Lighten Up


Brilliant new ways to illuminate your home.

By Theresa Rolen Long   

The people have spoken! We want cool lamps and light fixtures in every room of our homes. We will no longer turn a blind eye toward the ubiquitous, builder-sanctioned boob light. No ma’am—our eyes are open wide, and we are ready to let the good light in! Heck, even our closets and garages are yearning to make a much deserved personalized statement.

Great lighting today is about the unique within a marriage of technology and artisanship. Strategic placement, energy efficiency, and automation are all in order. But in the same sense, our homes need the charm of handcrafted, purely decorative, and unique goods. Successfully combining these two aspects makes designing a lighting plan challenging but rewarding.

In the world of high-tech lighting, LEDs are what’s happening now. A light emitting diode (LED) bulb is six to seven times more efficient and lasts 25 times longer than a traditional incandescent. There are many LED smart bulb systems on the market that allow you to control timing, dimming, and even the color hue, all from your phone or a wireless pad. These systems can handle up to 50 bulbs, allowing each room in your home to be customized. Combined with AV and security systems, bulbs can even flash to alert for incoming calls when you’re jamming out or when guests are at the door. Light automation provides convenience, security, and—dare I say most importantly—scheduled ambience!

Designers love LEDs for their ability to get in the tough spaces, which makes them game changers for specialized and task lighting. Low voltage light tape strips can be applied underneath counters and above, below, and inside cabinetry. And mirrors can be backlit for a sleek, clean-lined bathroom. Grouped with recessed ceiling lights and pendants or a chandelier, LEDs will complete a perfect kitchen lighting scheme.


Technological advances also have us rethinking recessed lighting. No longer is it the norm to have five runway strips of evenly spaced, large can lights overhead. Math equations can determine the wattage a room needs, based on its size and ceiling height. To achieve this amount, a dimmable (and programmable, if you desire) mixture of wide angle, narrow beam, gimbal, and wash is best, based on the utility of the space. I prefer a wall wash of recessed lighting along the perimeter, with lamps and a chandelier placed within the heart of a room. Everyone’s style is different. But one thing is certain: Recessed can lights are now more efficient, smaller in diameter, and more strategic in placement.



Many designers prefer the addition of hardwired sconces to a room’s lighting scheme. Eye level light is soothing and flattering. I use wall-mounted lights in traditional applications like bathrooms, hallways, and dining rooms. They can also be used bedside when space is too tight for lamps. Interesting and random walls and nooks allure with a low-wattage, decorative sconce as an alternative to artwork.

Manning the other end of the high-tech spectrum are vintage-style filament bulbs. Portlandia parodied artisanal light bulbs, but you know, it really is a thing. Distinct styles and shapes from times gone by—Edison, radio, tube, metal dipped, pastel…if you can remember it, someone is probably making and selling it. Specialty light bulbs are made to pair perfectly with exposed, bare bones, and clear glass fixtures. And yes, there are even LED bulbs made to look antique.

Speaking of minimalistic fixtures, the industrial lighting trend is still going strong. But balance is the key. If you attempt the deconstructed “light bulb on a long cord” look, make sure it’s all made of the highest quality, and offset the room with a few softer, feminine details. You don’t want guests to feel they are about to be interrogated by the cops.

Add the words “French” and “chic” to “industrial,” and both you and your home immediately sound more sophisticated. Look for lights made with materials like raw steel, leather straps, brass and copper accents, roping, and high quality canvases. Metals shades that are scratched and dinged add character and look great in outdoor areas or a rustic, modern, farmhouse-style kitchen.


Aside from antique bulbs and industrial edge, retro light fixtures—true vintage pieces from the 50s through the 70s—are especially hot right now. Arne Jacobsen, Serge Mouille, and Jean Prouve were the masters of mid-century lighting design. Their original works can be pricey, but reproductions and inspired pieces can be found at many price points. Upcycled lights and lamps are a perfect way to add a layer of history to rooms with contemporary furnishings.

Interesting and organic materials, colors, and shapes are the future of fixtures and lamps. Look for pendants made from wood, chandeliers made with beads, shells, or chainmail, and colorful blown glass. Geometric metal formations provide necessary tension within a traditional design. And beautiful raw quartz and rock crystal lamps and agate and geode slice chandeliers add a modern earthiness to any room. Ceramic lamps in modern glaze finishes are also quite popular now. They come in every color and shape imaginable, providing a perfect accent punch in any design scheme.

A few things to consider when enhancing your light scheme:

Triangulate your lighting sources within a room. Take windows and natural light into consideration. Illuminate corners and areas where reading and other tasks are performed. Incorporate a combination of overhead, ambient, and task or accent lighting.

Play with scale and contrasting tones. Go big in smaller spaces. Use warmer, gold-toned metals in rooms with cooler, neutral colors. Or silver tones in warm spaces. Group pendants at differing lengths where a chandelier might hang. Remember to keep it in balance.

Your home may only need a new style of lampshade on a treasured lamp, or a bulb with a different wattage and tone. But don’t be afraid to try a trendy lamp in a traditional living room, an antique chandelier in a modern kitchen, or something unusual and fun in a hallway. If your eye likes what it sees, then likely, it works.

Fresh new lighting rocks. It’s a surefire, fast, and simple way to update a home’s function and design. And there are endless unique options at every price point, thanks to current consumer demand. But be forewarned: Updating your lighting will likely result in a smug attitude and immediate surge of self-esteem.

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