Short days and longs nights…Do you find that your interior is dull, lifeless and even feels a bit cavernous after dark? As the sun sets and the lamps come on, the effects can be horrible, adequate or sensational.
Poor lighting can have remarkable subliminal effects on mood, energy, and attitude. The subtle signs of poor lighting such as dark corners, shadows on faces, difficulty reading and dull colors are all important factors that contribute to an uncomfortable interior in these short days of long, dark nights.
Lighting has multiple reasons for being—three primary ones—to see, yes, ambient light. But to do tasks (reading, sewing, playing games), and accent lighting to illuminate artwork and other interior features. Mood lighting such as candlelight (once the primary light source – now an effect in most cases) is a lesser but effective lighting tool. Good lighting makes amazing differences.
Beware of down-lights. Lights that shine down from the ceiling. Although a very effective and common lighting tool, they must be balanced with good ambient light. I have often used this example of sitting in a restaurant across from your date and their face is painted with ghoulish dark shadows under their eyes, beneath their nose, and accentuating all the folds of their features. It is the opposite of a kid putting a flashlight under their chin shining upward creating similarly haunting effects. Creepy. Certainly not flattering.
The same unpleasant effects happen in the home. It’s such a common malady of ineffective lighting that most people assume it is a necessary evil of short days. It’s sad—no, really it’s SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder! To treat the serious effects of this syndrome there are many studies and inventive solutions, but for most of us, the less arresting effects of poor lighting can be greatly improved and our lives enhanced.
To begin this process of evaluating your lighting an improving it right away, start with the lamps—the light bulbs! We have so many choices these days including the familiar incandescent, compact fluorescent, and the newer LED with excellent color choices and low energy usage. We could talk about the “temperature” of light sources measured in Kelvin, but we won’t—only that it runs a spectrum of warm to cool.
Walk around your home and look specifically at the color that glows from the various light sources. Does it look yellow? Does it look white? Does it look blue-ish? Recognizing these distinctions from warm to cool is the start.
Where are the shadows? Are the corners dark and recessive? And, when you combine these two, do you find, for example, dark areas and yellow glowing sources? Sometimes that soft, warm yellow is preferred while other scenes are made more intentionally crisp with cooler light.
Experiment with different lamps in your fixtures – light bulbs in your table lamps and recessed cans, hallway sconces and bathroom fixtures. It’s a fun experiment and very illuminating – yes, the pun was intended.
Are your lamp shades opaque or translucent? Do the shades themselves cast a color? Do they block the light or allow it through? Do they throw the light up and down or up, down and out? This is another detail of which to take note.
If you have dated recessed fluorescent tube units – common in kitchens for example – they are often housed in a box either recessed or surface-mounted on the ceiling. Take a look at the plastic lenses – are they discolored and yellow? This aging process can dramatically affect the quality of light that is emitted. So if you are not ready to replace these fixtures with more effective modern lighting statements, try replacing the lenses.
A similar installation is that of skylights which have fluorescent lamps up inside the wells with that same plastic lens over the opening to the skylight. The original idea was to have the natural light pass through during the day and artificial light take over after hours. The lens was to intentionally conceal the unattractive fluorescent tubes, but it sacrificed the depth of the framed well. A quick update is to remove the lenses and fluorescents and expose the well of the skylight adding dimension to the room and eliminating the unattractive lens that conceals the dimensional cavity. Recessed can fixtures around the skylight in the surrounding ceiling are the most common solution to this transition from old to new, a cable can be strung, pendants can be hung, but if budget constraints prohibit that investment at this time, you might investigate the power source up inside the skylight well and replace the fluorescent fixture with an inexpensive, adjustable, surface-mounted spotlight – perhaps with two heads to provide light from that same source while opening the skylight well without the unnecessary lens.
The dark pockets around your rooms can be improved with up-lights in corners and up under plants. Inexpensive fixtures are available at any lighting store or big box home improvement stores. Place one of these up-lights (remember to select the color “temperature” that pleases you the most) and see what that additional pop in the corner does to open your space. When up-lights are used beneath plants to shoot upward and cast shadows onto the walls and ceilings can create drama and exotic interest at night. This is true both indoors and out.
Torchiere floor lamps are those that face upward. Like a torch, they send the light toward the ceiling – another effective splash of light in an otherwise dark space in the room.
Colors are radically affected by the color of light that shines upon them. Therefore, an interior color scheme can be horribly tweaked to not resemble at all the actual colors chosen and combined to create the scene, when artificially illuminated after dark. Contrarily, colors can be rendered with great brilliance and accuracy when illuminated with the right combination of lighting. (although daylight contributes in these two examples).
By the same token we can have great fun and “paint” with light creating a color scheme entirely with colored lamps washing the walls, and interior elements just for the art and exercise of doing so, but I digress.
In summary, look around your rooms after dark and look for opportunities to make changes that will dramatically affect the comfort level – the results will be startling!!! If planning new construction or remodel – have plenty of light in key places throughout the space. Think dimmers so you can control the amount of light. Let there be light in this Happy New Year!