How To Decorate Step 7: Lighting

The lighting you choose can make or break a room because it adds function to spaces as well as ambiance that can’t be created any other way.

1lighting1Lighting is the last step in getting your room to function well for you before all the decorating begins.  It should be selected for the functions of a room as well as for its visual appeal.  Every task that occurs in your room will require either direct lighting from a lamp for reading or studying, or indirect lighting that simply brightens the room for conversation or TV viewing.

But we can’t forget accent lighting such as floor spots, track lighting or recessed spot lights that enhance the texture, color and any room detailing.  You can spot light a favorite piece of art, send glorious shadows to the ceiling through a leafy plant or even just graze the surface of a rich brick fireplace.  However, lighting isn’t as easy as 1, 2, 3.  But that’s a good place to start!

There are three different types of lighting – well, actually four if you include natural daylight – but we aren’t!  The three different types of lighting are general, task and accent lighting.  I touched on them above briefly, but let’s get into the details.

General Lighting


Sometimes referred to as structural lighting, general lighting is the light that “washes” the room.  It gives enough light to move around the space and perhaps even do the cleaning.  It is often created through the use of center ceiling fixtures or a grid of recessed can lighting as in this kitchen.  Even a light kit attached to a ceiling fan would be considered general lighting.  You might think of it as flat lighting.  Nothing in particular is highlighted, no dramatic shadows or bright spots of illumination are created but you won’t trip and you can certainly vacuum by the general lighting in a room. Every room needs some sort of general lighting.  It used to be the lighting that would come on when you flipped the switch at the entrance to a room.  However, these days, with timers and outlets with switches, it is sometimes easier to have lamps come on in a room versus the overhead fixture.

Task Lighting

1lighting3The second type of lighting that each and every room must have is called task lighting.  Its name is self explanatory, it’s the lighting used when you are doing a task.  For instance, it might be difficult to read in a room that was lit with only general lighting, a lamp next to your chair or on the desk where you are reading is more desirable.  A dining table functions better when there is a chandelier above it to light the meal and the diners.

There are some rules that might interest you when it comes to task lighting and most of them have to do with eliminating glare.  Direct glare is generally caused by lamps or light sources that are not shielded well.  For instance, bright sun coming in a window or a bare lamp or light bulb shining in your eyes will create direct glare.  This can take place at the dining table when a chandelier is placed too high, or even seated in a chair with a table lamp whose shade doesn’t reach eye level.

For dining, of course each chandelier or pendant fixture is made differently, but the idea is that the base of the fixture should be about 60” above the floor.  This puts it at about 30” above the table surface.  Your best bet with a pendant fixture or chandelier is to sit at the table and determine the correct height before hanging or hard wiring the fixture in place.

1lighting4n fact, the average seated eye level is 38-42” above the floor.  When a lamp is placed beside a chair or at the end of a sofa, the lower edge of the lamp shade should be at eye level so the bare lamp or light bulb can’t be seen.  For lamps on a sofa table behind or over the shoulder of a seated person, the lower edge of the shade can be anywhere from 42 -49” up from the floor. The same rules apply for night stand lighting as well.  Start by putting yourself in the position you would be in to read, leaning on your pillow, and measure up to the height of your eyes.  Make sure your might stand lamp has a shade that is at the same height as your eyes.

Accent Lighting

1lighting5Accent lighting is the lighting that goes the extra mile.  Is it required?  No, but it is the lighting that makes a room fabulous.  In this bedroom, the antique frames a light by a single fixture on a track system.  Without the light the frames would still be there but they wouldn’t be noticed like they are when in the “spotlight” so to speak.  In the same fashion, the glass vases with strings of white holiday lights could be replaced with everyday table lamps and the room would function well, it just wouldn’t sing like it does with these unusual night stand lamps.  Of course you wouldn’t be able to read by them, but they are “accent” lamps, not task lighting and in a guest bedroom, perhaps that’s all you need!

Useful Lighting Tips:

Combining lamps in one room:  When pulling together lighting for a single room, all the lamps don’t have to match.  However, they do need to have something in common that ties them together and to the room.


For instance, a brushed chrome base lamp with a white linen drum shade could work well with…


… a wooden base lamp that has some chrome detailing.  If the wooden based lamp used a drum shade as well, then all would fine.  I believe that if the shades are similar in shape, you have a lot of the issue beat.  As long as the style of the lamps is similar, you can pull all sorts of colors and designs together to make a more interesting room.

Replacing a Shade: Yes.  The time comes when you need to replace the shade on your lamps.  Usually the base will survive quite well, but the shade is exposed to all that heat and dust, and over a period of time, the shade breaks down.  So, when you are replacing a shade, take the old one with you to the store so you can replace it with one that is just the right size.

It is important to remember that you don’t want the stem that holds the socket for the light bulb to show too much below the shade or the shade will look too small as you see here on this lamp.  Also, make sure the shade is in the right proportion to the base. This does seem to be proportioned correctly, thought the light shade is in contrast to the dark, heavy base.


Alternately, this gold-toned shade works beautifully with the base color, blending so much more than the ivory shade.  Keep in mind that you may be able to do even better choosing a new shade for your lamp than the manufacturer!

Because it isn’t ivory, through, a little less light will be emitted, so how this lamp is used is important.  In any event, the longer shade works better, hiding most of the stem for the light bulb.

Controlling the Light:  There are several methods to control the light that you have.  Of course the shade color will determine how much light is emitted.  If you have an ivory or white linen shade like some of them we’ve just seen, you will have more light in your room than if you use one like the gold tones shade just above.


I have a couple of lamps in one of my bedrooms that have black opaque shades.  In this case, absolutely NO light comes through the shade.  All of the light comes out the top and the bottom of the shade.  This is great for lighting the nightstand but not shining a bright light in your eyes if you’ve been sleeping!


Another great way to control the light you have is by the wattage of the light bulb you install in the lamp.  All lamps will have a tag on the socket that tells you how high the wattage may be for that particular lamp. DO  NOTexceed the wattage recommendation or you will be creating a dangerous situation.


My home is full of timers.  I like to come into my home in the evening and have light or get up in the morning and have lights on in the living room.  I think these are wonderful and can really help you save on your energy bills because you won’t forget to leave lights on at night or on all day when you leave the house in the morning.  They just make sense!


Dimmers are one of Matt’s favorite projects. We don’t mess around too much with electrical or plumbing, but installing a dimmer switch is fairly easy and the benefits are great. Dimming the lights in the evening is a wonderful way to add ambience.  Use them with any dining pendant fixture, overhead can lights, and accent lighting in cabinets or over artwork.

Well, that should be enough information to get you on your way to a more satisfying lighting environment in your home.  If you have more questions about lighting, visit your local lighting center and talk to the experts.  They have the answers to questions you never even thought to ask before!



    • Shari Hiller says

      Winnie, are you referring to our lighting article? What thoughts would you have to help us out? Thank you in advance for any advice you can give.

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