The right fixtures—and bulbs—can make all the difference
Most rooms require more than one type of fixture for optimal lighting.
Have you ever sat in your living room squinting over a crossword puzzle, struggled to find your way to the bathroom at night, or noticed at midafternoon that your morning shave missed half your chin? The answer may be that you need better lighting around your house. Creating a safer, more functional lighting scheme can be as easy as replacing or moving a few fixtures (such as lamps, pendants, and sconces). And as LEDs replace traditional incandescent lightbulbs, using the unique qualities of this new technology to your advantage can vastly improve how every light in your home functions.
Find Your Fixtures
To begin with, every space in your home needs both overall illumination and focused lighting that lets you see well in a specific area. Using a combination of fixtures can help you create these "layers" of light, so we’ll start there.
1. Recessed Lighting
Sometimes called "can" lights, these appear flush with the ceiling and provide overall illumination. Today’s LED versions can be tiny and unobtrusive. Some come as a single integrated unit (instead of a housing and a removable bulb). Be sure to choose models with replaceable components in case something breaks. If you don’t already have recessed lights, you’ll need an electrician to install them.
2. Undercabinet Fixtures
Mounted beneath upper cabinets, they brighten countertop work areas. Choose hardwired or plug-in LED strips, or low-profile LEDs that mount with double-sided tape.
3. Ceiling Fixtures (Flush, Semi-Flush, Pendant)
These come in variations on a theme: an enclosed or semi-enclosed light source, often with a globe, drum, or ornamental surround, sits flush against the ceiling, extends on a rod, or hangs on a cord. They typically provide overall illumination, but ceiling pendants hung above a kitchen island or table can also offer task lighting or add decorative impact. Pro tip: Choose a pendant with a frosted globe to avoid the glare of a bare bulb.
A multilight unit is a classic choice above a dining room table, and because LEDs offer exceptional miniaturization, you can now find many sleek, sculptural styles. Dimmability is a must.
Wall-mounted lighting bounces light to walls and ceilings for overall illumination or to highlight a design feature.
6. Table and Floor Lamps
A lamp with a fabric shade will cast light up, down, and even to the sides (if the shade is light in color). A style with an upturned bowl-like shade (an "uplight") can create a pool of illumination on the ceiling. And a style with an articulated arm can offer just the light you need for reading, writing, or project work.
Get the Right Mix of Lights
Every room in your house has a specific function. So, too, every room in your house has specific lighting needs. Choosing the fixtures and lightbulbs that best meet those needs will help you achieve the right combination of lighting for every space.
Here you’ll need plenty of overall brightness, accented with focused task lighting on surfaces (counters, cooktop, sink) for the work of meal prep and cleanup. Achieve these lighting layers by using either existing or replacement recessed, flush, semi-flush, or pendant ceiling fixtures, updated with 2,700 or 3,000 Kelvin LED bulbs. Then add undercabinet LED task strips in a Kelvin of 4,000 or above for sharper acuity.
Provide general illumination with overhead fixtures so that you can see well in the whole room (including inside the shower and above the tub), then add extra lighting at the vanity for grooming. A pair of frosted glass sconces on either side of the mirror—or a mirror with a built-in LED "frame"—will do the trick. If you’re calling in an electrician, consider adding LED strip lighting to the toe kick at the base of a sink cabinet to illuminate the floor. If it’s on its own switch, you can just turn on the kick light at night for safety without glare. When choosing bulbs, stick with a Kelvin number of either 3,000 or 2,700. Schmidt says your choice depends on your complexion and what hue you prefer for applying makeup, shaving, and other grooming tasks. For intensity, especially for the mirror surround, you’ll probably want between 1,200 and 1,600 lumens, depending on personal preference.
Hallways and Staircases
Stairs and hallways can be dangerous without adequate illumination, particularly at night. Jennifer Brons of the Light and Health Research Center also says that no one’s eyes adjust quickly from full darkness to bright light, so motion sensor lighting isn’t ideal in this area. Instead, plan lighting that’s ample but not too glaring. Think shaded wall sconces, table lamps, and night lights placed throughout the space.
Living Room/Family Room
There’s a paradox to these areas, Brons says. You want to create ambience—people tend to like warmth without brightness in rooms where they relax—but you also need greater light intensity for tasks like reading. Schmidt recommends tackling this with table and floor lamps that cast light up to ceilings and walls as well as at your lap for reading or hobby work. To create a cozier vibe, try experimenting with Kelvin temperatures as low as 1,800. The lumen count you’ll need will vary because a room with only sconces and table and floor lamps could still be bright enough if each fixture uses higher lumen bulbs, while more light sources enables lowering the lumen production of select fixtures.
You’re here to sleep. To encourage that, you want bulbs with Kelvin numbers in the range of 1,700 to 1,800, ideally at a relatively dim 600 lumens or so. In a bedside table lamp, that’s enough warm light for bedtime reading at a temperature that encourages rest. Brons says not to sleep with the lights on, either. "Our eyelids are translucent, so they do allow light penetration," she says. If you’re worried about getting out of bed in the middle of the night, it’s better for sleep to have plug-in night lights in the hallway or bath than leaving a bedside lamp switched on.
Source: Consumer Reports