Q: Our little vacation home is dark, with a lot of wood paneling and stained wood finishes from the floor to the ceiling. There are also a lot of trees around and a big front porch shades the south side of the house. I love how cozy our house feels in winter, but it is really hard to get enough light inside. We have all the lamps on, even during the day. But bright lightbulbs make my eyes hurt and I couldn’t bear to paint over the wood. What else can I do?
A: Whether your home is a rustic cabin in a forest, a midtown apartment surrounded by tall buildings or a single-family house with small windows, maximizing the light helps set the mood and increases function in any home. A cozy wooded den with a glowing fireplace is warm and comfortable, but what if you can’t even see to read your favorite book, play a board game with the kids, or run a vacuum cleaner?
Lamps provide a beautiful warm glow and light in a limited area for reading or other tasks, but unless you use uncomfortably bright bulbs, lamps don’t do a lot to light up a room. Indirect lighting may be the answer because it involves illuminating the walls, ceiling, and flat surfaces like tables and the floor. A classic and effective way to provide this soft, even lighting is by adding recessed down lights in the ceiling. This may require hiring an electrician or contractor to cut holes in the ceiling.
If construction is not possible and you have a place to hide the cords, you can get a similar effect with puck-shaped LED lights, track lighting, or other fixtures. An easier way is to use these same types of lights along the floor (make sure they’re intended for this use) or with floor lamps. Place these uplights near the wall especially at the corners and in between windows. These will reflect light off the wall into the room no matter what color or material the wall is. Of course, white paint or pale tones will reflect the most light. Shiny finishes on tables and floors and mirrors on the walls will also help bounce light around.
Wall-mounted sconces are another way to add both charm and light. Look for translucent white or clear shades over opaque or metal shades than direct the light only down or only up. Because they are next to the wall, the right type of fixture will send light in all directions. Many sconces can be hard wired or plugged into an outlet for easier installation. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s installation directions for best results.
It’s best to have several sources of light in each room so you can adjust the light to set a mood or perform a task. Whatever you do, include other sources of light than just one ceiling fixture in the center of the room. These fixtures are helpful when bright light is needed for cleaning, but cast harsh shadows on counters especially in kitchens and bathrooms.
Experiment with lightbulbs, and buy a bunch of your favorites. These days, it’s likely that will be an LED and you won’t need to replace it for a while. And wherever possible, use dimmer switches. This way you can have brighter light when you need it and enjoy lower light settings otherwise.