Home & Garden

Lighting your rooms can be as easy as 1-2-3 layers

Erin Owen

Table and floor lamps alone do not provide sufficient light. Their light is limited to one area of the room. Homeowners can achieve proper lighting through layers. A ceiling fixture provides general lighting. Lamps offer task lighting in specific areas. Accent lighting completes the layers by highlighting art or architectural features.
Erin Owen Table and floor lamps alone do not provide sufficient light. Their light is limited to one area of the room. Homeowners can achieve proper lighting through layers. A ceiling fixture provides general lighting. Lamps offer task lighting in specific areas. Accent lighting completes the layers by highlighting art or architectural features.

I don’t know about you, but we have an illumination problem.

It appears lighting was not a mandatory feature to include in living and dining rooms of houses from earlier decades. Remedying the lack of lighting has been on our project list for years, but we’ve yet to give that project the green light.

The towering oak trees and wooded area around our house aren’t doing us any lighting favors. Our house stays cool longer than most, but that’s because we have so much shade. It’s unusual to have a sun-soaked room.

Our eyes have learned to adapt to dark corners. There’s nothing wrong with using and paying for less electricity, but it shouldn’t have to come at the expense of eyesight.

All this means we’re relying on table and floor lamps for lighting. I know better. I know that’s not enough. Before we know it, we’ve run out of surfaces to put lamps and there’s still not adequate lighting.

Achieving proper lighting is a process of layering. Having an overhead light is a starting point. That light fixture provides ambient or general light, which is the first layer. Its purpose is to achieve overall illumination of the room to avoid stepping on cat toys, for example. Opening window coverings to let natural daylight in can be another option. However, it’s not a reliable option on cloudy days or after daylight saving time ends.

General lighting likely won’t extend far enough, and that’s why task lighting is the second layer.

Task lighting provides directed light to help a person focus on an action. Adjustable lamps for reading, tape lights underneath kitchen cabinets and track lighting directed at a painter or model builder are examples. These light sources augment ambient light and are likely to be used simultaneously.

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The third layer, accent lighting, adds something to the functional purposes of the other layers. It is decorative and functional. Examples can be found in the puck light in a shelving unit, uplighting and a spotlight on artwork. These lights highlight a collectible or architectural feature and are meant to direct people’s eyes and interest to these things.

In lieu of adding layers, my temporary solution to our illumination problem is to switch all our bulbs to LEDs. We were moving in that direction but had some CFL stragglers. I knew we had some outdated lighting sources but was surprised to find some incandescent holdouts in the basement.

The LEDs are brighter and more energy efficient. Below the wattage information, the manufacturer lists the lumen output. Lumens are a measure of the brightness of the bulb. The higher the number, the more light output. Going from fading CFLs to LEDs already has made a noticeable difference.

Because LED lighting is visibly brighter than past sources, dimmers become essential to controlling lighting. It’s important to choose LEDs that are compatible with traditional dimmers or install a leading-edge (LED compatible) dimmer. Otherwise, turning on the dimmer switch can make a buzzing noise. Lutron is a trusted name for lighting and now offers Wi-Fi controlled dimmers.

The color of the light is another consideration. Color is measured on the Kelvin scale, from 1,000 to 10,000. Soft white mimics the warm glow of an incandescent bulb at 2,700K while daylight is around 5,000K. The temperature affects how colors appear in the home and is largely a matter of personal preference.

For me it comes down to what I’d prefer and what’s possible. Installing overhead lighting will have to wait. Illuminating as lighting is, sometimes it’s relaxing to be in the dark.

Erin Owen graduated from the interior design program at Kirkwood Community College. She has worked as a commercial and residential interior designer. Comments: erin.n.owen@gmail.com

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