Light can define the look of the room just as much as decor and furniture. The right color, placement, and intensity of light can make the difference between a room that feels homey and one that feels oppressive. Light can make a room feel more open or more cosy, can deepen shadows for a rustic feel, or open up a modern room.
However, light also has a direct effect on the human eyes and brain. The type of light that helps us stay alert and work will be bothersome during relaxing evenings and can even make going to sleep difficult. Because of this, here are four major considerations when decorating a space, when it comes to light: color temperature, direction, fixture style, and bulb type.
Color Temperature in Decorating
One of the most important considerations that influence the mood of an indoor space is color temperature. Color temperature describes the standard spectrum that most indoor bulbs are made to emit: from a deep orange, to yellow, to white, and even to slightly blue.
Color temperature also describes the intensity of the light, or the amount of energy emitted. From warm to cool, the intensity goes from low to high.
Orange light is low intensity; it’s easier on the eyes and adds a deep, rich color to surfaces and creates shadows. It reminds us of fireplaces and candles and makes rooms feel warm and cosy, but it doesn’t make good reading or work light. Warm light bulbs come in a variety of temperatures, ranging from orange, to yellow, and up to yellow-white, which combines a slightly deeper texture to the color with the brightness of white light. The warmer tones don’t have to all look like deep fireplace light, and the brighter temperatures are still excellent for living spaces that you want to feel homey but bright. Most incandescent bulbs are yellow-tinged white, or “warm.”
White, bright white, or warm white describes the range of color between yellow and white. Between yellow and white are the color temperatures produced by the sun in the morning and afternoon, average daylight, whereas true white is closer to the sun at midday. These colors are great for opening rooms up and making them feel spacious. They’re higher energy, and so a little harsher on the eyes, but they also highlight objects you’d like to display better.
Cool white moves into the blue end of the spectrum, and is more like sunlight and blue sky on a perfectly clear day. True white and blue white are most commonly used in work environments such as hospitals, office buildings, and other environments where work gets done. These are harsh on the eyes but provide the best visibility. Be careful when using them in the home, because blue light adversely affects our sleep. This light can be used to great effect in offices or garage work areas, but can be quite stressful with long-term use.
Direction of Light with Interior Design
Light has different effects depending on where the source is placed. Many home fixtures emit light in all directions from the ceiling, creating a top-down and diagonal direction of light throughout a whole room. This type of lighting creates shadows underneath objects which add definition to the room, but if the light temperature is too warm or the bulb isn’t powerful enough, the light can feel diffused and weak, making it difficult to read by or work in.
Side lighting, such as sunlight from windows, lamps, and direction fixtures is very useful for making a room feel more open, as well as washing out the shadows created by top light. The advantage here is that less intense shadows make a room feel bigger. On the other hand, this takes away some definition from features of the room and can make it feel less cosy.
Combining different directions of light for a desired effect is a trick taken from theater and film. When lighting for video production, and lighting subjects on a stage, designers use multiple angles to even out shadows, highlight certain elements of the foreground and background, and to create a mood. To quote Clipchamp, “Soft light is desirable because it will light your subject without creating dramatic shadows. Lots of shadow on a subject’s face can look unflattering or too dramatic. Deep shadows would look great in a horror film, but its not good for what we want to make.” While they discuss the effect of light on a person, imagine the same standards applying to tying a room together and the environment you want to create. Soft light vs. intense light is the difference between a cozy cabin in the woods, and a haunted cabin in the woods.
Light should be utilized from different directions, because only having side lighting creates pockets of shadow in areas of the room that don’t receive the light directly, as well as on the ceiling. Combining both in the right amounts gives you the advantages of the entire room coverage from top light and the open feeling of side light.
The type of fixture has a huge effect on how the light works. Bulbs surrounded by frosted glass give off a muted, warmer light that isn’t hard on the eyes. Directional fixtures that can be manipulated to different orientations can be combined to provide overlapping areas of direct light in a room, providing a much brighter effect.
In fact, there are a multitude of different ways to dress a light bulb to both match the aesthetics of the room and change the quality and direction of the light emitted, even using everyday objects to hack your lighting.
For example, there are other interesting fixture styles such as sconces, which direct light upward and around them, and cabinet lights which illuminate counters underneath the cabinets.
Modern light bulbs come in a variety of types, temperatures, wattage, and with LED bulbs a much wider range of colors is available.
Fluorescent bulbs are most commonly used in commercial and business settings, as before the advent of LEDs they were the only affordable and energy-efficient alternative to incandescent light. They’re limited in application and produce very harsh light, so they’re generally avoided for home interiors.