Lighting is a notoriously tricky thing to master. How bright should a room be? How diffused? Which lights are best for entertaining—and which create a restful environment to curl up in before slumber? We tapped a suite of interior experts, and asked them to, well, shed light on it all, from scale to dimmers and everything in between.
Read on for their tips below. And to shop a curation of lighting inspired by this story, click here. Don’t forget to (virtually) flip through the pages of the latest issue of Magazinish if you don’t have the print version.
Martyn Lawrence Bullard shares his best lightbulb tips.
“I always go warm. I cannot stand ghost lighting. I believe rooms should be inviting and that’s really achieved with the level of color that exudes from your bulbs. Fortunately, today’s warmth levels have been carefully worked on—you can get great incandescent bulb lighting with a good warmth again. Pure white light may work in an art gallery or a showroom, but at home you always want lighting to feel inviting and relaxing. The color shifting bulbs have their place—but don’t always do the trick. There are companies today who provide circadian rhythmic lighting that alters with the natural balance of lighting during the day. This is, of course, seductive, and apparently very good for mental and physical health.”
BRIGETTE ROMANEK on scale—and why lights are like jewelry.
“When decorating, lighting is the last piece for me. It’s the last layer, just like your jewelry. Saving it for last helps me determine its scale based on everything else in an area. I also look at ceiling heights—that determines scale as well.
You can also think of lighting in a utilitarian way. Once the other parts of a room are put together, think about what you’ll be doing there. For example, ‘I want to read in that corner of the room, so I’ll need lighting, or I want to be able to work on that table in the middle of a room.’”
SASHA ADLER gets practical with layered lighting.
“Lighting should always be layered at various heights throughout a room. Your lights are essential and functional, but they can also bring decor to the next level! One of the easiest ways to update a boring bathroom, for instance, is to flank the mirror with a pair of fantastic sconces and add a great ceiling fixture.
A living room with layered lighting may include a ceiling fixture, a pair of sconces straddling the fireplace, some picture lights at the top of the bookcases, a lamp on the side table, a floor lamp tucked next to the lounge chair in the corner, and a pair of candlesticks on the console.
When it comes to hue, I always opt for a warm light. My mom always says that nothing is more flattering than birthday candle lighting and it’s true—everyone looks good in that warm glow.”
ZOE FELDMAN on illuminating bedrooms.
“At the bedside, I prefer layering sconces and lamps, but only when the space has the room. If the nightstands are small then we will use sconces to help save space and offer more surface area. The sconces we use at the bedside are typically smaller and more task-oriented.
For children, I love a bedside sconce for bedtime reading. I prefer lamps on dressers for a quiet, diffused light to end the night. In any room, it starts with a dimmer … Dimmers allow for absolute customization and flexibility. I have never understood why anyone would select a light switch over a dimmer.”
NICK OLSEN on adding vintage in the mix.
“I’m not of the school where every lamp and pendant have to have the same metal finish. I mix new and vintage lighting with every project. A good pair of column lamps—in any material—is a no-brainer for me. The same goes for a classic English pagoda lantern, for both indoors and porches. Also, we often buy vintage porcelain vases and sculptures that our lighting expert converts to lamps. A pair of tall vintage candlesticks can make great buffet lamps!
When it comes to lampshades, interesting materials like waxed brown craft paper with contrast edges, or bottle green silk with matching fringe are worth the investment. Also who says you can’t change them seasonally? Red silk for the holidays, bright white paper for summer. Variety is the spice of life, after all.”
JOY MOYLER explains how to keep lighting special for the holidays.
“Holiday lighting is made extra special when it’s sultry, moody, warm, and inviting. For me, it’s all about creating the glow. Every room should feel like soft candlelight, where you feel encouraged to lay on the couch, reading under cashmere as it snows outside. Or where all the kids are piled on the bed and you’re watching something fun. This ‘glowing’ light feels nurturing, like the womb.
On the tree, I go crazy for white holiday twinkle lights. They are so much fun! I leave them on all day, on the Christmas tree and inside clear vases in windows.”
CECE BARFIELD THOMPSON talks balancing ceiling, wall, table, and floor lighting.
“Light needs to be evenly placed around a room. Given the choice, I would prefer to have all table lamps—but this can be hard in a large space, or a room without a lot of table surfaces. When developing a lighting plan, start with lamps in the corner of the room—table or floor—and then work your way towards the center. If the layout won’t accommodate lamps, add chandeliers and/or sconces.”