help, I know nothing about lighting!
July 6, 2020 7:43 PM   Subscribe

I have a fairly large basement family room with a low ceiling that gets no natural light, which I hate. I need to figure out what kind of lighting would work best to not make me feel like it's a tomb during the day but not be overwhelming in the evening. Ideas?

A few more details:
I hate glare.
Fluorescent lights overhead in stores give me headaches.
As I get older, my low light vision is getting truly awful, and I would like to be able to work or read a book on the sofa in the evening. My friends places seem too dim for this?

So Mefites, where do I start? Track lighting? Floor lamps? Special "natural light" lamps? Or special bulbs?

I welcome both general ideas on how to approach this and specific recommendations.

I'm picking some things up at Ikea tomorrow, so recommendations from there might be good, but that's definitely not a requirement.

Thank you!!
posted by mkuhnell to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Does it have a finish ceiling? How tall is the space? 8' ceilings or shorter/taller?
posted by amanda at 7:45 PM on July 6, 2020

My father had a hard time reading in low light and had a SUPER bright halogen light that he used just for reading on the couch. It was bright enough that if it was tilted in your general direction (as opposed to down at reading material) it was very glare-y but was perfect for reading. I think you could have some of those up-pointing LEDs (suggestion) along the walls and then just have something (or a few somethings) for reading lights (suggestion 1, suggestion 2).
posted by jessamyn at 8:00 PM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Multiple sources of lighting. So find some ceiling lights, then also some floor lamps and then some task lamps. Also dimmers - Ikea sells these too for plug in lights. I've had them installed on all my overhead lighting so that I can adjust to a cozy level, rather than "prison cell". Warm white, rather than cool white globes help a lot too (Ikea sells both, they are marked). Make sure any lamps and globes you buy are dimmable (some are not).

I have multi-globe ceiling lights that make sure there is some good overall light. Ikea has track lighting which is obviously multi-globe, but I'm not sure about the other ceiling fittings as it isn't easy to search - when you're at the store, look for something that has multiple globes for a good amount of light. I have something that is not this exactly but similarly is fairly flush to the ceiling with lots of globes. There are other styles depending on your taste. Or it could be a more standard ceiling light - just make sure it is not a single globe lamp (e.g. this one takes two.

I have a big floor lamp - one with a big linen shade, not a 'spotlight' - that gives some more light and coziness (plus some string lights that add some ambient light). Ikea has lots of good options for these - tower style ones with papershades work well, or there are more traditional floor lamps if that's your style

For reading on the sofa, I have a more direct worklamp. You can get these in various designs that won't be too glaring, could be table lamp or a floor lamp or a wall-mounted lamp, depending on your furniture. Again, Ikea has a lot of options so it will just depend on your style. Look in the table lights and work lights section.
posted by AnnaRat at 8:15 PM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agreeing with AnnaRat on the multiple sources of lighting to diffuse any glare issues. I can't handle the overhead light in my bedroom by itself, it's too overwhelming, but once I turn on the lamp on the dresser, the brightness remains but my eyes don't feel exhausted. Picking the right LED bulbs is also important, I always have to re-look up what the considerations are because I forget. Wattage is not about brightness, lumens are the indicator of brightness. Here's a more recent roundup from CNET on LED bulbs.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:07 PM on July 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would go with special bulbs. I use I think Phillips bulbs controlled by Wiz app and by Google home. I know they can be used with Alexa, IFFTT and Siri. Also by switch. The bulbs are configured to be I think 8 kinds of light. Daylight to very low nightlight. The bulbs are relatively expensive, but so worth it. I read by the lights turn it down for TV etc.
posted by AugustWest at 9:22 PM on July 6, 2020

Best answer: I definitely find smart bulbs to be helpful with my wildly varying lighting needs thanks to the dimming and color temperature options that allow them to adapt to my needs at any given time.

The ones I have are also RGB, but I find that I rarely use any color other than various color temperature whites. Bulbs with varying white balance are significantly less expensive than good full RGB models. (Not good full RGB models hurt my brain in the same way bad CRI florescent bulbs used to)

If you are less prone to being bothered by lighting than I am, dimmable overheads with a couple of up-firing lamps and task lighting as necessary is a perfectly good solution.
posted by wierdo at 9:42 PM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ikea-wise, get at least one Nöt lamp (combo of directed spotlight good for reading, sewing etc plus standing lamp that bounces off the ceiling for lovely diffuse light), and clip-on spotlights like Navlinge. They're cheap, perfect for trying out what lights would look like in different places, including bouncing lights off mirrors and surfaces for more diffusion, and of course Ikea has a 365-day return policy. You can also get the classic Grono (table lamp, diffuse, absolutely neutral) or the even cheaper owl/Dalek shaped Solbo - again, use them as placeholders to figure out where you need your light before hunting for the perfect final light fixtures. Get extension cords for playing around too, except for the Solbo because it's battery-operated. You can configure new lighting setups every day until you hit on the one you like.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:39 AM on July 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Natural light has a higher (bluer) colour temperature during the middle of the day and a redder temperature towards dusk or dawn. It also, of course, varies in brightness. The tasks that you do with the help of light - also vary in terms of their brightness requirements. To simulate an environment with natural light you therefore need something which is adjustable. Your lighting solution will almost certainly be LED in terms of availability, efficiency and choice. Cheaper LED lights are often less bright, non dimmable or not properly dimmable. To get what you want I'd recommend you spend a bit more money to get lights that can be set to deliver very high levels of light (both bluer and redder) when on full power - but which can be somewhat dimmed for normal use. You want a mixture of focussed task lighting and diffused ambient lighting. You would probably want to set things up to give you higher levels of "daytime" light during the day and when you want to feel alert - lower levels of redder light in the evening.
posted by rongorongo at 4:22 AM on July 7, 2020

Best answer: I'm a fan of diffuse lighting with variable color temperature. This basically means fancy light strips. Light strips are best set up as indirect lighting and there are some crown moldings designed to hold light strips and reflect the light off the ceiling.

Hue's already been brought up; I have some of their strips and the light quality from their strips is fantastic. However, the density of LEDs isn't very high so if you put them up you will not see them as an even glow even if they're in diffusers. This looks a bit weird when the strips are not hidden. Also, they're really expensive at about $90 for 1600 lumens and 2 meters - you'll probably need 3+ in order to get even, high intensity lighting. (Don't buy extensions, they make the strip longer but not brighter.)

I got my parents something like these along with mounting diffusers, and they're really happy with them. They have what amounts to 3 of these kits in an enormous basement and they are blindingly bright. They had them professionally installed along with dual-slider wall dimmers. If you get enough of those kits to cover all of the edges of the room I assure you the basement will be like living on the sun. :)
posted by doomsey at 6:14 AM on July 7, 2020

Response by poster: Amanda
The ceiling is textured (80s style) and low 7’.
posted by mkuhnell at 8:08 AM on July 7, 2020

Response by poster: Great responses everyone! Thank you all!
posted by mkuhnell at 8:09 AM on July 7, 2020

Best answer: I have such a basement bathroom. I painted the ceiling sky blue and added clouds, which are not super-difficult to paint. I know it's not sky, but it's cheery.

A few tall lights that point up will bounce off the ceiling. Some lights strips that have several aimable lights are great; aim them at places that need light. It's okay to have areas with a bit less light. I love pharmacy/student or bank lamps than can be adjusted, and it's nice to have an end table with a lamp on it. In addition, clip on lights on bookcases are really useful. The Lersta at Ikea can be pointed at a wall or ceiling to provide diffuse light, or pointed don at your book or sewing. I love LED fairy lights, they come in warm or cool light, ad they add ambient light on top of bookcases, or stuffed in a lantern or big glass vase.

Get power strips so you can turn on sets of lights together.
posted by theora55 at 9:07 AM on July 7, 2020

Best answer: For basements with low ceilings, I like two methods: One, small recessed LED ceiling lights for pathways and room corners (optional), 4" is big enough. Any larger and you have these huge spot lights that are way too close to your head. Two, floor lamps and table lamps. Because of the low ceiling, lamps and floor lamps will reflect on the ceiling and give a nice general light. If you get some directional lights, have them point at, say, the wall behind the couch to reflect the light and then have a task light on a table side or floor lamp for close work or reading.
posted by amanda at 9:10 AM on July 7, 2020

Best answer: As an aside Hue is probably the gold standard in adjustable lighting, as they use 5 emitters (amber, cool white, and red/green/blue) for full color (3rd gen and later, which is all current models), and 3 emitters for controllable white. Most other brands/designs use 4 emitters (red, green, blue, and typically a middle-warm white) for color and rely on the RGB to “fill in” to adjust the color temperature. Likewise, two emitters for controllable color temperature (warm white and cool white) is typical. The difference is subtle but definitely noticeable.

I imagine this is why Hue costs so much more than the other brands as well!
posted by doomsey at 2:55 PM on July 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I'm a huge fan of LIFX bulbs, but you have to have a solid wifi network or they can be problematic. Hue requires the gateway thingie, but you get some ease of use for the extra cost. The other nice thing about the Hue system is that they sell physical switches, which many people find useful to have.
posted by wierdo at 3:06 PM on July 7, 2020

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