Choosing the right lighting AND light fixtures for any space can get complicated.
First, you become overwhelmed by all the possible selections…just look at this gallery of lights I saw at Market last year. Between the dim lights, bright lights, hanging lights and chandeliers, there are so many options!!
Then, you get into practical questions like what kind of functional light you need for what space.
THEN, you need to select the right size of light fixtures to make sure your lights fit into your design!
Here’s what I think. A LOT of time and effort (and emotions) go into selecting the perfect lights for your remodel. You uncover how you really feel about the space you’re updating, and choosing the lights that look AND function correctly could make or break your design.
To learn what size of lights to select for a given space, first it’s important to understand the types of lighting and the kinds of lights themselves. That’s a lot to cover before I give you my answer about how to size right, but I promise it’s worth it!!
I make it easy, just follow along…
Three Types of Lighting
When I talk about “lighting” versus “lights,” lighting refers to the different purposes of light. When it comes to your home, there are only three types that matter:
- Ambient lighting: this is the primary source of light found in most rooms and is usually cast by overhead and recessed fixtures.
- Task lighting: this is used to give you optimal lighting in areas where specific activities take place, like the under-cabinet lighting that illuminates your counter while you prep dinner. Mirror lights and reading lights are other examples.
- Accent lighting: this is the “eye candy” lighting, the decorative stuff of a space! When you look at our project photos, especially in kitchen remodels, you’ll see breathtaking accent lighting pouring over the island counters. You’ll have the most fun selecting accent lighting, I guarantee it.
Rooms all have at least two kinds of lighting because ambient is present pretty much everywhere, and then rooms have either an accent fixture or a designated area for some activity (illuminated by task lighting).
Just look around your room, right now, wherever you are. What kinds of lighting do you see?
Kinds of Lights
Then, of course, there are the categories of light fixtures themselves! There are always going to be some truly innovative lights to look at, most of which generate an IMMEDIATE reaction (for better or worse).
In general, however, there are five types of light fixtures to choose from:
- Sconces: always mounted directly on the wall, these lights can be hardwired into the wall or might have a cord hanging down to plug in (it’s much more attractive to hardwire them).
DESIGN TIP: Sconces are usually purchased in pairs. Each light is installed on the side of a bed, or a fireplace, or a mirror. Swing-arm sconces are the exception, as they are usually mounted by themselves as accent lighting…
- Flush mounts, semi-flush mounts: this type of light is rooted to the ceiling, and is almost always ambient lights used to brighten the room. These lights’ flush (or semi-flush) design specifically doesn’t distract from the rest of the design in the room. They just illuminate the totality of your beautiful space!
- Pendants: the primary function of a pendant is to act as a task light. You’ll see them hanging over a dining room table or floating over a kitchen island. Pendant lights range a great deal in size and hang at different heights, always by some kind of cord, chain or wire.
- Chandeliers: these lights give off light from more than one source, meaning more than one bulb. They are known for their characteristic “eye-candy” qualities, too, hanging suspended gracefully from the ceiling. Some chandeliers are functional and some are purely decorative. Knowing which just depends on their size and where you choose to install them.
DESIGN TIP: When it comes to chandeliers, your selections will also depend on what you have under the fixture!! For example, don’t hang a square chandelier over a round table. (This is not a clash you want.)
- Lamps: floor and table lamps are the convenient, movable lights that are perfect for task lighting. No lamp is ever designed to brighten an entire room. They’re rarely just decorative (although, many are so beautiful that they serve that purpose, too). Instead, they illuminate your reading nook, or your work desk…wherever you need a hyper-task focused source of light.
Imagine you’re baking bread. If you use the wrong measuring scoop for the flour, your entire batch of dough could be ruined.
In the same way, the wrong-sized lighting for a design can disrupt the overall look of the space. It can detract from everything else you worked so hard to piece together, and the damage can be irreparable (until you get rid of the light).
To avoid ANY light selection becoming the “eye sore” of your space, focus on your first core decision in making selections: light size.
Getting the size of your lights just right comes down to three things: the scale of a light within a room, the clearance of hanging fixtures, and the spacing of multiple lights.
- Scale: this refers to the diameter and height of a light fixture as it relates to the total size of the room. Take the measurements of the open room, then the measurements of the light. Divide the total size of the light by the total size of the room. Ambient lighting should have the smallest ratio (in other words, the smallest amount of total space in the room taken up by each light). Task lighting should have the second smallest ratio. Accent lighting, on the other hand, can have a ratio of four or five times more than the ratio for ambient lights.
- Clearance: ask yourself, how low do you think a light fixture can hang in a space? This is another MAJOR consideration concerning the size of your lights. Depending on the room AND on the placement of the fixture, the hanging height of a light will have a different required clearance.
For example, in living rooms, bedrooms and foyers, keep lights at least seven feet off the ground (so people can comfortably walk under them). Over a kitchen island, aim to hang lights six feet off the ground. In bathrooms, lights should be kept higher, at least eight feet between the top of the tub and the bottom of the fixture. (Keep reading about bathroom lighting to learn more.)
- Spacing: knowing where to hang or install lights and at what distance one from the other is spacing. Generally, this is best mapped out by your designer, especially as it relates to wiring the necessary electric.
The size of lighting you choose refers to its scale, clearance and spacing (and all at once). In all cases, my professional recommendation is to err on the side of TOO BIG rather than too small.
A light that’s too small in the expanse of a large room…just looks weird! It also won’t do its job, even if it’s just a decorative light.
The name of the game is to have MORE lighting and BIGGER lights than you think you need, because then, dimmers allow you to get that “perfect ambience” no matter what.
Lights that are just too small end up looking like you’ve made a mistake…and you do NOT want to distract from the rest of the work that went into your design! Get started today with our complimentary remodel planner.
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