Lighting can make or break any space. Proper lighting serves both aesthetic and functional purposes, helping set the right ambiance and enabling people to see clearly and safely. Getting the lighting right in your home or workplace is essential. Here are 10 key ways to achieve optimal lighting for any setting:

Carefully Evaluate the Space

When designing a lighting scheme, you must start by thoroughly evaluating the physical space. Consider the size, layout, ceiling height, and intended purpose of the area. Identify windows, doors, and skylights that will allow in natural light. Note any features or furnishings that lighting fixtures will need to accentuate or illuminate. Decide when the space will primarily be used – daytime, nighttime or both – as your lighting needs will vary accordingly. Take detailed measurements to inform lighting placement and required brightness levels. Evaluating all these factors will allow you to determine the right lighting solutions.

Choose the Right Bulb Type

Selecting the correct light bulb type is imperative for producing your desired ambiance and meeting functional needs. Key options include:

  • Incandescent bulbs – The original light bulb technology, these emit a warm, cozy light but are inefficient, burning out quicker than newer types. Good for bedside lamps.
  • LED bulbs – Extremely energy efficient and long-lasting, LED bulbs are ideal for most applications. Choosing dimmable versions allows adjustable brightness.
  • CFL bulbs – Compact fluorescent lights use about 75% less energy than incandescents and last years longer. Some find their light harsher than incandescents.
  • Halogen bulbs – A variation on incandescents, halogens are bright and efficient, commonly used for accent and spot lighting.

Take into account energy efficiency, brightness, light color temperature, dimmability, and longevity when selecting bulbs.

Layer Light Sources

Layering several different light sources creates depth, visual interest, and enables you to control ambiance. Combine overhead ambient lighting such as chandeliers or recessed cans with task lighting like desk or reading lamps. Sconces, pendant lights, and accent lighting add style while eliminating shadows in corners. The more you layer, the more you can create an inviting glow throughout the space.

Use Dimmers

Installing dimmer switches allows you to easily adjust the brightness of any lighting fixture, taking your lighting scheme from day to night mode or setting any mood in between. Dimmer switches offer endless versatility, allowing you to create bright, concentrated task lighting then transition to a softer, relaxed ambiance. Choose dimmers compatible with your bulb types, especially for LED and CFL bulbs.

Mix Up Lighting Styles

Incorporating lighting fixtures of varied styles adds visual interest to a room. Combine vintage-inspired pieces like crystal chandeliers or sconces with sleek modern track lighting. Hang a brightly colored retro pendant light to contrast recessed cans. Using just one central fixture can create a static look, while mixing things up imparts character.

Illuminate Dark Spaces

Identify any naturally dark spaces in the room, such as corners, alcoves, or areas under cabinets, then target them with accent lighting. Floor lamps and sconces cast light upwards to brighten dark ceiling areas. Strip lighting illuminates underneath cabinets, shelves, and staircases. Accent lighting eliminates shadows in dark spots for a more welcoming ambiance.

Use Wall Washing Techniques

“Wall washing” refers to positioning light fixtures to “wash” key walls with light, creating a gorgeous glow. Wall sconces, picture lights, or track lighting aimed at walls highlight architectural details, artwork, and wall decor. Grazing light across textured surfaces generates striking light play. Wall washing opens up a space and makes it more dramatic.

Learn Lamp Placement Basics

Properly placing lighting fixtures maximizes functionality and visual appeal. Overhead fixtures should hang above seating areas or pathways. Buffers, desks, and counters require task lighting. Frame a bed or artwork with wall sconces. For pendant lights above tables, allow 30-34 inches of space from the bottom of the fixture to the surface below. Follow manufacturer guidelines and evenly space multiple pendants.

Choose Dimmers Compatible with Bulbs

To control lighting brightness, select dimmer switches that work with your chosen bulbs. LED and CFL dimming requires specialized dimmers. Check bulb packaging – dimmable bulbs will indicate compatible dimmer types like LED, CFL, or incandescent. Mixing incompatible dimmers and bulbs can prevent lights from functioning properly. Professional installation is advisable.

Consider Color Temperature

Light color is measured in degrees of “temperature” from warm to cool. Lower temperature light is more yellow/orange while higher temperatures appear bluish. Typically between 2700-3000K is best for living spaces, while kitchens and workspaces benefit from cooler hues up to 5000K. Know the color temperature of bulbs you are selecting and buy consistent bulbs for each application.

Follow Local Codes and Safety Standards

Adhere to all local building codes and electrical safety standards when installing lighting. Requirements vary regionally related to outlet placement, switch height, proximity to water sources, etc. Only take on what you are comfortable doing yourself or hire a professional electrician. Using the proper light bulb wattage specified for each fixture is also critical for safety.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Lighting Right

Here are answers to some common questions about optimizing lighting:

How many recessed lights do I need in a room?

As a general rule of thumb, bedrooms and living spaces need recessed lighting spaced every 4-6 feet. More intense spaces like kitchens benefit from spacing cans every 3-4 feet. Lighting experts recommend a minimum of 50 lumens (brightness) per square foot.

Should ceiling lights match floor lamps?

It’s not essential for ceiling and floor lamps to “match” but some cohesion looks best. Keep fixtures in the same finish for a coordinated look. Having the same bulb color temperature will ensure a consistent ambiance. Mixing vastly different styles can look disjointed.

Where should sconces be placed in a bedroom?

Ideally, sconces flanking the bed should align about 60-75 inches above the floor – around head height when sitting up in bed. Place them roughly 18-24 inches away from the bed frame, surrounding it in soft glow.

Should my dining room chandelier be centered over the table?

For ideal lighting, a dining chandelier’s center should hang about 32-34 inches above the table surface. Position the chandelier’s center point directly above the middle of the dining table for symmetry. If the table is against a wall, you can also center the fixture over that midpoint.

What height should pendant lights hang above my kitchen island?

Standard recommended height for pendant lamps above a kitchen island is 28-34 inches between the bottom of the fixture and the counter surface. Adjust to your preference but keep ample head room so occupants don’t bump into the pendants.

How do I create an art gallery wall with lighting?

Frame the perimeter of a gallery wall with track or picture lighting to illuminate artwork. Position individual picture lights above key pieces to highlight them. Wall washing the entire wall with floodlights or sconces provides even illumination. Use dimmers to control intensity.


Achieving excellent lighting requires evaluating your unique space, selecting energy efficient bulb types, strategically layering varied fixtures, using dimmers for control, following placement guidelines, considering light color and temperature, and adhering to codes. Proper planning and professional installation can help optimize the lighting ambiance and usability of any interior space, creating an environment perfectly suited to its purpose and to those who use it. With an eye for detail and these lighting best practices, you can design a flawless lighting scheme that showcases the very best qualities of your space.