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Lighting tips for every room

Living Rooms / Family Rooms: The concept of layering light is particularly important in the living/family room, an area of the house where people tend to gather for long stretches of time and engage in an array of activities, including conversation, watching TV, reading, playing board games and using a laptop. We favor bouncing light off the ceiling because it suits the human tendency to visually perceive vertical planes—looking up—versus looking at our feet. To accomplish ambient lighting that bounces off the ceiling of a living room, we suggest integrating cove or valance lighting into the room's architecture. Another way to provide ambient lighting in a living room is to wash the walls with light, which can be accomplished with soffit or valance lighting, recessed or track lighting that is directed toward the walls, or even with plug-in floor lamp torchieres with translucent upward facing globes. In a modest living room that has one wall switch wired to an outlet, a homeowner fix that provides energy efficiency and versatility would be to replace the wall switch with a dimmer, and add faux-cove lighting by concealing a fixture behind a piece of millwork added to the top of a bookcase, and wired to the outlet controlled by a dimmer.

Kitchens: With its heavy focus on the functions of food preparation and cleanup, as well as its tendency to be a gathering spot, the kitchen requires careful consideration of task and ambient lighting. Think in particular of the task lighting for the counters, where most of the work takes place, and over the sink. One of the main reasons sinks have often been located at a window is to take advantage of natural light, and this layout is still highly recommended by lighting experts. Augment the natural light with a ceiling mounted or recessed fixture above the sink. Using undercabinet lighting is a good way to illuminate the countertop work surfaces without relying on an overhead light that will cast shadows on the person working at the counters. A basic lighting plan for a modest kitchen might consist of a central, ceiling-mounted fixture providing ambient light, with undercabinet fixtures providing task lighting for the counters, soffit lighting providing task lighting above the sink, and a pendant providing task or ambient lighting over the island. This traditional lighting plan is adequate for many kitchens and can be improved simply by putting all lighting on a dimmer, and choosing energy efficient light bulbs.

Bathrooms: With its emphasis on personal grooming that requires viewing oneself in a mirror, the bathroom requires careful consideration of lighting placement. Too many bathrooms feature a central ceiling-mounted fixture that casts shadows on a person standing in front of the mirror. In small baths, where one may have to choose between a wall-mounted fixture on the side of the mirror or an overhead fixture, lighting designers say to always go with the wall-mounted placement. A common lighting design for older bathrooms may feature a central ceiling-mounted fixture plus a fixture above the mirror. An improved lighting plan would eliminate those fixtures and replace them with three wall sconces, two on either side of the mirror, and one on an opposing wall (offset from mirror position).

Dining Rooms: The primary focus of dining room lighting is the table, and fixtures placed directly above the table may provide both ambient and task lighting for this room. Dimmers are particularly desirable as they provide flexibility in establishing a relaxing atmosphere when entertaining. A traditional lighting plan for a dining room consists of a chandelier above the table, plus a pair of wall sconces flanking a prominent breakfront or sideboard, with all lighting on a dimmer. An upgraded lighting plan might include cove lighting on two opposing walls and a dimmable chandelier over the table.

Bedrooms: Bedside reading and closet lighting are two of the primary concerns in a bedroom lighting plan. For bedside reading, lighting experts suggest wall-mounted light fixtures with adjustable arms so that the light can be directed on the reading material. Each bedside light should operate on its own switch, either directly on the fixture or a wall switch within easy reach. Ambient lighting may be provided by floor lamps, architectural lighting, or a pair of sconces flanking a wall mirror. Because the bedroom is a room where a relaxing, sympathetic atmosphere is welcomed, it may be best to avoid central ceiling-mounted fixtures that might be perceived harshly when viewed from bed. Consider the paint color of bedroom walls when planning light output as dark-colored walls reflect less light. For a closet, ceiling-mounted or recessed fixtures are commonly used. A traditional lighting plan for a bedroom might consist solely of floor and table lamps, with table lamps on nightstands and dresser. A new lighting plan might include either wall-mounted fixtures flanking the bed or table lamps on the nightstands, plus a pair of wall-mounted sconces near the dresser.

Home Offices: Identifying where particular tasks will take place in a home office is the first step to designing a lighting plan for this important room; reading books or paperwork, working at the computer, and talking on the phone are common tasks. A key consideration is to ensure that a light fixture is not reflected in a computer screen, so knowing the position of the computer—which may be limited by the location of outlets and internet cables—is essential. A task light for the desk area should be positioned to minimize shadows and reflections, so place it to the right or left side of the occupant's main work orientation. If the room's layout permits, positioning a reading chair next to a window allows for natural light to be used for reading during the day. A table lamp can provide task lighting for reading at night.

Entries, Hallways & Stairs: The entry points and pathways through a home typically require nothing more than ambient lighting, unless there are focal points such as artwork or architectural elements that should receive accent lighting. A small entry may be sufficiently lighted by a ceiling-mounted or recessed fixture or a wall sconce. A double height entry with a staircase may require a chandelier with lighting controls at both the bottom and top of the stairs. Ambient lighting in hallways may be provided by recessed fixtures, ceiling-mounted fixtures or wall sconces. If a hallway is used as a gallery for artwork or photographs, consider accent lighting, which is achieved by precise positioning of directional fixtures that use light bulbs emitting very narrow beams of light.