Looking for a fast and inexpensive way to transform a room in your home? The answer may be as easy as turning on a light. Changing the lighting in living spaces can make them seem warmer and cozier and relaxing. "People spend the most time in their homes at night, when the lights are on," says Hans Joubert, owner of Lighting & Bulbs Unlimited, which has stores in the Charlotte, N.C., area. We talked to lighting specialists and interior design experts around the region for ideas that can have a big impact around the house.
Add some layers
Because rooms have many functions, it's important to have layers of light. In a family room, for example, recessed lighting overhead can provide good general light, but won't be enough for tasks like reading. Lamps and wall sconces give off more targeted lighting.
When watching TV, avoid screen glare by turning off the overhead lighting and turning on wall sconces. Picture lights over artwork — many run on batteries and are a snap to install — are also good for spotlighting artwork and adding low-level light for a cozy feel.
Layers are important in the kitchen as well, where you need bright light for tasks like cooking and cleaning, but want dimmer, less harsh light for eating and entertaining. In bathrooms, Joubert recommends recessed lights for general lighting but installing sconces in or around the main mirror so shadows don't fall on your face when applying makeup.
The right bulbs make a difference
Even expensive lighting fixtures won't deliver the right kind of light if you install the wrong bulb.
Know how much light you need a fixture to deliver, and choose the right wattage accordingly, said Jessica Herring, an interior designer with Visual Concepts in Rock Hill, S.C. If you have high ceilings, use a high-watt bulb in recessed lights.
Know what type of light works best for certain tasks.
"Fluorescent bulbs are horrible for bathrooms," Herring said. Incandescent bulbs make rooms seem cozier. Bulbs with intense light, such as halogen, are best used for task lighting, like under kitchen cabinets.
Colors look different under different bulbs, so take that into consideration when picking out paint or fabric, she said.
Try changing the lamp shades
Sometimes, a new shade is all a lamp needs to refresh a space.
"Mixing and matching classic lamps with traditional shades is perfectly okay," says Octavia Mikell-Yon, manager of the Lamp Place in Charlotte.
"Before, the design styles were that you had to have a round shade with a round lamp," Mikell-Yon says. "Now, as wide as your imagination is, that's as far as you can go with your lighting."
Accessories, such as tassels or finials, jazz up an old lamp.
Mikell-Yon said some customers bring fabric to the store to have lamp shades custom made. Another option if you need more than a shade? Turn a vase into a shade.
Putting a light on a timer is a simple way to make daily life a little easier. Sylvania sells a $35 digital wall-switch timer that runs off the astrological clock, telling a light to turn on at the minute of sunset. You tell it when to turn off. Installing timers for outdoor lights can be an important safety project, and it's nice to have one or two indoor lights on timers as well to deter burglars and to welcome you home in the evening.
For those with a bigger budget, specialty lighting stores sell specialty packages that turn certain lights on and off to create "settings," or different moods in a room.
A "cleanup" setting might turn the kitchen and dining area lights up high, while an "entertaining" setting would dim overhead lights but turn on sconces and picture lights. A "bouquet" setting would spotlight the center of the dining room table, while dimming other lights.
Joubert's store sells packages starting at $600 for six zones.
Change the look with dimmers, 3-way switches
Experts agree this is an easy way to improve the ambience in a room. Dimmers are relatively easy for a homeowner to install and can make a lighting fixture versatile — that dining room chandelier can provide low light for a romantic dinner, or bright light when sweeping crumbs off the floor after a party. Dimmers also lengthen the life of lightbulbs.
Three-way switches are simple to install in virtually any table or floor lamp, and they create the same versatility as a dimmer. A lamp can be on a lower setting during conversation but switched up for activities like reading or sewing.