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Popular in Decorating

How to Light Any Room

Proper lighting enhances the decorating scheme in every room of your home.

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    Everything in this slideshow

    • Plan Your Lighting

      Fabric, wallcoverings, and furniture can all transform a room, but one of the most inexpensive and effective ways to freshen a room is through lighting. Proper layering of light can enhance color and ambience. Layering involves the careful use of task, accent (or decorative), and ambient (or overall) lighting within each room. Develop a lighting plan that addresses every purpose your room may serve or each task you will accomplish in it.

    • Lighting Your Entry

      An effective lighting strategy for your entry can make your home look more welcoming. An overhead light on a dimmer switch helps you set an appropriate mood at your front door. A large lantern, chandelier, or subtle recessed lights create ambient illumination. Accent lights highlight a work of art or architectural feature to create visual interest, while task lighting illuminates an entry table.

    • A Well-Lit Foyer

      This long entry space benefits from multiple light sources. Twin overhead fixtures wash the foyer in light. At the stairway landing a pair of matching lamps creates a focal point. The large mirror behind the entry table reflects the light throughout the area. Used in partnership with an ambient light for maximum effect, a mirror will bounce light into dark corners and brighten dead ends.

    • Lighting the Living Room

      Balance and adaptability are keys to a well-lit living space. That means permanent fixtures such as a chandelier or a ceiling fan with a light kit should be on a dimmer switch. Overhead fixtures should work in tandem with task lighting such as a floor lamp or lamp on a side table. Wall sconces and down lights or spots accent elements around the room in a final layer of lighting.

    • Lamps Add Color and Pattern

      Creating warm, welcoming rooms is easier with well-planned, well-placed lighting. Using bases and shades to enhance your decorative scheme makes your lighting another ingredient in a pulled-together room. Here, a red shade on a wall sconce brings an accent color up to eye level as you enter the room. The animal-print base on the table lamp injects an extra hit of personality in the space.

    • Accents in the Living Room

      Living rooms may not have an overhead fixture for overall lighting and instead rely heavily on portable task lamps around the room. Accent lights can make such a room work harder and smarter. This can include spotlights on plants or artwork, indirect light concealed behind crown molding or above casework, even a light behind a chair to brighten a dim corner. When you add this type of accent lighting, keep in mind that the effect of the light should focus on improving the atmosphere of the room. The light source itself should seem almost invisible.

    • Lighting the Dining Room

      Dining rooms are probably the easiest rooms in the house for most people to light effectively. After all, most of the action happens around the table. A chandelier or pendant over the dining table does the lion's share of the work, but don't forget the possibilities of a task lamp on the sideboard or in-cabinet lighting to put the spotlight on a china hutch filled with favorite collections or family heirlooms.

    • Dimmers in the Dining Room

      The dining room is a good candidate for a dimmer switch because flexibility is a key feature of this space. With a dimmer switch, you can use low lighting for dinner parties or flood the room with light for a casual homework station. If possible, wire every light in the room to a central dimmer system to instantly set the appropriate mood or render a glow akin to candlelight.

    • Dining Room Chandeliers

      Hung over the center of the dining table, a chandelier is a traditional fixture for providing light in the dining room. An attractive chandelier can serve as a decorative focal point for the space and provide a nucleus for arranging furniture and other lighting such as complementary sconces. In a room with 8-foot ceilings, a chandelier should hang about 33 inches above the table; add 3 inches for every foot above 8 feet. Keep your room layout in proportion by selecting a fixture that is about 12 inches narrower than the top of your table.

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      Lighting the Kitchen

      Kitchens call for a more complex lighting plan because so much happens in the room. Plan overhead lights for heavy-duty tasks such as wiping down cupboards and sweeping the floor. Add task lighting, such as pendant lights over the island, bar, or sink, for detail-oriented chores. Accent lights show off collectibles or design features.

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      Keep Kitchen Lights Flexible

      Kitchens are often the hub of the household, incorporating many more activities than meal prep. When creating a lighting plan, consider the illumination you'll need for entertaining or for working at a desk. Instead of a large chandelier, consider a series of pendant lights above a large island. The light source will be more diffused but will cover more area. The wattage of the bulbs can be reduced to compensate for the greater number of fixtures, and a dimmer system will make them more adaptable for every activity. The basic rule for the height of a pendant light is 35-40 inches above the work surface.

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      Ambient Light in the Kitchen

      Most kitchen illumination focuses on task lighting, but bathing a kitchen in soft light creates a much more inviting space. Recessed ceiling lights arranged around the room are especially useful when the room is being used simultaneously by several people for different purposes such as cooking, homework, or socializing. Smaller accent and task lights such as in-cabinet and undercabinet lighting provide sufficient light on their own to illuminate the room when most of the activity moves elsewhere.

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      Open Plan Lighting

      In a large open-room plan, relying on overhead light won't do the trick. A comprehensive plan for the space includes a dimmable chandelier over the dining table, pendant lights above the island and undercabinet lighting on either side of the sink for kitchen tasks, as well as table lamps in the living area and accent spotlights on the beams for soft illumination toward the ceiling.

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      Lighting the Bedroom

      Although nearly everyone includes task lighting on the bedside table, a bedroom can benefit from more task lighting on a dresser, an accent light on a photo or work of art, and overhead lights on a dimmer switch for general ambience. The best light for bedrooms is generally warm light, which is more flattering and restful. If you do a lot of reading in your bedroom, however, be sure to keep a cool-light shaded task lamp nearby to prevent eyestrain.

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      Light for a Multitasking Bedroom

      For many people, a bedroom is much more than a place to sleep -- it can be a place to watch television, relax with a good book, work at a desk, or dress for an evening event. Plan your lighting for the ways you use this hub of activity. Soft recessed ceiling lights provide ambient illumination, while task lamps stand ready at the desk and nightstand. Overhead, a beautiful chandelier acts as both dimmable ambient fixture and decorative accent.

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      Accent Light in the Bedroom

      While lighting artwork is often considered essential in public rooms of the house, it is an often-overlooked element in a bedroom lighting plan. And it needn't require the addition of fixtures and switches. In this bedroom, accent and ambient light sources combine in a track system that provides overall light and focuses spotlights on artwork throughout the room.

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      Lighting the Bathroom

      Sconces above and beside a vanity mirror assure appropriate light for daily tasks. Place sconces near face height for the most flattering illumination and the fewest shadows. While task lighting is the most important type in a bathroom, pay attention to the other layers as well. Bathrooms with well-placed accent lighting can be more welcoming, and an overhead light on a dimmer switch is easier on the eyes during late-night or early-morning visits.

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      A Well-Lit Bath

      A bathroom needs to look and feel different from day to night. In the morning, bright white light awakens and refreshes; while at night, a soft light can provide a spa-light mood or dimmed light can accommodate a late-night visit. In this bath, ample natural light supplements the overhead and task lighting to create an inviting atmosphere. Mirrors keep the light moving throughout the space.

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      Lighting the Home Office

      A home office should be heavy on task lighting. Lamps on a desk or worktable are essential to reduce eyestrain. An overhead light on a dimmer switch is useful for working at night or on cloudy days to add brightness to the room. Accent lights add an inviting, decorative element to an otherwise utilitarian space.

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      Lighting for Office Tasks

      Without supplemental task lighting, the eyes can grow weary looking at the glow of a computer screen. When choosing light bulbs for a desk lamp, keep in mind that cooler, or bluish, light helps with reading tasks. Glare can create an unwelcome distraction in a home office, so use a shaded lamp with a bulb of no more than 60 watts. Brighten the rest of the office space with soft lighting from a pendant lamp.

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      Lighting the Basement

      Plenty of controlled lighting illuminates a multitasking basement media space. When the television is on, dimmed accent lights can provide a subtle and unobtrusive glow. Bright overhead lighting is a necessity in a basement room, but dimmers allow the light to be reduced for optimum television viewing. When placing lighting, avoid pointing any light directly at the TV screen to prevent glare.

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