Designer offers tips on lighting a room well

  • Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2013 12:01 a.m.
This undated publicity photo provided by Brian Patrick Flynn shows a pair of wall sconces used by Designer Brian Patrick Flynn to flank this bathroom vanity. The sconces add ample light, while also functioning as pieces of decorative art. (AP Photo/Brian Patrick Flynn, Sarah Dorio/Scripps Networks Interactive)

Your choice of lighting has a huge impact on how your home looks and feels. But how do you choose when the options include everything from retro Edison-style bulbs with glowing filaments to compact fluorescents, plus lamps and fixtures in every shape and size?

“Lamps are one of the most important factors in a room’s design,” says designer Brian Patrick Flynn of Flynnside Out Productions. Yet homeowners often give lighting less attention than they do furniture or wall colors.

Here, Flynn and designers Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design and Molly Luetkemeyer of M. Design Interiors share tips on choosing the perfect lamps, lampshades and light bulbs to achieve maximum style and function.

Overhead and eye-level


If a room has no overhead lighting or wall sconces, these designers say it’s worth hiring an electrician to add them.

Flynn recommends using 2-inch or 4-inch recessed halogen lights overhead, rather than brighter 6-inch can lights.

“They instantly fill a room with the much-needed illumination,” he says, “but without looking tacky or heavy.”

Wall sconces also cast a flattering glow and can serve as striking decorative pieces. Vintage (or vintage-style) sconces are popular, says Burnham, and can be found at some flea markets. If you buy them used, “take them to a lamp shop to check all the wiring,” she says, and replace any worn parts before installing.

But don’t light a room exclusively with overhead lighting: Light from above that isn’t balanced by lamplight can be “prison-like,” Luetkemeyer says. “It casts a bunch of shadows and makes you look like a cadaver.” 

Instead, create “pools of light” at different levels for a warm, layered effect, she says. 

Flynn accomplishes this by choosing lamps at various heights. “It’s all a game of scale and proportion,” he says.

“If the lamps are going on a tall console table with a super long piece of art hung above it, I’m definitely going to be looking for tall, slender, maybe candlestick-style lamps. On low-to-the-ground end tables, I’m most likely going to aim for something squatty, which is balanced with the proportion of the table and its nearby seating.”

Go retro


Edison-style bulbs have become popular and look great in industrial or vintage light fixtures or chandeliers. But they can cost as much as $15 per bulb and give off minimal light.

So use them “as sculptural features integrated into lighting,” Flynn says. “Since they’re offered in many shapes, they’re almost like art. The ideal place for Edison bulbs is romantic spaces which are not high-traffic. For example, a chandelier above a bed in a master suite with Edison bulbs is ideal since the room is not task-related and is meant for being sleepy and moody.”

Another vintage option is the globe light that first appeared in the 1950s.

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