The function of aesthetics: Light


Natural and artificial light flood or darken our homes.  I talked a little bit about the general artificial lighting requirements that make the most of your space in this post.  Making sure you’ve got some illumination that satisfies the three categories of general light, task lighting, and accent lighting is key in creating a light controlled space.  The quality, intensity, color, and direction of light in a home has a direct effect on how that room will feel.

This kitchen by Becki Owens has great use of general lighting with recessed fixtures throughout the kitchen, and task lighting placed over working areas like the island and sink

First of all you’ve got to have your general light covered, especially in areas of the home that seeing clearly is important, like the bathroom and kitchen, but this bright illumination doesn’t always have all the feels.  This can be addressed by having your general lighting on dimmer so that the light is there when doing certain tasks, but can be dimmed when it’s not needed.  Putting on your makeup?  Turn those lights up!  Having a relaxing soak in the tub? Dim the lights waaaaaay down.  The feeling in the space changes drastically from the energy and excitement (or maybe just the push) to get your day started, to winding down, letting go of worries, and relaxing at the end of the day.  All controlled by the light in the space.

Task lighting is important to get more light right where you need it, so that shadows cast by general lighting don’t interfere with being able to see clearly.  If the general light in a living room, for example, is dimmed for relaxing, a lamp with a shade that casts the light down creates the perfect circle of illumination for reading.  Brightness just where you need it, not in the entire room.

The floor lamp in the Rove Concepts ad will perfectly illuminate the left side of this sofa.


Accent lighting might be the most impactful artificial light.  These focal fixtures can play with the light by breaking it up into a shimmer with a chandelier, changing the color of the light with a shade, and creating patterned shadows with the shape of unique fixtures.  Think disco ball shimmer vs. dark shaded drum pendant light.  The variations are endless.

You’ve got to make sure you’ve got the light functioning for your needs first.  Frustration caused by not being able to complete a task because you can’t see or read, or discomfort caused by overly bright spaces are all emotions that add up and contribute to an overall feeling of unrest.


When dealing with artificial light you have the fixture itself as well as the bulb that it’s powering.  If you’ve been to the lighting aisle in your local home improvement shop you know the options for bulbs is craaaaaaazy. It’s an entire aisle.  Of lightbulbs.

Incandescent, halogen, LED, fluorescent, CFL…..whut.

Artificial lighting is a science, just ask the folks as Philips, and the technology has changed over the years so that while we still have incandescent bulbs hanging around, we’ve moved through CFL and now focus on using LED.  Lost?  It can be confusing.

The changing technology of bulbs (or lamps, as they are called) mostly has to do with conserving energy.  The push to be more environmentally conscious in our everyday lives has resulted in newer ways to use less electricity.  The incandescent bulb, the one we all studied in elementary school while learning about electricity, identifying the wire that arcs the electricity into light, uses the most electricity. We then moved on to CFL (compact fluorescent) and Halogen, which were more energy efficient, but had their downfalls (halogens are too hot, and CFL’s had brightening issues).  I won’t get into a lesson about how all the bulbs work because A) some of you might already be yawning and B) I am NOT a lighting scientist.

If you do want to nerd out on learning about lighting check out the Philips website. You can get lost in there for days….. I think its pretty cool. Alternatively if you need to narrow down the right bulb for you Lowes also has a quick guide to help you select the bulb you need.  Don’t forget to check your fixture for its recommended wattage too.


The point is, there are so many bulbs out there. This discussion is about how to use light to control how your home feels. The two main elements you want to control after you select the bulb type is the color and the lumens.

The lumens are a measure of how much light the bulb emits, or how bright it shines. Lower lumens = dimmer light. The brightness of a bulb can directly effect how you feel in a space.  Too bright might feel clinical and cold, and too dim might have a dark, dreary feel.

The other element you can control in your bulb is the color or ‘temperature’.  This color range goes from yellow to white and effects everything in the space.  While most view a yellow tempertured bulb as being a warm light, it also effects the appearance of the existing color in the room.  A yellow bulb can make a space feel warm and cozy, with a hazy glow. It can also cause a room to feel dingy and dark, changing wall paint appearance and giving any whites a bit of a yellowed look. An already bright and airy palette might not fair well with warm bulbs, but a warmer palette might….uh, warm right up to it…

These inspirational photos from LeClair Decor’s blog show some warm light in a space. The left hand image has pendants with a gold interior which warms up the light by bouncing it off the gold, and the ‘edison’ style bulbs in the ceiling fixture tend to give off a very warm light. On the left the smoked glass shade warms up the light.

As you move through the spectrum away from yellow towards the white end of the scale there is a risk again of that clinical feeling.  The bright white is excellent for showing the true colors in a space, so depending on what your palette is this can work well, or, alternatively make colors feel too garish.

Of course, for most spaces you’re likely safest in the middle with a warm white bulb.  A nice white light with a little bit of warmth to it. It’s the times when you have a room where you’re struggling to get the right feel, manipulating the lighting though trying a different bulb temperature and lumen output might just do the trick.  Too garish?  Bring those lumens and whiteness down.  Dark and dreary?  Try a whiter temperature and up the lumen output.


Then we have natural light.  The most true and lovely light. LOL! Clearly I am biased.  I will often find myself in a room that I should have turned a light on long ago, still trying to use the light from nearby windows.  Natural light, as it spills into your home through windows, doors, and skylights has just as much of an impact as artificial light, but is controlled in different ways.

The vast majority of us have not had the luxury of building a home and choosing to orientate it to the rise and fall of the sun.  We are rooted in, with window placement already decided.  But we can still control how the light enters the home. With window treatments that range from blackout to barely there we can manipulate that light.

This home featured in My Domaine is the things dreams are made of with the hall skylights and entire room width of window.

Research shows that a space that has a lot of natural light tends to have the most positive effect on people living in that space. The most effective way to fix a very dark, windowless space is to simply: add windows. BUT, that is a sizeable renovation. If you’re not able to renovate you might have the opportunity to switch rooms around, or adjust interior walls to let light flow in from neighboring rooms.

Not getting enough of that daylight could also be as simple as having a window treatment that is too heavy or covers too much of the window. This can be adjusted to allow more light to pass through, even if you are dealing with privacy issues.  A blind that lets light pass, but limits the view into the house works really well, or in more extreme cases window frosting can be very functional.

There will be those rooms where the light might pour in a little too much, or should I say just too directly.  This can be a problem in some spaces causing squinting or the need for sunglasses indoors… but this can be controlled as well.  A blind that lets some light through will really help control the intensity, but keep in mind the color used will also affect the temperature of the light coming through.

Lighting.  Its a huge component in your home, and can go a long way in affecting how you feel in it. The next time you’re feeling just a little uncomfortable in a room, have a look at the lighting.  There might be something you can change to get rid of those little discomforts.

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