We may not have all the power of the sun but we can certainly recreate the happy feeling we get from its warm light. All you need to do is learn how to put the right light in the right places in your home, and voila—instant good mood.
Even though the concept of mood lighting has been around for ages—movie makers and restaurant owners have long known the power of dimmed lights—homeowners are just now starting to pay closer attention. It is more affordable and easier to access, and builders are starting to include lighting specialists from the ground up.
Mood lighting can be a concept that’s difficult for people to get their hands around, but fortunately professionals can help. “That’s probably the most common question I get: ‘What is mood lighting?” says Ross Johnson, lighting specialist, who owns Northern Lites in Gretna with his wife Krystina. He says it’s not candles and soft music, but rather lighting that affects the emotions you have when you are in a room. Certain lights may make you feel calm or energized, depending on the amount of light.
Light and color are basic human needs, says Johnson. “Mood lighting can make your life so much more enjoyable. It enhances any mood that you are trying to achieve,” he says. In the past, people would throw an overhead light up and think they were done. Now lighting specialists are helping homeowners create scenes and build outdoor lighting schemes, as well as teaching people how to change a room from utilitarian to serene with nothing more than the proper placement, wattage and dimness of light.
“There is so much that you can do with home lighting,” says Todd Jones, lighting controls specialist for Williams Lighting Galleries. “In the mornings you may need a little more light to get yourself going, and then as the night wears down things can actually get dimmer, and there are systems that can actually do that for you.”
The right lighting serves to make your entire home and each room within it more useful. Consider the kitchen with its standard overhead light. It provides enough light to cook but is not particularly inviting for socializing. What if you put lights beneath the cabinets, pendant lights above the island, sconces on the walls and recessed lighting throughout? Everything changes. By applying different lights at different intensities, the kitchen becomes incredibly useful for food prep, entertaining or even as a pathway to the freezer for the midnight ice cream raid.
“A beautiful kitchen in a really nice house without a dimming system is just a tragedy,” says Jones. “It [a dimmer] gives you the ability to make your kitchen look really big or really small,” and change the whole atmosphere of the room, he explains.
Layering Your Lights
One rule professionals live by is this: Don’t count on lighting to come from just one source. Use your window coverings, sconces, table lamps, chandeliers, lampshades, wattage and dimmers in collaboration. Having light from various sources overlap to create pools of light with different intensities is what specialists call layering light. Layering your light gives you immense flexibility. You can dim just one or two light sources—for example, the overhead recessed lights—and easily change the feeling in a room.
Dimmers are paramount because the degree of light given off is part of what alters the ambiance. With dimmers you can also create preprogrammed scenes that will be applied at the push of a button.
“The dimming stuff is just now getting hot,” says Jones. He attributes that, in part, to the fact that people are trying to conserve energy. Every time you dim your lights you extend the life of the bulb, and you are saving energy and money, he says. The combination of dimmer switches, motion detector lighting and compact fluorescent light bulbs all create energy savings.
Dimmers change the intensity of light in degrees so that instead of flipping a switch to turn on a 75-watt bulb, you slide a dimmer and the light is applied at anywhere from 10 to 100 percent intensity. Brighter light energizes the room, while dimmer lights create a calmer mood. Professionals say we really don’t need lights to be at 100 percent intensity because light should be coming from a variety of sources.
Dimmer systems can start at $550 and go upward of $20,000 depending on how elaborate you want them. A basic dimming system can operate off of radio frequencies. You can also put in smart dimmers that are as simple or complicated as you like. These allow homeowners to control the whole home lighting system on one panel or from a remote location.
Lighting Your Home
Even if a mood lighting overhaul isn’t in your foreseeable future, anyone can take on mood lighting simply by first taking stock of how much ambient light each room gets during the day and night—from the sun, moon and neighborhood lights. Each room, depending on its orientation and windows, will have very different lighting needs—but you need to work around ambient light you cannot control. Each room needs general lighting, lighting for specific tasks, and accent lights. One example of general lighting is the overhead light which gives you enough light to see to move around in a room. Task lighting is focused on an area and provides a brighter light to illuminate what you are doing, like reading or cooking. Accent lights can reveal a bit of your style by highlighting your prized possessions while also bringing coziness to the space.
A word of caution for those going it alone: beware of down lighting, which can cast harsh shadows. The best example of this is those dark circles under your eyes when you look in the bathroom mirror as you do your makeup. Chances are you only have overhead light shining down on you, which accentuates dark shadow and skin texture. If you add sconces on each side of the mirror and lights to the wall facing you, you get a much better view of what you look like.
Lamps Add Special Warmth
The humble lamp is a powerful accessory that does more than light your reading space. When you add lamps to your lighting scheme, you give yourself greater freedom. Lamps with short stocky curves or long slender necks are excellent multitaskers that show off your creative flair.
“A lamp can add a certain sense of style,” says Haley Pavao, an interior decorator for The Lamp Shoppe at James T. Davis. “In general, wherever you have pieces of furniture, it is appropriate” to place a lamp, she explains. Her personal favorite is the 30-inch lamp because it works in almost any situation. A lamp of that height has “good body,” she explains. “A lamp with body is always going to bring more style. It makes a statement.”
Smaller lamps, about 12 to 15 inches, are best saved for accent lighting. Accent lighting provides you with just a small amount of glowing light that creates visibility but doesn’t allow you to see detail. They are ideal on countertops or beneath kitchen cabinets.
Remember to work in pairs because lamps—whether accent, task or floor—can bring a sense of balance. Consider the difference it makes to see matching lamps on each end of a table, dresser or buffet.
The kind of base you choose should be determined by what is already in your home. Options include brushed chrome, oil-rubbed bronze, wood and more. Modern homes with brighter and bolder color schemes often welcome chrome lamps, while traditional, warm-colored homes are often complemented best by bronzes. Another hint is to look at your furniture. Check out the hardware on your couches, buffets or chairs. Is it gold, shiny silver, glass? Choose a lamp base that is the same or similar so the lamp looks at home in its setting.
When it comes to choosing that lampshade, do the opposite. To find the right lampshade, you have to look at what is missing in your home. A home with heavily patterned décor won’t need a matching pattern on the lampshade, but perhaps something plain. A lively patterned shade would be an excellent addition to a room with subtle or solid-colored walls and furniture. One general guideline to keep in mind, says Pavao, is that darker lampshades will create focused light—think reading area—while a lighter lampshade presents filtered light—think living room. Regardless of the shade you select, make sure the outer rim falls upon the heart of the lamp, just where the light bulb screws into the lamp.
The best part of manipulating your lighting is that there are no rules, says Johnson. You can mix and match track lighting, recessed lights, lamps and pendants.
“There are no standards…everybody wants a different feel,” he says.
“It’s just about the positioning of the lights and the dim level,” says Jones. “With scenes you are able to create a more inviting type of light and it’s not as harsh.”
These shorter days of winter are the perfect time to revisit your own mood lighting scheme. With the flip of a few switches, you can create layers of light and positive feeling in your home all year long.