Night Lights

Bring the evening to life with this guide to decorating with light.


Enlarge Image See illustration below of this room's various lighting sources.

Photographers and painters know the importance of getting light right. It's what gave Garbo her mystery and makes a Monet painting glow. The right lighting also can turn an ordinary room into a work of art. To create subtle drama in your rooms, use a varied cast of light sources as we've done here.

General Tips
  • Ambient lighting, either from daylight or from hanging or recessed fixtures, is the overall illumination that fills a room. In the room shown on this page, recessed fixtures that are tucked in the ceiling, out of view, direct pools of golden light onto the walls. This supplies warmth and drama in a way that a single fixture can't.
  • Accent lighting, like the table lamp, spotlights art or well-defined areas. Increase bulb wattage or use a light-focusing fixture to ensure that accent lighting is three times as bright as ambient light.
  • Task lighting, like a floor lamp tucked behind the sofa, illuminates a reading or work space.
  • Special effects add sparkle. Winking through windows, tiny white tree lights hint at magic.
Light Plan
Enlarge Image Left to right: B-A-D-A-C

A. Ceiling-recessed "wall washers" provide the overall, or ambient, light in this room. For best effects, fixtures should be placed 2 to 4 feet from the wall (the higher your ceiling, the greater the distance) and the same distance apart.

B. A small accent lamp spotlights art and can double as a reading light.

C. A floor lamp supplies bright, glare-free task lighting.

D. Tiny lights in the trees lead the eye outdoors, visually expanding the space.

Fixture Highlight
Enlarge Image Recessed light fixture.

Because they mount flush with the ceiling, recessed light fixtures blend well with almost any decor. Low voltage fixtures, such as the wall washer, offer more precise beam control than incandescent lights.

Enlarge Image See below for lighting breakdown.

Trade a standard chandelier for pools of light to add low-key drama to a dining room. To set the mood:

General Tips
  • An adjustable pendant lamp over the table can be raised for overall lighting or lowered for cozier gatherings. Look for a fixture that softens and diffuses the light so that diners aren't blinded. Installing a dimmer allows even more flexibility.
  • Strip lighting, like the low-profile fixtures on the sides of this china cupboard, makes dishes and glassware shine. Concealed strips, which plug in for easy installation, also could be mounted beneath shelves.
  • Fire or candlelight raises a room's emotional temperature. No fireplace? Spark things up by scattering votives and pillars on the table and sideboard-even carefully around a pendant lamp.
Light Plan
Enlarge Image left to right: C-B-A

A. An adjustable pendant lamp provides either ambient or accent lighting in this dining room, depending on its position over the table.

B. Additional acent lighting comes from low-profile strips installed along the side of the china cabinet. Alternatively, strip light could be placed under shelves.

C. Candles in varying sizes create a sense of moving light and energy in the room.

Fixture Highlight
Enlarge Image Strip lighting.

The low-profile strip lights tucked into the china cabinet fit easily into tight spaces and plug into existing outlets, making them a good choice for accent shelf lighting.

Enlarge Image Illustrated below, lighting breakdown.

Just because the lights are mostly off when you're in your bedroom doesn't mean they can't be beautiful when they're on. Varying the light sources allows you to switch the mood from night to day.

General Tips
  • Recessed lights set into the ceiling provide plenty of illumination for morning wake-up and dressing. Dimmer switches allow the light levels to be lowered in the evening for a more relaxed ambience.
  • Hidden uplighting crowns this bed canopy with a warm halo. The boxy canopy is built from lumberyard moldings with bed curtains hung from either side.
  • Table lamps cast a wide pool of light that's perfect for bedtime reading. The type of shade helps determine the function: A translucent shade also adds to overall light levels; an opaque shade directs more light down for reading.
Light Plan
Enlarge Image Left to right: A-C-B

A. Recessed ceiling lights on a dimmer switch allow the most flexibility for overall bedroom lighting. To determine how many fixtures you'll need, figure that a standard 100-watt bulb in a recessed fixture will cover approximately 30 to 40 square feet.

B. Bedside lamps with translucent shades add general lighting and provide task light for reading.

C. A low-voltage track light over the canopy enhances this architectural feature.

Fixture Highlight
Enlarge Image Low-voltage track light.

Low-voltage track lights, like those hidden above the bed canopy, can be spaced from 2 to 12 inches apart. At 1 inch tall, the fixture can be concealed in spaces too small for conventional track lights.

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