10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home

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By Sarah Chappell / Published by Dwell
Properly lighting your home may seem like a no-brainer, but once you start laying out the particulars—budget, style, function, and specs—the project can appear challenging and technical.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed before you even begin, follow these 10 steps to designing your home’s lighting like a pro. 

1. Establish the budget

It might seem like an obvious step, but it's amazing how quickly home projects—big or small—can put a serious dent in your bank account. To avoid a monetary setback, decide how much lighting you need, and designate the items you might want to splurge on, and other areas where you know you need to be more conscious of cost.

10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home - Photo 1 of 10 - Creatively separating your functional needs is a key component of Good Small Design—it’s all about overlap, nesting, and double duty.

Creatively separating your functional needs is a key component of Good Small Design—it’s all about overlap, nesting, and double duty.

2. Pick a Theme, Genre, or Design Type

Just as you would stick to a color scheme when decorating a space, so should you consider the style and theme of the fixtures you're wishing to install. Since lighting is such an integral component of creating the mood and tone of a space, find products that speak to you and the particular space. If you have a signature style, the lighting should follow suit.

10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home - Photo 2 of 10 - When one thinks of a chandelier, often an elaborate, shimmery fixture comes to mind. With its Industrial Chandelier, Workstead pares this idea down to capture the function of a chandelier—an overhead lighting fixture—with the simplicity of clean lines and a flexible design. The three-arm chandelier can be reconfigured into a variety of shapes, making it an adaptable piece for a many interior spaces. Structured as a horizontal fixture, the Industrial Chandelier can hang just three feet from the ceiling, or as a vertical piece, it can hang five feet for a more dramatic effect. Crafted from steel, repurposed industrial joints, and vintage Hubbell sockets, the lighting fixture has a mechanical, vintage aesthetic, while its minimalist design, exposed cords, and unshaded bulbs have an undeniably modern sensibility.

When one thinks of a chandelier, often an elaborate, shimmery fixture comes to mind. With its Industrial Chandelier, Workstead pares this idea down to capture the function of a chandelier—an overhead lighting fixture—with the simplicity of clean lines and a flexible design. The three-arm chandelier can be reconfigured into a variety of shapes, making it an adaptable piece for a many interior spaces. Structured as a horizontal fixture, the Industrial Chandelier can hang just three feet from the ceiling, or as a vertical piece, it can hang five feet for a more dramatic effect. Crafted from steel, repurposed industrial joints, and vintage Hubbell sockets, the lighting fixture has a mechanical, vintage aesthetic, while its minimalist design, exposed cords, and unshaded bulbs have an undeniably modern sensibility.

3. Layer lighting

The basic principle is to layer three types of lighting: ambient, accent and task lighting. Ambient lighting is concerned with creating general illumination, occupying a more functional role. Accent lighting is often where decorative fixtures come into play, like chandeliers, pendants, and linear lighting. Task lighting also comes in many forms, providing focused lighting for work spaces throughout your home. Once all of these elements come together, the interior becomes a well-rounded (and well-lit) space.

10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home - Photo 3 of 10 - Jaime Hayon and his wife, photographer Nienke Klunder, and their son, Tys, has filled his home with many of his own designs, including the Bardot sofa for Bernhardt Design and the 22 chair for Ceccotti and mint-colored armoire for Bisazza Bagno.

Jaime Hayon and his wife, photographer Nienke Klunder, and their son, Tys, has filled his home with many of his own designs, including the Bardot sofa for Bernhardt Design and the 22 chair for Ceccotti and mint-colored armoire for Bisazza Bagno.

4. Start with the statement light

Once you have a theme in mind, start with the most visible item that will define the space, like a modern chandelier or pendant (this could be one of the splurge-worthy items). From there, choosing the remaining lighting in the same style as that fixture will help narrow the search.

10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home - Photo 4 of 10 - Barbara Hill had the overhead lighting in the kitchen customized by Rich Brilliant Willing in a pert orange that accents the primarily black-and-white interior scheme. She added a stainless steel kitchen island by Bulthaup, its glossiness and "clean feel" tempered by the plastic stacking stools designed by Konstantin Grcic for Magis. The cabinets, appliances, countertops, and marble tile were kept as-is, with the addition of several coats of white paint in order to blend seamlessly with the walls.

Barbara Hill had the overhead lighting in the kitchen customized by Rich Brilliant Willing in a pert orange that accents the primarily black-and-white interior scheme. She added a stainless steel kitchen island by Bulthaup, its glossiness and "clean feel" tempered by the plastic stacking stools designed by Konstantin Grcic for Magis. The cabinets, appliances, countertops, and marble tile were kept as-is, with the addition of several coats of white paint in order to blend seamlessly with the walls.

5. Consider the requirements of each room

Since each room has its own function, some areas should naturally be more ambient, and others more task-oriented. For example, the bedroom would do well with more accent lighting, since it's a space for relaxation and sleep. The kitchen is the area for careful tasks like food preparation—so that space demands bright, functional lighting before anything else.

10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home - Photo 5 of 10 - In Chicago’s Buena Park, dSPACE Studio transformed a disorganized 1978 home into a bright retreat that revolves around an expanded atrium. SoCo pendant lights by Tech Lighting draw the eye up to the double-height light well.

In Chicago’s Buena Park, dSPACE Studio transformed a disorganized 1978 home into a bright retreat that revolves around an expanded atrium. SoCo pendant lights by Tech Lighting draw the eye up to the double-height light well.

6. Be precise with measurements

Luckily, there are general and specific guidelines for sizing a fixture for a space. Once you have the basic dimensions of the space and its function, the math for finding the correct sized fixture is easily done. For example, kitchens and living rooms have different requirements; planning the lighting above a kitchen island is very different from choosing a large enough fixture to fill a living room.

10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home - Photo 6 of 10 - Cal and Macy Deam enjoy a snack from Mom at the almost 14-foot-long walnut slab table sourced from Arborica in Marshall, California. The wood came from a tree that fell into a Palo Alto, California, street. A trio of Tom Dixon Beat Lamps provide the perfect counterpoint to a slew of black plastic Eames shell chairs from Herman Miller.

Cal and Macy Deam enjoy a snack from Mom at the almost 14-foot-long walnut slab table sourced from Arborica in Marshall, California. The wood came from a tree that fell into a Palo Alto, California, street. A trio of Tom Dixon Beat Lamps provide the perfect counterpoint to a slew of black plastic Eames shell chairs from Herman Miller.

7. Get creative

We've talked about specific types of lighting for each room, but sometimes it's okay to break the rules. Think outside a product's normal function and try unexpected applications—perhaps a pendant for a bedside lamp or an adjustable wall sconce as a task lamp in the kitchen.

10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home - Photo 7 of 10 - For a simple, low-cost bedside reading light with a dash of industrial style, Bernier ran a standard-issue cord set through a vintage clothesline pulley, which he picked up at a flea market, on Thibault’s side of the bed. "If she ever wants it to be higher, she can easily adjust it," he says.

For a simple, low-cost bedside reading light with a dash of industrial style, Bernier ran a standard-issue cord set through a vintage clothesline pulley, which he picked up at a flea market, on Thibault’s side of the bed. "If she ever wants it to be higher, she can easily adjust it," he says.

8. Stay educated about new technology

Let's face it, LED lighting is more common than ever these days, and there are different rules when it comes to installing LED fixtures in your home. With that said, consult your contractor or electrician for the proper voltage and dimming options required for LED fixtures.

10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home - Photo 8 of 10 - The LED lighting in the slide is just one of the high-tech elements in the house that can be adjusted from a smartphone or tablet. A computer system in the basement controls the screens in the house as well as the security and heating systems.

The LED lighting in the slide is just one of the high-tech elements in the house that can be adjusted from a smartphone or tablet. A computer system in the basement controls the screens in the house as well as the security and heating systems.

9. Consider multi-functional lights

Now that we have decorative lighting covered, it's time to get down to the nitty gritty and discuss architectural lighting (i.e. recessed, dimmers, controls, and wall plates). Since we live in the digital age, we rely on many devices that require charging. These days, there are many sophisticated wall controls and outlets that allow for efficient energy consumption, that can also power our mobile devices.

10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home - Photo 9 of 10 - An unassuming little helper is how young Danish designer Mads Sætter-Lassen modestly describes his desk lamp, Buddy, designed for Northern Lighting. The multifunctional design includes a holder to keep pens, keys, and other small objects that are easily lost. The flexible shade, available in five matte colors, can be rotated in any direction.

An unassuming little helper is how young Danish designer Mads Sætter-Lassen modestly describes his desk lamp, Buddy, designed for Northern Lighting. The multifunctional design includes a holder to keep pens, keys, and other small objects that are easily lost. The flexible shade, available in five matte colors, can be rotated in any direction.

10. Start designing!

The last and final step is to dive right into your home's lighting design. Getting the planning process going is often the hardest part, but with these helpful tips, you'll be installing a unique lighting scheme in no time.

10 First Steps to Follow When Planning the Perfect Lighting For Your Home - Photo 10 of 10 - Workstead wall-mounted lamps illuminate a photo from Cloud Series by Matthew Williams. The bench is by Hugh Acton. 

Workstead wall-mounted lamps illuminate a photo from Cloud Series by Matthew Williams. The bench is by Hugh Acton. 

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