Home Lighting Basics
April 22, 2009 10:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a detailed and thorough guide on home lighting principles and ideas. Where is this source?

Right now all I have is the default lighting my apartment came with (this means bright overhead lighting in every room, yuck). I'm looking to spruce things up and making the lighting environment more comfortable and more relaxed and I'd like the basics in accomplishing that.

When should I consider track lighting? What kind of bulbs should I be looking for given the plethora of brands and types? What mounting structures should I consider? What about control mechanisms? etc etc etc

You can't be too detailed when it comes to this and I'm surprised that this topic isn't discussed more given how much of a difference lighting makes. Lay it on me!
posted by bouchacha to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
The most basic rule of lighting is:

direct sucks, indirect good.

Overhead lighting fills me with anger and hate because it tends to be both:

a) too bright, because it's hitting me in the eyes
b) not bright enough, because they used tiny little bulbs so I wouldn't go blind when it hit me right in the eyes.

I never turn on my crappy overhead lights, I got a bunch of torchier-type multi-bulb floor lamps instead. There is one especially cool one that has five Octopus-y sort of arms you can position individually.

I swear by GE Reveal lightbulbs. They give beautiful, clean, WHITE light. I just can't stand they sickly yellowish stuff that comes out of most lightbulbs, especially those environmentally friendly curly ones. It literally depresses me and makes me feel a little sick.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:30 AM on April 22, 2009

I posted some useful links here.
posted by jon1270 at 11:34 AM on April 22, 2009

You might want to look at some of the teNeues books for inspiration and Residential Lighting: A Practical Guide to Beautiful and Sustainable Design for an explanation of specific concepts, applications and installations. This should help you put your finger on what "good lighting" is and how you can achieve it.

I'm a lighting designer and I'd love to "lay more on you" but the problem is that residential lighting is a terribly personal subject. Efficiency is really important (or necessary) to some people, other people value a particular aesthetic. Some people hate buttons and switches, others want maximum control. And it's all on a big give-and-take continuum so it's a lot of little tweaks from one house to the next.

As for mounting structures and more technical questions- I'd try to answer those questions after you've decided on a big-picture design. It will depend on what kind of ceilings, walls, and floors you have, what's inside of them, and what kind of electrical codes your region has. For example- you've decided that you want track lighting in your kitchen and there are millions of choices. But if you know you want:
1. A halogen lamp because you like the warm color
2. A contemporary style with brushed nickle finish
3. Something that will mount to a ceiling you can't recess into

You've narrowed down your choices considerably. Now that lighting catalog is a lot more manageable and the guy at the lighting store won't just try to sell you anything and everything.

Sorry if this is a little broad, but you have an infinite amount of choices here and everything comes down to a matter of code, budget, and taste. Have fun designing it, and if you really want to take it to the next level, consult the IALD to find a lighting designer near you.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 11:43 AM on April 22, 2009

The DIY network had a show on lighting that may be helpful. Episode recaps can be found here.
posted by dersins at 11:44 AM on April 22, 2009

As I said in another thread on lighting recently, the quick and dirty rule of thumb is that 3 lighting sources makes a more pleasing room. In our bedroom, we have the blah overhead light, we have a hanging Ikea petal light on my husband's side of the bed (because he likes more light and the full-length mirror is over there), and we each have a bedside light. The bedside lights are directed up to wash along the white wall and reflect light more generally and diffuse. It makes for a nice, cozy space with plenty of light but nothing glaring.

We used to have three lights in the living room as well (no overhead light, though). A lamp on an end table next to the couch, a halogen light for general lighting (I hate that one) and a small diffuse IKEA lamp that was on the tv.

In your space, I'd start with a floor lamp in the living room, bedside lamps in the bedroom and look for under cabinet "task" lighting in the kitchen.

I feel like I've seen books at my local library that look at lighting interiors and exteriors of homes. There are books on everything at the library!
posted by amanda at 12:06 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, look at the Ikea hacker website and Apartment Therapy for ideas about how people are using lighting in their spaces -- I always see lots of nifty ideas on those sites.
posted by amanda at 12:08 PM on April 22, 2009

Here's a previous MeFi thread that might have some suggestions. As I said in that thread, I think that lighting is the number one thing that makes a room comfortable, and to me, the ideal setup is where:
All light sources are below shoulder height- overhead lighting makes rooms feel cold.
Light sources are near to walls or shining down onto tables. You want light to bounce off of warm-coloured surfaces and gently make the room glow. You do not want to see pathetic little photons meandering sadly through expanses of empty space. If a light source is more than a yard away from a wall or tabletop, it will provide a cold, icky light.
Never use the overhead lights unless you're vacuuming.
If you use fluorescent bulbs (yay environment!), put them in lamps with warm-coloured shades (cream, beige, off-white, brown, red, pink, yellow, or orange- colouted lampshades) to balance out the greenish colour of the light. Otherwise it'll look like an orphanage.

In most rooms of my house, I have one bright lamp at shoulder height, beside a wall, and two small lamps on table beside walls. That's usually enough to provide a warm, comfortable glow.

Lamps on the floor, pointed at bookshelves or art, or where the actual bulb is hidden behind things, also provide a nice ambient light.

This kind of standing, shoulder-height lamp with multiple bulbs in a diffusing shade tends to cast a very pleasant, warm light, especially when it's placed near a wall or in a corner. Ikea has several versions in different levels of sophistication.

Keep in mind that the lighter your wall colour, the less lamps you'll need- white walls bounce light around. Darker or colder wall colours will need more small sources of light around the room to compensate for their less reflective walls.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:09 PM on April 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

That potentially-helpful previous AskMe thread is here.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:10 PM on April 22, 2009

« Older Attachment Issues   |   How do I send books or magazines to someone in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.