Light has a huge impact on how we feel and is a critical part of how we regenerate at home.
Ample natural light is not a luxury we all have - whether it's living in cloudy cities, to having a basement suite or urban apartment, to living north or south of the equator in the winter.
This makes it all the more important to talk, think, and act on lighting decisions when we are designing or decorating our interiors but is often the least paid attention to. This is actually the number 1 thing I work on in every design project. It makes the biggest difference that most people feel, rather than intellectually catch. I could probably fill a whole book, but what are we actually talking about?
I want to encourage everyone to consider the light in their home in a few dimensions (click on the headings to expand):
Traditionally we used incandescent bulbs, then came florescent, and first and second generation energy efficient bulbs. The energy efficient bulbs of old were truly terrible from an esthetic and well being stand point.
Now however LED bulbs have been making huge changes to the quality of the light - not to mention running at a fraction of the wattage. The image above is of an LED bulb - beautiful! I have a 5W LED Candelabra bulb that replaced my 40W candelabra bulb. How can we make the energy savings impact tangible? This means for every 1 hour I used to be able to leave it on, I now can leave it on 8 hours! If you haven't taken a peak at what is on the market now, you will be surprised.
LED bulbs are so much better but arguably more complicated. Three dimensions to understand when buying LED bulbs are Lumens, Color in Kelvins and Spectrum or CRI (click on the left blue boxes to view the explanations):
This is not yet being used as much on the light bulb packages, we are still writing things like 50W bulb equivalent. This refers to the incandenscent bulb watts and what brightness we were used to perceiving from them.
Color (sometimes called color temperature) measured in Kelvins
2700K is a warm white light and what we used to get as a color of light from our incandescents. Sometimes I see a range, but my experience is that 2700K is what we are used to. At 3000K you can start to notice it being white - especially at night. Between 4000K-5000K is what they call daylight white - I liken this to the doctors operating theatre.
Spectrum or CRI (Color Rendering Index)
This is the spectrum of light that is used in the bulb. Light is composed of the rainbow of colors. When light is artificially produced it doesn't usually have the same break down to the rainbow as natural light. Sometimes CRI is also talked about as full spectrum light.
Our bodies naturally follow a circadian rhythm that is cued by light. Understanding how light affects this can help us harness our sleep cycles and mood.
If you are a photographer, you know that natural light changes colors during the day. We need to match the color of the light (Kelvins) (see above, under heading 1 for a definition) with the time of day or we feel out of sync. Shops and office space have typically used brighter white light to keep us alert and grab our attention.
Of course too much bright light can be hard on our eyes as well, and while this post mainly focuses on the more common side which is too little light, if you have the problem of too much light, it should be given due consideration. Rather than focusing on bulbs, think about sheer curtains, Hunter Douglas Silhouette type blinds, and roller blinds with opacity.
Consider how you typically use the different rooms or areas of your home. If we are waking up or doing work - we need a more white light, if we are going to bed, relaxing in the evening or socializing you want a warm light.
The stores that sell the bulbs have displays that almost always make you want to pick up the 'soft white' 3000K or higher bulb but beware, they do not feel cozy. Looking at them in a bright white lit store, the 'warm white' bulbs (2700K) look too yellow... even in photographs the bulbs look too yellow. However, 2700K is what we are used to in our incandescent bulb. It is perfect for dinner time, conversations in the living room, or by the bedside table before bed. 2700K is not as good for wake up, or during the daytime if trying to counteract a gloomy day.
Insanity? How can you match the bulb to the time of day and what we are doing? Well, thankfully Phillips has started things off with their new product called scene switch (http://www.philips.co.uk/c-m-li/choose-a-bulb/sceneswitch). Before Phillips came out it was my usual recommendation to select 2700K for everywhere in your home. In certain design consultations I would recommend the lamp by your desk and your bathroom (unless you have a long bedtime routine) at 3000K or higher, and some strategic placed lighting in homes that had less natural light but you do want to be careful of seeing too many different bulbs/colors of light. It looks weird and unsettling.
Brightness is also a function of whether a light is direct or indirect or diffuse. Keep in mind that when dealing with a bulb that is 3000K or brighter, it can be hard on our eyes to experience it directly or with high lumens. Getting the right brightness level can take a bit of practice but dimmer switches and multiple sources that can be turned off/on can ensure you can tailor it.
I use the term quality to refer to the CRI or color rendering index (see above number 1, CRI for definition). This is really important-it changes how we see colors and our mood. For example SAD lights use a very high quality full spectrum light (along with high power/lumens). Try to find a bulb that boasts a CRI of 90 or higher. The CRI does not change the color in kelvins.
Consider, how much light you naturally get, where it comes into the space from, and what types of lighting you have in the room. Are you in a home that it makes sense to change the lighting fixtures? Or are lamps a better option? Think about the direction the light is moving and how you experience it.
Now that you have learned about the 4 elements above: Light bulbs, time of day, how you are using the space, and the quality of the current light, you should take inventory of your current situation so you can create the plan for improving it.
Take a peak at this template to help you!
After all this, is the fun bit, of what style to purchase the lighting in!!