Great Lighting Lessons

It doesn’t matter how beautifully designed your house is…If it’s not lit properly, you will hate it. There is nothing more frustrating than a poorly lit room, and we don’t know what’s worse: A room that is too bright, or one that is too dark. And even when you figure that out (Say it with us: Dimmers everywhere!), you still have to make sure that the fixtures are suited to the space. And then there’s the fact that beautiful architecture, furnishings and accessories are not enhanced to their full potential without proper layered lighting….

When it comes to lighting we would say that there aren’t as much rules as there are guidelines. And rules were meant to be broken anyway, so why constrain yourself?! When possible, we try to include recessed lighting around the perimeter of a room, and then utilize a center fixture (or fixtures) to serve as a feature focal point. Additionally, depending on the circumstance, we often utilize table and/or floor lighting as well. This gives you multiple lighting options, and the ability to control the brightness and the mood, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Now, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a house that has a great room, make sure you do as the name implies and have a great fixture in there. You can have something thematic like a seashell fixture for a house on the ocean,


or something colorful like a fabric drum shade that picks up the color in the décor of the room.

You may not want to have a statement fixture in every room, but there are some places in the house that call for attention: A quatrefoil patterned shell chandelier in an entry hall has great impact,

as does a modern coral shaped pendant fixture in a Hamptons beach house.

It can also be fun to mix up styles a little bit: A white serpentine-patterned bowl-shaped cast resin fixture adds a pop of interest in an otherwise traditional room (the serpentine pattern on the backs of the chairs tie in nicely with the fixture).

A striking metal drum shade pendant chandelier picks up on the silver tones in the art and accessories, while the clean lines of the fixture are mirrored in the table.

Create cozy areas that draw people to sit and read there by adding reading lamps …They add an element of design to the room while adding real functionality as well. Also, add small surface lamps on top of desks, dressers, consoles and hutches to add a layer of warmth in winter months, and an element of design year-round.

Sometimes the perfect looking light fixture (design-wise) is not necessarily the best fixture from a functionality point of view. Take these glass table lamps with turquoise metal drum shades…They look beautiful in the room, but don’t cast off great reading light. Well, sometimes you have to sacrifice function for style, especially when there is back-up sconce lighting and recessed lighting in the room.

When It comes to bathrooms, so many of them have a single, double, even triple sconce located above the mirror…but the flat downward lighting that they cast can be so unflattering. A better option is to have a sconce on either side of the mirror, to provide light that is more even and closer to the effect of natural light. This goes for dressing table areas as well, anywhere that you want to be hit with the most flattering light possible.

So, in a nutshell, what are the Lighting Lessons to remember?

  • Vary your lighting options, layers and locations
  • Don’t forget the dimmers
  • Don’t hesitate to make a lighting statement in a statement room
  • Have some fun, mix in different styles, but still try to unify them to the décor
  • Add smaller lighting features such as floor and table lamps to create interest and functionality
  • If you can’t have both, know when to lean more towards style, or more towards function
  • Have fun! Like we said, there are no rules, just guidelines…Don’t always go the safe route, be daring!


Decor Mentor encourages you to plan for proper layered lighting at the beginning of your decorating or renovating project. Planning for 5-10% of your overall decorating/renovating budget is an extremely worthwhile investment where there are never any regrets!

Mabley Handler, author of this feature, is a full service Interior Design firm in Hamptons, New York. Jennifer or Austin would love to talk to you about designing a space expressly for you.

You can also find a full list of all our global mentors [ who are top professional interior designers ] on our Mentors Page.



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3 Responses to “Great Lighting Lessons”

  1. LeAnne Bunnell Says:

    Hallelujah and amen!

    Lighting can change a room more than paint, set the mood, establish a design direction, and add character.

    Your interiors are stunning! I could move right in!


  2. Barbara@HausDesign Says:

    This was so informative and helpful as we plan our future home! I am really glad I found your blog and look forward to learning more!


  3. Nyla Says:

    Beautiful interiors with spectacular lighting…not to mention some fantastic tips. Lighting is often overlooked as a key element in the design of the room! I love your thoughtful approach to each fixture!


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