting, but for an example, think of track lighting. Use the adjustable necks and lamps to point at specific elements, such as a wall painting, the vase of flowers on an entryway table, or the top of a kitchen island for making dinner. Lighting direction also gives a room purpose. The places you install lighting are going to be the areas where people congregate in your home, so be sure to always properly light tables, seating areas, and large open spaces.
Light and Space
Imagine a big airy room full of neutral tones and natural light. Just describing it feels like a breath of fresh air, right? So much of how we perceive space and openness actually comes from light!
Dark colors or insufficient light makes a room feel smaller while light colors and good lighting make a room feel larger. If you’re looking to open up a small room or narrow hallway, consider painting with light colors and installing lots of lights.
The 3 Types of Lighting
Ambient lighting provides an area with overall illumination. Think of it as the sun coming up, a light bulb switching on, a celestial choir singing Hallelujah Chorus. Most ambient lighting radiates from the center of the room and comes from chandeliers, pendants, or recessed lighting. Having an ambient lighting source is fundamental to every room in the home.
Task lighting is a functional type of lighting used to make specific tasks easier. Think of a private detective in the dead of night, hunched over the paperwork at his desk with only a brass desk lamp as a light source. That is task lighting. But unless you’re Sherlock Holmes, task lighting in interiors is used for reading, grooming, preparing and cooking food, doing homework, working on your laptop, etc. Task lighting can come from recessed or track lighting, but it also commonly comes from floor, desk, and table lamps. The key to task lighting is to ensure a glare-free workspace that is easy on the eyes so that you can focus on the task at hand.
Accent lighting adds drama to a room by creating visual excitement. Think of a jazz singer spotlit on a smoky stage. Use accent lighting to draw the eye to paintings, sculptures and other standout pieces in your design. Accent lighting requires as least three times as much light on a focal point as the general lighting surrounding it, and it is usually provided by recessed and tracked lighting or wall sconces.
Types of Lighting Fixtures
Recessed. Installed above the ceiling, recessed lighting has an opening flush with the ceiling. We recommend at least 6 inches of clearance above the ceiling, and insulation is essential to ensure that condensation does not drip into the fixture. Recessed lighting sends a relatively narrow band of light in one direction, making it awesome for accenting a bookshelf or painting, but a row of recessed lights can also act as ambient lighting.
Track. Mounted or suspended from the ceiling, track lighting consists of linear housing containing several heads positioned along a track, like the stage lights at a rock concert. Similar to a rock concert, track lighting allows you to direct the attention of your audience by positioning the heads to act as accent lighting.
Undercabinet. Mounted under kitchen cabinets, undercabinet lighting can be linear or a single puck-shaped fixture. You’ll generally see undercabinet lighting in the kitchen to provide better lighting for your stove or counter space, but undercabinet lighting can also be creatively implemented in a space like a home office.
Pendant. Suspended from the ceiling, a pendant light directs its light downward, typically over a table or kitchen island. Our wide collection of pendant lighting can provide ambient or task lighting, and you can find them in a variety of design styles.
Chandelier. Suspended from the ceiling, chandeliers direct their light upward, typically over a table or entryway. They are a beautiful, elegant, and add a sense of luxury to the home. Have lots of questions about sizing and styling for chandeliers? Check out our Chandelier Cheat Sheet.
Ceiling. This type of lighting is mounted directly to the ceiling and has a glass or plastic shade concealing the light bulb. Ceiling lighting is very common in multiple design styles, and it is used to provide ambient light in a room.
Wall Sconce. Surface-mounted to the wall, sconces can direct light upwards or downwards, and their covers or shades add a stylish touch to a room. Our sconces offer versatility: adjustable hinges and heights reinforce the flexibility and functionality of these lighting fixtures. Alone or in a pair, the sconce is perfect for bedrooms, bathrooms, entryways, and any place where a strong lighting statement is needed.
Desk, Floor & Table Lamp. We love us a good lamp. As pieces in a room, lamps are extremely versatile and portable sources of light. Most lamps direct light downward and are often used as task lights, particularly for reading or lounging. Pro Tip: If you’re going to incorporate floor lamps into your design, be very aware of placing them so that they won’t get knocked over and the cords won’t be in the way. Floor lamps can also be difficult if you have pets or young kids.
Types of Lightbulbs for Interior Design
Candle. The candle bulb transports us to another time, a simpler time with a very warm and intimate lighting environment. Perfect for the Rustic Lodge style, candle bulbs light a place with nostalgic beauty.
Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). These bulbs consume a quarter of the energy that incandescent bulbs do and last 10 times longer. Unlike the old fluorescent lights, CFLs are quiet and have warmer, color-corrected tones. The Kuotes also wants to advocate: recycle, recycle, recycle all of your CFL bulbs. The one hesitation with CFL bulbs is that they contain traces of mercury, so if broken, it’s very important to dispose immediately and keep away from children.
Edison. Named after the king of innovation (despite his questionable methods), the Edison bulb is a carbon or tungsten filament lightbulb that carries a vintage look modeled after the Edison Electric Lighting Company at the turn of the 20th century. The Edison bulb’s factory look works great in an Industrial Loft style space.
Globe. The globe bulb is named after its shape. A big burning globe gives a bright and heightened feel to a room. These bulbs bring romance, like lanterns floating down a stream or being thrown up to the sky.
Incandescent. Incandescent bulbs are the common household light bulbs you probably imagine in your head when someone says the word light bulb. They are also the most affordable type of light bulb. This type of light is warm, inviting, and was made for the home. Incandescent bulbs usually last between 700 to 1,000 hours and can be used with a dimmer; however, they’re not as energy efficient as other options.
LED. This bulb, which stands for “light-emitting diode,” is a lighting technology that is long-lasting and extremely energy-efficient. LED lights provide only directional light, not diffused light, so they’re fantastic for undercounter and task lighting, but they are generally not used for ambient lighting.
We hope this guide will help you illuminate your home in style. Keep checking The Designer Handbook for even more lighting tips coming soon! Have any questions or comments? Share with us in the comments section below!