The pandemic has pushed us to reconsider — and appreciate — our living spaces more than ever. We’ve spent the last year sleeping, eating, working, relaxing and dating from home, a phenomenon that has compounded the importance of multifunctional, thoughtfully designed spaces. By now, most of us have undertaken some sort of home re-decoration or organizational project. If you haven’t, or are looking for another way to boost the functionality of your rooms, consider a change-up in lighting. Believe it or not, adjustments as simple as swapping lightbulbs or adding a table lamp can make a huge impact on your office, bedroom and more.
To help you plan your next home project, HYPEBAE spoke to four interior design experts about the importance of light, and how to optimize a room using smart lighting choices. Keep reading for their tips.
Color temperature is key.
“Color temperature is essentially referring to the tone of the lighting. It boils down to warmer and cooler tones,” explains Katy Byrne, an interior designer at Decorist. Danielle Blundell, home director at Apartment Therapy, breaks it down further, adding that light is measured in two scales: Color Rendering Index (CRI) and Correlated Color Temperature (CCT). CRI is measured on a scale of one to 100 and indicates how accurately a light source reveals an object’s colors in comparison to a light source with a perfect CRI score of 100. These ideal light sources are referred to as “blackbody radiators,” prime examples being sunlight and incandescent light.
Measured in Kelvin (K) on a scale of 1,000 to 10,000, CCT quantifies a light source’s warmth or coolness. The lower the CCT, the warmer — more orange, yellow or red — the light is. A higher number indicates a cooler, or more blue, light source. “It’s important to note that a higher CCT isn’t necessarily better,” Blundell notes. Both warm and cool lights can, and should, co-exist in a home (more on that later).
Alex Kember, a research engineer at Dyson, explains the importance of CRI and CCT. “Making use of a large range of color temperatures allows us to bring the dynamic nature of natural light into our homes,” he says, alluding to the role daylight plays in our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). “We need higher color temperatures in the middle of the day to allow us to perform tasks and stay alert,” he clarifies, citing a cool-toned CCT of 6500K as a day-time benchmark. In the evening, lower CCTs of around 2700K — resulting in warmer light — help our bodies prepare for sleep.
Layered light is best for a living room.
Living rooms typically serve an array of functions: they’re the home base for a gathering of friends and family, a place to unwind after work and often the location of a TV and media center. Layering light sources by incorporating multiple lighting options into the design of your living room will help make the space suited to a variety of situations.
“People use lighting in four fundamental ways: indirect light for general illumination; task light for high-precision work; feature light to highlight art or architectural features and ambient light, which is a warm, dim glow like fire or candlelight,” Kember illustrates. In Blundell’s opinion, using an overhead light with a dimmer allows for the seamless transition between indirect light and ambient light. “Dimmers will enable you to go from working at your sofa to watching a movie with just a flick of a switch,” she advocates.
Another living room must-have, floor lamps and table lamps can double as task lighting and ambient light. “An adjustable floor lamp is a great addition behind a sofa for reading or doing something detail-oriented like knitting, for example,” Blundell suggests. When entertaining guests, turn off your overhead lights and rely on floor and table lamps to create a cozy, intimate feel. “Put floor lamps around the seating vignettes. You can use table lamps in addition to, or in place of floor lamps if you don’t have room next to a sofa,” says Brigette Romanek, founder of Romanek Design Studio.
Bedroom lighting should promote relaxation.
“In general, lighting can be softer and more atmospheric in a bedroom because it’s typically a wind-down space meant for relaxing and sleeping,” Blundell says. Both she and Byrne recommend installing a decorative chandelier or ceiling light fixture to create a focal point in the bedroom. From there, table lamps and floor lamps can provide directional light for tasks like reading in bed.
Romanek also advocates for installing a rotating or swing-arm wall sconce above the bed. “If you are reading in bed, you can rotate the light downwards to see comfortably. If you want soft lighting, you will most likely angle the light upwards to bounce off the ceiling for a cozy effect,” she suggests.
To help your body prepare for sleep, opt for lightbulbs with warm color temperatures (low CCTs), as these emit less blue light. During the day, use lights with higher CCTs that imitate sunlight. Kember cites Dyson’s Lightcycle Morph as a multi-tasking solution — the high-tech lamp supports both sleep and wake cycles by continually adjusting its color temperature and brightness in relation to local daylight. Smart bulbs such as the Philipps Hue can also be adjusted in relation to its changing surroundings throughout the day.
Lastly, don’t forget about your closet. “Closets aren’t always wired for lighting, especially in older homes and apartments. If that’s the case, I’d add a battery-operated fixture overhead or stick-on wireless LED puck lights to shelves for some illumination,” Blundell advises.
An office should feature several lighting options.
When it comes to lighting an office, Kember urges decorators to think about the entire space, not just the desk. Desk lamps are a must, but overhead lighting and natural daylight (if your office has access to it) are crucial, too. “Set up your working area near a window or in another naturally well-lit space,” the expert stresses. Byrne points out that in addition to supporting your body clock, natural light can help boost your mood.
In line with Kember’s earlier remarks on color temperature, Blundell uses cool-toned lightbulbs to support concentration and productivity, installing them in overhead lighting and supplemental light sources such as desk lamps. Speaking of desk lamps, Blundell recommends purchasing one with an adjustable arm or a pivoting head. “Ideally, you want something that allows you to fine-tune or focus the placement of the light’s beam, which will help minimize glare and reduce shadows while working,” she explains. “Make sure the lamp is illuminating your computer screen and keyboard without any streaking or glare,” she notes. The positioning of your lamp can be adjusted to complement the intensity of natural light (if available) in your office throughout the day.
Keep kitchen lighting bright.
Installing bright lights in your kitchen can help keep you and your food safe. Romanek prefers placing strong overhead lighting above kitchen counters, islands and sinks. “No one wants to lose a finger chopping ingredients,” she remarks. Blundell favors metal and clear glass shades for overhead lighting fixtures — “Both materials allow for a bright, concentrated and directional beam of light to support activities like chopping and cutting.” When picking lightbulbs, choose ones with high CRIs that render color accurately. “You could easily undercook your chicken if it looks white when it’s actually still pink,” Kember comments.
Under-cabinet lighting such as stick-on LED pucks or light strips can also help boost visibility on countertops, especially in kitchens with dark-colored appliances, cabinets and backsplashes (dark colors absorb light, resulting a dimmer space). Blundell even adds table lamps to kitchen counters. “Beyond offering texture and additional illumination, they’re cozy, unexpected on kitchen counters and a super renter-friendly solution,” she says.