Everybody wants to show themselves and their home in the best light possible - literally. How you light a room gives it added definition and character, and enhances both the space's contents and its inhabitants. When it comes to interior decorating, next to the color on the wall, lighting is one of the most vital, fundamental elements.
Aside from the obvious benefit of improving visibility, careful lighting can set the entire mood in a room and dramatically change the appearance of colors, textures, and finishes. So don't let that custom-mixed maroon paint come across as sickly mauve, or light your collection of original Modernist canvasses with a harsh glare. "People will notice the lighting before they notice the painting on the wall," says Phillip Finkelstein, vice president of Illuminations, a specialty lighting company in Rockville Center, New York. According to Finkelstein, there are lots of tricks to illuminating a whole room - or a single piece of art - perfectly, and they are all simple and easy to learn.
There's far more to creating an appealing lighting scheme than just screwing a 75-watt bulb into a ceiling socket and flipping the switch. Bulbs need fixtures in which to reside, and there are as many varieties of hardware as there are homeowners - ranging from ornate, antique Tiffany table lamps to sleek, brushed-steel wall sconces. Other options include track lighting, recessed fixtures that lie flush with a wall or ceiling, torchiere floor lamps, and the ever-popular frosted ceiling-globe. Just as each has its own name, they can light up a whole room or specific area differently.
The most basic, common approach is to install a single globe-light or strip of track lighting in the center of a room's ceiling and leave it at that, but according to David Brooks of Superior Light & Fan in Manhattan, this is usually done simply because the bulk of a room's wiring bisects the ceiling, and it's really the least-effective approach to attractive lighting, as it throws harsh shadows and can leave the perimeter of the room in dimness. Brooks recommends taking the opposite tack, with lights along the perimeter of the room, shining toward the wall, so the light can diffuse throughout the space and be more consistent.
Another approach is to move away from the constant use of ceiling fixtures in favor of "accent lights" in strategic locations throughout the room. A tiny light behind a couch or other object can highlight a corner wall, or a well-placed floor or table lamp can brighten a room by degrees and create a warm, homey feel. Placing lights near chairs or on reading desks creates small pools of soft, inviting light.