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Light It Right

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Something’s missing from your home design. It might not be an extra painting on the wall or a piece of an accent furniture but something with a big presence and small footprint.

“Light is invisible until it hits something,” says Deborah Witte, director of marketing at Phillips Lightolier and member of Illuminating Engineering Society. “This is a key reason people don’t give it as much attention as they should.”

She suggests that people keep lighting on a ranking with large items like sofas when developing a primary decorating plan. When it comes to placing light fixtures, “most people don’t plan enough, it’s almost an afterthought,” Witte says.

In general, light and airy beats dark, which often equates with dreary, says Heidi Semler, an interior designer and founder of Heidi Semler Interior Design in Portland, Oregon. Living in a perpetually rainy climate, Semler often uses lighting strategies to brighten rooms.

One way is to “create multiple layers” of light that can be switched on or off with current needs, Witte says. “You put on certain lights for certain moods and activities.”

Ambient light in corners or from wall sconces can reflect up and down, providing balance and interest, says Martin van Koolbergen, professional lighting designer and owner of Kaplan Gehring McCarroll Architectural Lighting, New York. If you’re remodeling, it’s a good time to experiment with recessed lighting, which helps fill in dark spaces where light is needed, he says.

Also, table and floor lamps and other fixtures are decorative and functional in adding ambient light when needed, Witte says.

Once you have enough light sources, install dimmer controls for an effective, inexpensive way to adjust light levels.

Then, take a moment to notice what the light is doing in your space, van Koolbergen says. When you’re at home, start looking at what’s right or wrong. One example is “if there is a single light fixture in the middle of the ceiling that can become a glare bomb at night,” van Koolbergen says.

Another issue could be lack of task lighting. “If you haven’t changed anything about your lighting in years, you probably should,” van Koolbergen says. “As we get older, we need more light in work areas.”

Task lighting under kitchen counters helps tired eyes, Semler says. Track lighting can also help illuminate those tiny washing instructions in a windowless laundry room.

Ultimately, the right light is what’s right to the eye. It may be invisible, but its effects can be dramatic.

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