When you shop for a new sofa or another piece of furniture, it’s not hard to envision how it might look in your living room. And if you’re considering a new wall color, you can test pretty simply with swatches.
But shopping for lighting can be more complicated.
It’s easy to fall in love with the design of a light fixture or lamp, noted interior designer Maggie Griffin, but how will it illuminate your space? How will it work with the lighting you already have? And which bulb will provide the kind of light you need?
Here, three interior design experts — Griffin, founder of Atlanta-based Maggie Griffin Design; Jennifer Bunsa of Bunsa Studio Interiors and cofounder of WorkRoom Miami; and Caitlin Murray, founder of Black Lacquer in Los Angeles — offer advice on choosing the best lighting for any room and on navigating the range of new light bulbs and LED technology.
Although many people worry about having enough light, the biggest challenge is usually avoiding glare, Bunsa said. Many houses have can lights in the ceiling that flood a room with light. Make sure those are on a dimmer, and then add other fixtures and lamps that offer a softer glow.
Rather than choosing a fixture that functions like a spotlight, Bunsa said, ‘‘I always try to shop for things that are more like glowing globes that are a little bit warmer.’’
Griffin agrees: For a more appealing effect, she said, you can choose a fixture with several bulbs that give off softer light, rather than just one very bright bulb.
And when choosing bulbs, consider their color temperature. ‘‘The goal for really good LEDs is to mimic incandescent lighting,’’ Bunsa said. ‘‘Incandescent lighting is on the warmer side of the Kelvin scale — 2700-3000 Kelvin.’’ Bulbs in the 4000 K range, she said, give very cold light.
‘‘It makes a space feel a lot warmer if you go with the warmer color temperature,’’ she said.
Lighting can draw attention to your favorite art or furnishings, said Griffin, and create a strategic pool of light in one part of a room.
For a client in Atlanta, she added sconces to the sides of kitchen cabinets to give light both practical and beautiful around the kitchen sink. She also suggests hard-wiring light fixtures into bookcases to showcase items on the shelves and bring an extra glow.
Murray takes the same approach, using sconces to frame certain areas in a room and bring a bit of intimacy to parts of a large room.
Don’t hang too high
Griffin said people usually err on the side of hanging lights too high, rather than too low.
Sometimes in a living room that has a high ceiling, ‘‘there’s this big, great-looking chandelier,’’ she said, but ‘‘it’s hung so high you wonder, ‘What does it actually illuminate?’’’
Instead, aim to hang fixtures low enough to ‘‘make the room feel more cozy and intimate,’’ Griffin said. Bunsa said this is especially important around dining tables and kitchen islands: ‘‘If it’s a space where you’re going to be sitting and having a conversation,’’ she said, ‘‘make sure people’s faces are lit’’ rather than having light looming above them.
How does your home’s lighting appear to those approaching your front door? Although many people focus on privacy and might add plantation shutters or blinds to front windows, it’s important to step outside and consider the effect, said Griffin.
Try placing a table near a front window, she said, and put a lamp on it that gives a warm glow.
Using a mix of vintage and modern light fixtures and lamps can make a room more appealing and shake up its style, Murray said.
A vintage lamp or fixture ‘‘adds character and soul and makes it feel not so cookie-cutter,’’ she said, and rewiring an old piece is more environmentally sustainable than buying new.
Griffin agrees: ‘‘Don’t get hung up on matching your lights,’’ she said, ‘‘especially if you’re doing a renovation or new build.’’ A blend of styles, she said, ‘‘is far more interesting than the way they used to do it, where they picked out the matching set.’’
Experimenting with a range of styles, she said, ‘‘gives you a chance to let your personality shine through.’’