A good lighting scheme is arguably the most important aspect of decorating and the most powerful way to define a room’s ambiance. Choosing the right types of lighting requires knowing a little something about the different purposes lighting can serve, the types of lamps and shades available, what some technical terms mean, and how to tailor a lighting scheme to your specific room and needs.
Table lamps are perhaps the most common type of lamp used today. They generally range in height from 25” to 32”, and they often serve double roles as task lighting and accent lighting. Because of this, most people choose to use medium-watt, soft-light bulbs in their table lamps. When choosing a table lamp, the shade needs to be in proportion to the lamp's base, as well as with the surrounding furniture. The shade should be at eye level when you're seated, and the bulb should not be visible. Generally speaking, shorter lamps should be placed on taller tables, and taller lamps should be placed on shorter tables. This will help keep everything in room balanced and at eye level.
Types of lighting: Lighting falls into three categories: ambient, task and accent lighting. Well-lit rooms feature a combination of the three, allowing you to be comfortable without squinting or straining your eyes. The number and types of fixtures will vary with your room sizes, décor and personal preferences.
Ambient Lighting illuminates the whole room with unfocused light that bounces off walls and the ceiling. This is your general room illumination, generated both by natural sunlight and overhead light fixtures. Ambient light eliminates shadows and lights the floor for safety. Determining how much ambient light you need in each room is really just a matter of balancing the amount of natural light available with enough additional overhead illumination to provide adequate safety. The goal with ambient lighting should be to have enough so no one trips over furniture, but not so much that it's hard to relax. Dimmer switches are an excellent way to help you adjust the level of ambient light to suite your needs and moods. Don't try to rely on ambient light alone. You will need some additional light sources, such as accent lamps, in each room to achieve the best overall lighting scheme.
Task Lighting brightens up activity areas and contributes to overall room lighting. The two most obvious task lighting needs are reading lamps and vanity lights over a mirror, but there are probably many other areas in your home that require extra task lighting. A work desk, card table, kitchen countertop, stovetop, utility sink and hallway closet all count as areas that could require good task lighting. Effective task lighting needs to be both bright and focused on a particular area. Sometimes it's also important for the light to be easily adjustable, so lamps that are easily moved or have adjustable arms are a good choice. Dimmer switches can also be very useful for permanent fixtures.
Accent Lighting is often the final touch in a well-decorated room. It is often used to highlight special room features such as artwork or a specific architectural element. To achieve the proper effect, the accent light source should be approximately three times as bright as the surrounding ambient light. Because accent lighting usually comes from small lamps or fixtures, it is very versatile and often nearly hidden. Recessed lights, under-cabinet lamps and picture lights are all examples where the light itself is the eye-catching element, not the source that it comes from. Perhaps the easiest and most pleasing way to add accent light to a room is with small decorative lamps. A tiny 15-watt incandescent bulb can provide a huge amount of romance to a room.
You have the perfect lamp and you've carefully chosen a shade for it, but what kind of light bulb should you choose? You may not think much about light bulbs, but the kind you choose has the greatest impact on the overall effect and effectiveness of your lamp. Many people make the mistake of buying a light bulb more powerful than they need for a particular lamp. This unfortunately can make a lamp so intense or distracting that it is rarely used. The simple solution to this problem is to use a smaller bulb. Most table and accent lamps require no more than a 60-watt bulb, even if they are rated for something much higher. While it's very important to never exceed the recommended bulb wattage for a lamp, there is nothing wrong with using a less-powerful bulb.
Aside from wattage, there are other factors to consider when choosing a light bulb. Light bulbs come in four basic types: incandescent, fluorescent, compact fluorescent and halogen.
Incandescent: These are the most common type of light bulbs. They are inexpensive and available in a variety of colors and shapes, including A-line (the classic light bulb shape), globe, candle, bullet and tubular. Incandescent bulbs can be used with dimmer switches. Most bulbs of this type range from 15 to 150 watts.
Fluorescent: These bulbs have long been the standard for large areas that require a lot of ambient light. They last longer than incandescent bulbs but are also more expensive up front. Fluorescent bulbs require a special fixture to work, so they are not an option for most lamps. They are available in several different colors.
Compact Fluorescent (CFL): These bulbs are the most energy-efficient of all light bulbs. More costly up front than traditional incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs use less than half the energy and can last up to 16 times longer, thus saving you money over the long haul. CFL bulbs come is several shapes and sizes, including a unique spiral shape that can disperse light much more evenly than a traditional bulb. One important thing to note is that if you want to use a CFL bulb with a dimmer or three-way switch, you must purchase a bulb specifically designed for this purpose.
Halogen: Halogen bulbs use the same basic technology as incandescent bulbs, but they produce up to 50% more light for same amount of energy. Halogens last up to three times longer than standard bulbs, but are also more expensive. You should never touch a halogen bulb because the oil from your skin will cause the bulb to burn hotter, reducing its lifespan. Always use a clean, dry cloth when replacing a halogen bulb.