Lighting for Beginners

March 19, 2014

Lighting for Beginners

Putting the final touches on your home renovation? Set the proper tone for the big reveal. Here are some tips on how to design lighting to complement the mood and location of each room in your house.

New York designer Billy Cotton describes his lighting style as practical, sculptural, and atmospheric. The décor master has transformed showroom spaces for musicians like Gwen Stefani; he sprinkles a fresh-yet-refined approach to his lighting, interior, and architectural projects.

While Cotton tailors private requests, he doesn’t believe that brightening one’s home should be limited to luminary experts. “People knee jerk go to a professional, but it can be basic,” he says.

Furniture before lighting

Before sampling sofas, begin with a furniture plan. After sketching out your ideal location for cozying up with a novel, usher in the lights. “A mistake that people make is that they do the lighting plan [first] in the renovation. They move in and the sofa has no reading light area. It affects how you live in the space. Most people are home at night. Some like ambient lighting; some like to feel like it’s daylight at night,” Cotton explains.

Consider the building

When strategizing, consider your home. Decide if you want fixtures to contrast or blend with the architecture. “Oftentimes that’s relegated by the ceiling height, beauty of the space, and the need for light,” says Cotton. If you’re updating a quirky farmhouse, experiment with lighting in each room. Tweaking a newer build? Stay consistent. “Find one good fixture and use it everywhere — [like] a silver-top bulb or good paper lantern,” he adds.

Mix and match carefully

Although displays don’t have to be expensive if they’re thoughtful, “if you have the budget, invest,“ Cotton says. “If you’re walking from one room that has a beautiful chandelier to a room with a fixture [of a lower price point], it will only draw more attention to that [inexpensive] fixture.”

Beginners should steer clear of mixing high/low concepts, but trust their gut.

‘Good’ lighting is personally influenced by “what makes you feel good in the space,” says Cotton.

For bed and bath

When choosing bedroom fixtures, bedside lighting is primary and overhead is secondary. “Being able to easily read, flip the switch, and not get out of bed,” is crucial, Cotton says. “The location of the switch is just as important. Lighting is not just what it does to a room, but an action that you’re involved in.” Swivel sconces offer functionality while overhead track lighting sets the tone of the room.

Bathrooms should emit brightness. “Dining rooms are one of the only places dimmers should live. Never underestimate the need for bathroom lighting!” Cotton chuckles. Clarify overhead shadows with task lights that anchor the vanity.

Know before you shop

Know the difference between contemporary accents and torchiere lamps before activating your plan. “Be familiar with your tools — then you can learn how to mix,” Cotton says.

For a style review, check out our lighting guide.

Chie Davis

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