Apartment Lighting & Lamps, for Dummies
January 24, 2016 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Lamps. Incandescent vs LED. Bulb wattage. ...Lumens? "Layering" light. Filtering natural light. I can decorate an apartment, but I still can't figure out how to arrange the lighting so that it's both purposeful and warm. What tactics, strategies and core concepts do I need to make my rental apartment a home that is well-lit, yet still cozy?

I can't seem to find a comprehensive guide (online) on the topic of "staging light at home". Apartment therapy has some okay suggestions, they just don't go into enough detail for me. I really need to be able to wrap my head around the nuances.

In other words, what would a professional interior designer do here to properly stage the light?

It's a rental, so I can't drill holes in the ceiling, tinker with the wiring and install new fixtures (installing the light dimmer was the extent of our 'beg forgiveness rather than ask permission' modifications). I can hang a pendulum light up the wall and across the ceiling. And I can consider sconce lighting. (But I also need to learn the best practices for doing pendulums/sconces "professionally" - so whatever you recommend, it is greatly appreciated it you also provide me or point me in the direction of the proper steps).

Here is a semi-crude mock-up of my apartment's layout, showing where:

1. Furniture is currently positioned
2. Windows are located, and what direction (N, NW, NE) they face
3. Type and location of pre-installed ceiling light fixtures in the apartment
4. To prevent any kind of influence or bias, I have not stated where I currently have any additional lamps/lighting positioned - consider this your clean slate and tell me where you'd put lighting, what type, why, and the steps (if not obvious) needed to accomplish it!

We are a couple, no kids, and we use the areas for the following things:

Living room area:
- Reading on the couch (back facing the wall/north, feet facing south) or in the chair
- Conversation and snacking, watching films, listening to records & podcasts, playing boardgames

Dining room:
- Eating dinner
- We also like to do kitchen prep here
- When my sister visits, we often use the dining table to "spread out" when working on crafts. (The designated craftroom's space is 50/50 split between my craft set-up and my partner's, so if I have a guest, it's better for us to use the space on the dining table). Unlike when dining, where we want ambient light, for crafting we need natural light or (after sundown) bright but not blinding light. The halogen track lights are pretty blinding. We've installed a dimmer switch for them in the past, but then you hear an almost ear-piercing radio frequency(?) whenever they're dimmed. Plus I strongly dislike the halogen lights' slight pinkish hue).

- Sleeping, romance, reading, getting dressed; that's it.

Oh, and window treatments, since I figure that plays quite a role in our lighting needs:
- Apartment is outfitted with the standard white mini-blinds (meh)
- ...Except the sliding glass door, which has hideous vertical blinds (gag). I'm tempted to remove them, but don't the best way to maintain privacy but still filter light as needed (multiple layers of sheer curtains?)
- I am currently sewing DIY floor-to-ceiling curtains from fresh white microfiber flat bedsheets. They will filter the light, but not heavily. White is the preference for window treatments because I otherwise have a fairly dark color scheme (espresso-stained wood table, media stand, and end tables; deep blue and light green upholstery, more patterns than solid colors)

Note: ceilings are 9 feet tall, overall square footage is about 1020.
posted by nightrecordings to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not going to get into specifics here, but I can provide a few very general principles that will get you a long way toward your goal.

You talk about wanting a warm ambience and a bright yet cozy environment. One of the biggest things that will help you there is being mindful of color temperature when choosing lighting; lower temperatures in the 2700K or "warm white" range will make a place feel warmer and cozier. Higher color temperatures can be useful for task lighting and for lights that will be primarily used during the day, but will look harsh in the evening. Lampshades and colored glass can give lighting an even warmer look.

Also, for ambient lighting it's generally better to have a soft light source such as a shaded lamp or an indirect light, as this will give you fuzzier, mellower shadows. Point sources that shine out more directly are, again, good for task lighting but will feel sharper and harsher.

It's also nice to have lights that come from multiple directions in a room so that you don't have a lot of shadowy spots. Certain areas like kitchen counters may need additional light for working, but in general what you want in a living space is relatively even lighting and enough separate sources of light that the overall lightscape can be reconfigured as needed by turning things on and off. Dimmable or multi-brightness fixtures are also useful there.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:24 PM on January 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Incandescent only, 'soft pink' 60W bulbs, no overhead lighting. Those few rules have resulted in cozy, well-lit, welcoming, cheerful spaces. Every time I try an alternative, the mood is completely changed for the worse. LEDs, halogens, fluorescents of every alleged 'warmth': they all feel 'off' and harsh and dismal to me. I'm a bit extreme in my lighting opinions, but I've transformed countless miserable bleak cold blinding places into lovely, inviting, cozy, productive spaces and I'd say 90% of it has been due to lighting alone.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 3:50 PM on January 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I bought all my bulbs from IKEA and they were called soft white or something, which they were -- they were warm and cozy, but at night, my apartment was still way too dark. I felt like I was living in a dungeon. The lights were also labeled "2700K," whatever that means. So, I replaced them all with the same wattage lights, but 5000K lights called natural daylight. It made a huge difference. I think you definitely are going to want the "daylight" lights in your kitchen, bathroom and potentially other areas.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:44 PM on January 24, 2016

Unlike some others, i've had a perfectly great time with the ikea LED bulbs. They're indistinguishable side by side from incandescents in "warmth". My living room and bedroom are both lit by them. Their eventual replacements WILL be a higher output, however. The CFLs they replaced had a noticeably higher output.

They're "60 watt equivalent", and i forget the actual rated lumen output. I feel like LEDs are rated high on that scale, and i'd buy 75 watt equivalents if i wanted 60, and 100 if i wanted 75(and 100-equivalent LEDs = $$$)

People are really obsessed with non incandescents looking "harsh" or "off", but no one has been able to tell i'm not using them. At least one person even commented that i was still using incandescents and was surprised when i told them.

Basically, don't let the really blue-ish or "pure white" LEDs turn you off on the idea of LEDs in general. I have a couple of those, and they were instantly relegated to closet and entryway use after being immediately gonged for living room use. Then i got the 2700k ones... and yea.

Do buy some of the 5000k "daylight" ones for like, your bathroom or workspace though.
posted by emptythought at 6:55 PM on January 24, 2016

Best answer: Good lighting is extremely important to me, and keeps me from going batty in long winters.

Don't feel you have to get all of your lighting fixtures in place right away. Instead, first outfit your home with the basics. You should have one lamp at each end of the couch, one at each side of the bed, and one at the chair in the living room. I also would select a nice lamp on/by the dresser in the bedroom. For these, the standard base + shade would provide the most functionality.

For these 6 locations, select either table lamps or equivalent floor lamps. Three-way lamps are well worth the investment; at lower lighting levels, they provide mellow light, and at higher levels, they are better for reading. Don't buy a lamp on looks alone - measure the location (height, width, etc) and then make sure your lamp will fit. You don't want it too big for the space. There are numerous guides for picking the perfect size lamp, but the Kellogg Collection has some good tips.

Once you have these main lamps in place, start playing around with the additional lighting. I have placed flashlights and a camping lantern in a location and spend time seeing if it really is valuable. Then look at all the inspirational lighting resources art museums, architectural magazines and books, and even some fantastic designers currently on Etsy for inspiration.

One of the best bargains I've ever made was getting a 1940's mogul floor lamp from a local antique store. It sits by the arm chair nearest the dining room, and is fantastic - it warms the room every night at dusk, and when fully lit, fills the entire room with bright light (nearly daylight levels.)

Regarding light bulbs:
I've found LEDs to be virtually as nice as incandescent light bulbs, and they last sooooo much longer. Halogen is great but it's really, really, really hot. I do use it for a couple of lamps that we tend to use only in the winter, as frankly the extra heat in Minnesota winters is rather nice. I have yet to find a CFL that I like, so I avoid them all. Happily, I've tried out and really like the new LED 3-way light bulbs that are available.

For color "types", there is cool, warm and "neutral" (or daylight). I usually select "daylight" style light bulbs because the lampshades can change the tones of the light (warmer colored shades will change the light output to the warmer spectrum, and vice versa).

Have fun. Lighting adds an incredible amount of comfort to a home.
posted by apennington at 7:50 PM on January 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We have a plethora of lamps, as we live in an older house without many hard-wired fixtures. Definitely pay attention to the color temperature of the bubs, as mentioned above.

The best way to determine where you want your lighting is to sit down in the room and pay attention. Having a hard time reading on the sofa? Well, then you need a lamp by the sofa. You're sitting on the sofa and the other half of the room looks dark? Put another lamp over there.

Put your lamps on timers. It's WONDERFUL to come home to a house with softly glowing lamps, rather than stumbling around in the dark, trying to find the lamp switch. Mine go on in the morning for coffee, off when the sun comes up and turn back on at dusk, off again, shortly after bedtime.

I also really like chrome topped bulbs. (They are much less inexpensive than the link at Menards) Alas, they only come in incandescent. These bulbs have a chrome layer over the top half, so that when they are lit, they cast a pool of light downward, rather then splashing the light up on the ceiling, which, IMO, makes for a cozier lighting situation.
posted by sarajane at 5:11 AM on January 25, 2016

Best answer: I'm going to try not to give unsolicited advice here - and it might not even be good! I'm just going to brainstorm with my fingers and maybe you can get some ideas. I'm definitely not an expert, but maybe together we can come up with some ideas to make you more comfortable.

So. I see why you are worried about lighting. You have lots of hallway going on, and then your spaces don't seem particularly welcoming.

I don't think it's just lighting. I think the arrangement of your furniture is also huge for that feeling of atmosphere. The "gathering" spots in your apartment are all, hard to get to or out in the open. Your living room is more of a hallway than a destination.

So, what I was thinking, is, have you considered changing the functionality of your rooms? Like, what if you made the dining room a combination reading nook / lounge? Move your couch in there, back to the bar, and some fluffy chairs with views out the windows. Make sure the couch has friendly seating it can face which is good for conversations. I usually find that living rooms work the best when they are the destination.

Alternatively, you could make the office into a lounge. You could take the door out in the hallway leading to the office, and project a screen on the wall. You would have room for a minibar also. Crafting would be a mostly-put-away-in-a-closet thing. In my experience, most friends don't derive much daily pleasure from a dedicated craft space, but you could be the exception.

I'm not positive on the dimensions we are talking here, or exactly what style of couch you have. But, if you did move the couch somewhere, you could put a breakfast nook there, two chairs and a table. That would be interesting. Or, you could try to turn the couch with the back to the door or to the media stand. Is there enough room to turn the couch 90* and still walk past it to the dining area? and maybe scoot the chair closer to the corner?

Okay, that probably wouldn't work. Lighting - we are talking about lighting. See, it will just be hard to light your living room and that's going to be the main "thing" about your apartment. How it feels open with dead space in the middle. What if you replaced the couch with a big L! You know, a sectional, but way smaller. That would give a lot of structure to that room. I would probably point the L inward toward the kitchen, so partly covering your sliding door. I think that would help a lot. Don't get the kind without the back for the L - nobody wants to sit on that part anyway. Haha - I wonder what a chaise lounge in the very middle of the room by the L couch would look like. Probably a little like a jungle gym and nobody would want to sit there.

Okay, so lighting. I'd put floor lamps on either end of the couch. Some kind of christmas light or fake-branches-with-lights-in-it on the media stand. Closets with motion-sensing lights. Floor reading light for the chair. lamps on the night stands. Night lights in the bathrooms. You could do the fake-branches-with-lights in the entryway also, in a vase in that empty space by the door. You could put something really cool there like a treasure box or a fishtank. I would put cool accent lighting on the bookshelf as well. You know, that triangle area right when you walk in would be a great spot to display a painting with a little light always shining on the painting. You could even have a rotating painting spot there.

So yeah. Ramblings. Ideas. It's not necessarily the lighting's fault - I would move your couch and chair to be different. Right now they don't feel right at all. Try your hardest to make the living room feel like a destination, not a hallway. The lighting should naturally follow from that thought!
posted by bbqturtle at 7:12 PM on January 26, 2016

I just saw that you said that you watch films in the living room. Where do you sit for that? It's a crime to have the couch not face the TV. x2 for the office becoming a den, the dining room becoming a reading nook / tea area, living room becoming a classy breakfast nook / conversation lounge.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:14 PM on January 26, 2016

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