This decorating guide on how to light a room was last updated February of 2023.
One thing we can’t live without in the interior design world? Great light in every room of the home.
It’s one of the most important elements in design, and yet most homes are either drastically under-lit or so bright you could use their space as a landing strip for an airplane.
Today we want to make perfecting light in any room of your home easier than ever before: keep reading to learn some simple lighting tips to help you figure out how much light a room needs, what type of lighting you need, and how you can find the perfect balance of light in your own home!
Types of Lighting
To start, you’ll need to determine what the room you’re wanting to light is going to be used for.
There are four basic types of lighting in a home that we’ve broken down below, and this should help you understand the basics of how and why different lighting is used.
Keep in mind: Sometimes you can use more than one type of lighting in a room!
1. Ambient Lighting
Ambient Lighting is considered any type of general lighting. This includes recessed lights, soffit lighting, track lighting, sconces, chandeliers, and pendant lights.
2. Task Lighting
Task Lighting is used for specific tasks such as cooking, office or school work, reading, grooming.
This type of lighting should make it easy to see the things you are working on. Some task lighting is in the form of table lamps, pendant lights or under-cabinet lighting.
3. Accent Lighting
Accent Lighting used to highlight an object or an area of architectural interest. Accent lighting is usually about three times brighter than ambient lighting.
4. Natural Lighting
This is the light that comes from the windows, doors or skylights. It can vary in brightness because of weather and time of day.
The Formula for Lighting a Room
As a general rule, there is a formula to calculate how much light you need in a room:
Room length X Room width x 1.5 = Amount of wattage to light a room
So, if you have an 18’ long room x 12’ wide room multiply times 1.5 = 324 watts, that’s how much wattage is needed to adequately light the room. You can divide that lighting into more than one source. 2 Lamps @ 150 watts each and 1 lamp @ 60 watt would be more than adequate light for the room.
How to Light each Room of the Home
1. Add Light to a Foyer/Entry
- Try hanging a Semi-Flush Ceiling Mount or a Chandelier in the foyer.
- Measure the width and the depth of the foyer and add it together.
- The diameter of the chandelier should not exceed the sum of the two numbers (10 + 15 = 25) so the Chandelier diameter should not be any wider than 25”.
We have given you the formula for figuring the wattage – so don’t forget to calculate it as well. If your foyer is small, try a pendant light, two wall sconces or even two buffet lamps on a side table for an inviting entrance.
2. Add Light to a Hallway/Stairway
Hallways are great spots to create a special lighting moments. Use repetition in a hallway to create drama, interest, and personality.
- Pendant lighting is a great lighting source in a stairwell. Dot several matching pendants down the hall to make a statement.
- If a hallway is very long, be sure to have a fixture every 8 to 10 feet.
- The most popular hallway lights are flush or semi-flush ceiling lights. Like pendants, use several down a hallway for more lighting but also dramatic effect
- For a different look, try wall sconces that wash the walls with light for a dramatic effect. This is a great way to accent beautiful wallpaper or wall art
3. How to Light a Kitchen/Dining Room
Kitchens need bright general lighting as well as good task lighting. There are a lot of ways you could do this, so get ready to unleash your inner decorator!
- If you are looking at pendants over an island, they should be about 36” above the surface of the island. Make sure the lights do no hang too close to the cabinet doors, otherwise, you may not be able to open them fully.
- Let’s say your counter area is 60” long, and you want three pendants divide 60” by 3. So the center pendant should be at 30” then the end pendants should hang at 10” on one end and at 50″ on the opposite end.
- For food prep try under-counter lighting. It is great task lighting.
- If and when you install lights under your counter, make sure that you pull them forward to the front of the cabinet for maximum illumination.
- If you have a table area or separate dining room, a chandelier (no more than ½ to ¾ the width of the table in diameter (with a maximum of 150 watt lighting capacity) should do the trick. The chandelier should be hung between 30 to 32 inches above the surface of the table. Always install a dimmer switch on high wattage chandeliers and pendants so that you can control the amount of light needed.
4. How to add Light to a Bathroom or Vanity
Other than the kitchen, excellent lighting is essential for performing personal tasks in the bathroom. Whatever your style, lighting for the bathroom has become a primary part of bath design.
- Your bath will probably require some form of overhead lighting.
- The best way to light a vanity is with sconces above the mirror (1, 2, 3 or 4 light sconces are available). You can also mount them on either side of the mirror.
- A good rule of thumb is to keep the size of the lighting in proportion to the size of the mirrors.
- For that spa like quality, try a chandelier that coordinates with your vanity lighting. You can also use a ceiling mounted fixture.
- Think about adding a dimmer switch for those times when you crave that special spa experience. It can really set the mood.
5. How to add Light to Living Areas (Living Room, Sitting Room, Etc.)
Most living areas of the house require adequate lighting for reading or other tasks. In addition, some low level, glare-free lights will be needed for television viewing. To figure out how much lighting you will need in the space, follow this special lighting formula:
Room Length x Room Width x 1.5 = Amount of watts needed to light the space
This formula should help you determine how much lighting you will need in the area, but here are some other helpful decorating tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure that you have adequate lighting for reading and other tasks.
- You can use lamps that have a 3-way switch which will give you a wide range of illumination.
- Try keeping lamps proportional to the tables they are sitting on.
- The bottom of the lampshade should be at eye level when you are seated.
- Floor lamps are another option when table space is at a minimum.
- There is usually some form of overhead lighting in a living area, so try keeping added lighting as a decorative accent and use a dimmer switch so you can change the mood of the room with ease.
- If all of this seems complicated, a good rule of thumb is to have 4 lighting sources in a living room to produce adequate lighting!
6. How to add Light to a Home Office
Adequate task lighting is the key to a functional and productive office space. Here’s our favorite decorating tips for adding light to a home office:
- Lamps are the best option to achieve good task lighting.
- Desk lamps should be about 16” above the work surface to maximize efficiency and reduce glare.
- If overhead lighting is needed there is recessed lighting or track lighting which will allow you to direct light in the areas that need illumination.
- It is always a good idea to place overhead lighting on a dimmer to control the brightness, especially in a home office or work-from-home set up.
7. How to add Light to a Bedroom
Although most of the time you spend in your bedroom will be with the lights off, it’s important to find a good balance of light to help wake up in the morning or get sleepy at night. Here’s our best bedroom lighting tips in no particular order:
- When choosing a ceiling fixture, look for something decorative that fits the style of the bedroom. Chandeliers are very popular and look opulent in the bedroom. Don’t be afraid to go for it!
- Whether you choose a chandelier, semi-flush or a flush mount fixture as an overhead lighting option, be sure you install a dimmer switch! It will give you options from bright light all the way to a soft, moody glow.
- Bedside lighting is the most important choice in this room: It provides you with additional lighting for reading, moving out of bed, or searching for that lost tv remote in the middle of the night.
- For the best illumination, bedside lamps should be no further than 12 inches away from the side of the bed.
- Try choosing bedside lamps with three-way switches so you always have the level of light needed for reading, etc.
- No room for a bedside lamp? Try wall mounted sconces. You can purchase either plug in or hard wire versions that look stylish and keep your bedside tables free for that stack of magazines you’ve been wanting to read.
Time to Light any Room in Your Home!
As you can see, lighting is a critical and sometimes complicated part of decorating your home—but 100% worth the time it takes to find a perfect lighting balance! A few last-minute tips we didn’t include above:
- If you choose new lighting, try to be consistent with the style and finish of the lighting.
- If you love traditional lighting in antique bronze finish, then try to keep all fixtures traditional in style with an antique bronze finish.
- As with any electrical changes, make sure you have a licensed electrician do the installations. Safety always comes first.
Lighting can truly make or break a space. If you are feeling that your space just isn’t working for you, look at the lighting first. Not only will proper lighting give you the ability to create a welcoming beacon, it can also create many different levels of light compatible with your lifestyle.
So, take a good look at your home, make a few small lighting changes and see what happens!
Looking for more lighting and living room inspiration? We think you’ll like these related articles:
- Living Room Lighting: How to Layer More Light in Your Space
- Podcast, Ep. 127: Lighting 101
- How Do I Choose the Right Lampshade?
- Lighting Tips for Every Room
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