Expert Tips for a Well-Lit Home

A good lighting plan can do wonders for your work and play spaces.

Layers of Light

According to lighting designer Randall Whitehead, the recipe for a successful lighting design is to mix four types, or layers, of light in every room of the house. The first layer is ambient light, indirect light that evenly illuminates rooms. This type of light includes natural light, pendants, and overhead fixtures. Next, spotlight your work areas with task lighting, which includes reading lamps and undercounter lights. Highlight the room's architecture with accent lights, such as track lights or adjustable recessed lights. The final layer is decorative lights, such as chandeliers and lamps. These lights make large rooms feel smaller.

Add Drama

Whether you want to highlight the fireplace, a painting, or your new French doors, use accent lights to focus attention on important elements. Find ways to incorporate uplighting, rather than downlighting, for a softer effect. To emphasize a wood-beam ceiling, add wall-mount sconces, hide spotlights behind furniture, or place rope lights on a ledge around the room's perimeter to create a warm, upward glow.

Install Dimmers

Installing dimmer switches on your light fixtures saves energy and allows you to tone down too-bright ambient lighting or create a more nuanced lighting scheme. Plus, a dimmer can extend the life of your bulbs and minimizes the times you must change hard-to-reach fixtures.

Spread Out Wattage

Don't try to illuminate your whole kitchen with one or two mega-bright ceiling fixtures. This is a recipe for shadows and glare. Instead, use a blend of ambient, task, and accent lighting. Put lower-wattage bulbs in each luminaire. For example, with 100 watts in undercabinet task lighting and 200 watts spread among several wall sconces, you can put a 20-watt bulb in each of your pendant lamps for ambient light that won't overwhelm.

Optimize Daylight

Warm and fresh, with better color rendering than even the best halogen bulbs, natural light is the ideal complement to an electric lighting scheme. Whether you're adding or widening a window, installing a skylight, or just rethinking the windows you have, make sure you consider how to keep daylight from getting too harsh and hot. A west-facing window may require a heavy-duty covering or a tinted screen.

Get the Most Bang

Low-voltage MR16 bulbs have a high color temperature that makes colors really pop. The bulbs provide perfect, low-cost accent lighting. You'll need a base designed to accommodate the bulb, but investing in a few MR16 picture lights to spotlight artwork can completely change the feel of your room.

Choose High-Quality Fixtures

A well-made light fixture looks better, lasts longer, and gives clearer light, so inspect your fixture's construction the way you would a piece of furniture. Some questions to ask: Are the metals sturdy, not lightweight? Are the sockets high-quality porcelain, not plastic? Does the shade hide the bulbs? Do joints and connections look solid? Do parts screw together easily?

Liven Up Recessed Lighting

Decorative trims dress up common recessed can lights and are easy to install. Consider a light-diffusing baffle: a wall-washer shield that aims and intensifies light, a beveled glass shade, or an acrylic lens that adds a splash of color to a room.

Use Energy-Efficient Bulbs

Save the earth and your money each time you turn on the lights by using dimmable light-emitting diode (LED) and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. Some LED bulbs can last up to 12 years.

Through the Wire

Use corded ceiling or wall-mount fixtures to provide inexpensive lighting without hardwiring. These light fixtures are flexible, affordable, and don't require an electrician for installation. Just hang, plug into an outlet, and glow.

Danny Lipford: How To Install a Chandelier and Dimmer Switch.

Learn to Install a Dimmer Switch

Watch as Danny Lipford teaches how to install a chandelier and dimmer switch.

Hire a Professional

Some lighting projects are perfect for the do-it-yourselfer, such as installing dimmer switches. But for bigger jobs, get customized advice from a trained lighting specialist, Certified Lighting Consultant, or lighting designer, who will create a plan based on your needs and budget.

Tip: When you turn off the circuit breaker, tape over switches so they're not accidentally turned back on.

Don't Fear Fluorescent

Long the bane of interior designers, fluorescent lights can now be a beautiful and energy-efficient way to brighten your kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or basement says Stefan Graf, principal of Illuminart, a lighting design firm in Michigan. He recommends asking for bulbs with a high color-rendering index. The higher the bulb is rated on a scale of 1 to 100 the better its ability to show vivid, true-to-life color.

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