As a society we are used to white lights at Christmas and decor for special occasions. We love the warmth of our homes and event spaces where they are used. During the holidays our homes feel warm, safe and full of love, right? Then in January we take it all down and suddenly our homes feel bare, cold and lonely. WHY??!!! Winter is when we spend the most time awake IN our homes! It's the time we should LOVE it MOST!
As designers, we speak in terms of layering lighting in our spaces, each different types of lighting has different purposes, they are not meant to be multi tasking. We have ambient lighting, task lighting and accent lighting.
Ambient lighting is for overall, general lighting, for safety to navigate down a staircase or down a hall without running into a door jam, to find something in a closet or cabinet or stepping on that stray toy (dog or child). These lights in living spaces like our living rooms, dining rooms, etc should be on dimmers to lower the level of light and to increase it only when we really need it.
Task lighting is exactly what it sounds like, it's to keep us from trimming our fingertips in the kitchen, to help our eyes at a desk or in a reading chair or working on a task or craft. These lights need to be closer to the subject at hand, in the form of a table lamp, a floor lamp, a pendant 30" above a countertop or under cabinet lighting, etc.
Then comes the accent lighting, where most people think, ahhh that's just a luxury, right? Like accents and accessories! It's not a necessity, it's nice, but maybe later... Is a relaxing evening at home a luxury? Having your kids settled down and in bed by bedtime a luxury? If it is, wouldn't it be heaven if it happened more than once a month or a year? Do you have issues falling asleep at a decent time? Suddenly it doesn't seem like as much of a luxury does it? So how does accent lighting solve these issues?
It's simple, our bodies are anciently wired to associate fire with warmth and security. Since we no longer live in caves or have fireplaces for our only source of heat, lighting has taken over this function. Have you ever noticed lighting in a fast food restaurant vs a 5 star restaurant? Fast food industry needs to not only serve fast, they need their customers to move on and go fast too. They fill their spaces with bright lights, bright colors and hard cold surfaces. We're not inclined to spend hours lingering about. We find ourselves eager to get on with our day. Whereas a luxury multi-course restaurant has lower light levels, soothing color schemes, & really comfy seating, why? They WANT you to linger have that extra glass of wine, stay for coffee and dessert, right? The longer you stay the more $$ you spend & the bigger the tip. We find ourselves relaxed, calm and enjoying the moment. Which type of accent would you rather have when you walk in the door to your own home at the end of your day? Obviously from my photo, I choose the latter.
How do you go about making your home warm, welcoming, calm & comfortable after the holidays? We take clues as to what works during the holidays. This is where those white lights come in! They add low level accent lighting, we tend to turn off the bright lights to enjoy their warmth even more. So, put them on a houseplant, above the cabinets, along the mantle, add candles real or battery operated. Those little battery fairy lights in vases or in floral arrangements. Even picture lighting, for that great family portrait whether it's in the living room or the hallway. Dot them around your rooms, place them in front of a mirror or any other reflective surface like crystal, silver, gold, etc. even a corner of white walls! and it will reflect the light a little further into the room. Put these lovely sources on a timer so that they are not another chore to take care of and your home will have a warm glow the second you walk in the door.
In kids rooms, hang them across the ceiling, instead of the bright, blinding overhead light, nothing is worse than getting them calmed down only to turn on that bright light and ruining the mood, right? (Hang them high enough and well secured so that they don't pull them down of course!) While you're at it, change those bulbs out to a lower wattage, 40w instead of 60w will make a huge difference for when they do flip them on ahead of you, but I promise if those twinkle lights are on, they most likely will lay off the switch. And don't forget the bathroom! So many homes have light bars with multiple lights and for some reason the go to wattage is 60w. Three of those puppies in a standard 5'x8' bathroom and suddenly it's bright enough to land a plane! And here you are trying to give your kiddos a relaxing lavender bath to coax them to sleep. Ugh! Change out those bulbs momma! Try 20w or 40w to see what works best for you depending on the reflective qualities of the room, you still want it light enough to do the task at hand, but not so bright that it energizes them again. Darker rooms need more wattage, brighter ones need less.
Your bedroom, many people are finding themselves retreating to their oasis at the end of the day and working, watching tv, reading. catching up on social media, etc for an hour or several before turning in. Of course, we know that evil blue light emitted from our devices are keeping us awake, but beyond putting those devices down 30 min before we want to sleep, here again we want to assess the level of light, those evil overhead lights again... you know what to do dim it or leave it off completely. Have sufficient bedside lighting, lamps need to be tall enough to cast light to your LAP, not your eyes. Soft layers of light with candles, fairy lights or white lights around the room on a timer can help with the mood and create a relaxing atmosphere. If your master bath is open to the bedroom, remember the tip from the hall bath of lowering the wattage in those light bars, yep do it here too, but keep in mind, you still want enough light to apply makeup, shave, etc.. Consider a dimmer on those lights as well, so that you don't blind yourselves just to get a glass of water or wash your face at night and this way you don't disrupt your partner as badly either. Need an even better reason? That relaxing bubble bath you've been craving... add your candles and dim those lights!
Make sure you have dimmer switches on those bright overhead overall lighting fixtures in your home to relax the light and bring down the energy in the room for during dinner, have a candle on the table, yes, even with littles at the table. Take it from a mom of 3 boys, it works! We went from rambunctious to enjoyable family meals in one night! WITH a toddler at the table. Kid you not! Of course they were still boys and conversations tend to get a little lively, but it was not near the circus it was prior! Even if you don't have little ones running about and it's the two of you or your kids are teenagers, how many times do we run off from dinner to go back to the phone or ipad or tv? Put a hurricane on your table with a pillar candle either real or battery operated and wa la! Or a rustic crate with mason jars with candles if that's your style, or traditional candlesticks for an elegant setting. (And IF you're using real tapers that melt and drip wax on your tablecloth... FREEZE the candles before you light them, the wax will burn slower and will drip far less, even the cheap ones!) Create a relaxing dinner tradition and watch quality family time unfold. So, if you eat in the kitchen area, put a dimmer switch there, if it's in the dining room, a dimmer switch there, those cavernous living rooms with the can lights overhead? Dimmer switch again. Give yourself the ability to lower your light levels to a comfortable and relaxing amount, instead of giving into the fast food scenario in your own home.
Outdoors - ok so most of us it's too chilly to be outside for a long period of time in the winter, but think about how we adore those fun light strings strung above us on a summer's eve as opposed to one bright spot light to illuminate your BBQ or a girls wine night. Same thing, it's warm, it's fun and inviting. For those of you in southern warm regions you can use this tip now, the rest of us can use it when the temps warm up. And for those adventurous winter loving people who love a good cold evening out around a fire pit, this is for you too!
So now you see why accent lighting isn't such a luxury and why you need it! And you can be as crazy as me keeping your white lights up and on inside during the winter! ;0)