Decorative lighting is what we are most familiar with; this includes the chandelier hanging over the dining table and the 2 lanterns flanking the front door. Their job is to create some visual sparkle, what I like to call architectural jewelry.
―Randall Whitehead, Residential Lighting Expert
It has been found that lighting is one of the most overlooked aspects of home décor. Why? Because it is used mainly for functional purposes, and even then, not appropriately in most cases. We don’t realize that we have been working in bad light unless we find ourselves in a zone with better light while doing the same task. And lighting is not just about function; it aids aestheticism, and in this regard, the fixture plays a critical role. It can become the focal point of a room, it can be used to adorn lone spots in large rooms, it can bring a dim hallway to life, and it can make a pillar that is overlooked, the center of attention. So, how do you go about buying the right fixture?
The Function of Light
It is vital that we understand the effect that light has on us before we invest in fixtures that are, more often than not, quite heavy on the pocket. Lighting affects mood. Bright lights create alertness, vibrancy, and energy. Dim lights soothe and relax the mind, and even create an ambiance of romance. Dull lights are energy killers and lull the mind into a state of gloom. And while decorative light fixtures are meant to enhance the visual appeal of a room, they can contribute to each one of these emotions.
How to Choose Decorative Light Fixtures
To put it briefly, a good light fixture:
Can highlight the focal point of a room, or become the focal point itself.
Can highlight accent features without overshadowing the focal point.
Can serve as a standalone piece of décor.
Will be functional as well as visually appealing.
Has the ability to create a dynamic environment with diffusion, reflection, shadows, and light. This depends on the material used―metal and glass for reflection and sparkle, opaque or translucent shades/holders for glow.
Will not overshadow the visual appeal of the room―it will either blend in seamlessly or enhance it to make a statement.
Every lighting fixture has some purpose, and no one fixture can fulfill ALL purposes, though one fixture can fulfill more than one purpose. So, the technique to implement here is light layering, i.e., putting together different types of lights so that your room is perfectly illuminated. While doing so, it is important that natural light sources also be taken into account to avoid overdoing the light and creating a harsh, uncomfortable environment. There are four types of lighting.
Task Lighting: Lighting for functional purposes such as reading, studying, etc. Such lights include desk lamps, pendant lamps, or under-cabinet lights in kitchens.
Ambient Lighting: Soft lighting that alters the appearance of a room and gives it more warmth. It usually bounces off surfaces (ceilings/walls/floors) to create a glow. Opaque fixtures often fulfill this purpose.
Accent Lighting: Lighting that adds depth to a room and highlights its features, such as artwork or an architectural detail. Directional lights, such as wall lights, are best used for this purpose.
Decorative Lighting: Lighting only for decorative purposes through fixtures such as chandeliers. These are generally not used as task lights.
While these are the basic layers of lights, it is possible that any of them fulfill more than one purpose. These functions will also help you decide upon the positioning of the fixtures.
Types of Light Fixtures
Chandeliers are great choices not only to add to the décor of the room, but to alter the way the room appears in terms of the height. For instance, if you have a very low ceiling, fix a chandelier that throws light upwards. This gives the feeling of a raised ceiling. Alternately, if you have a high ceiling, a chandelier that throws light downwards will visually reduce the height of the room, and give it a more cozy feel. When placing chandeliers above dining tables, ensure that they are at least 30″ above the surface of the table.
Pendant lights are not only decorative, they function as great task lights. For instance, when placed above the kitchen island, they can make for an interesting style statement as well as allow the function of kitchen activities.
Table lamps are best used for ambient lighting. To create a soft, diffused glow, use table lamps with opaque shades that reflect light above and below.
Floor lamps serve the same purpose as table lamps, except that they can make grander statements because of their height and the very interesting shapes they are available in.
Wall-mounted sconces also work to create ambient lighting. However, that is not all. Place multiple sconces that throw light both above and below in a long hallway to illuminate the passage and visually reduce its length, or next to mirrors to avoid the shadow cast on your face that occurs due to overhead lighting.
Used directly around features to be highlighted, directional lights are great as task lights and for highlighting artwork such as sculptures. Dimmer directional lights may be used to highlight paintings/photographs to prevent glare on the glass.
Theme of the Room
The style of light fixtures should be in keeping with the theme of the room.
- Placement of the Lights
The placement of light fixtures requires some considerations to be followed. Any decorative light fixture:
- Should not hinder movement
- Should fulfill their purpose-accent, ambiance, task
- Should have appropriate electrical points or plug points (if applicable)
- Should be able to withstand the vagaries of the outdoors (if purchasing for landscaping, patios, etc.)
- Should be hung at the appropriate height from the ceiling (e.g. at least 30″ – 36″ above dining table/kitchen island)
- Should be placed such that they do not hinder your function (e.g. place wall sconces beside mirrors instead of a single one atop, to avoid shadows)
Types of Lights the Fixtures will Support
Find out what types of light the fixture will support (e.g. LED, incandescent bulbs, CFLs), and ensure that it is easily available. Also, check what wattage of light is best suited to the fixture. It should not be too dull, but it should not burn through the fixture and become too harsh or even affect the fixture itself. For light fixtures that can serve more than one purpose, choose those that have a dimming feature so that you can adjust the light according to your needs when necessary. This can apply to chandeliers, pendant lamps, and floor and table lamps.
The size of the fixture should be proportionate to the size of the room it will be placed in along with its furniture. It shouldn’t be oversized so that it is the only visible element, nor should it be so small that it loses its identity and becomes a meaningless accessory in the room.
This oversized chandelier for such a small dining area sticks out like a sore thumb.
If you have already started looking into purchasing decorative light fixtures, you may have come to terms with the fact that this is a purchase that should be planned so that it doesn’t hit your budget. But just because you have your heart set upon a fixture that isn’t in your budget, you shouldn’t be disheartened. Consider purchasing these fixtures over time and building up your collection. Look for online clearance sales; you can find amazing discounts on these websites for sure.