Let it shine

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September 13, 2004 // UPDATED 4:02 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Britt Johnsen
Britt Johnsen

Whether yours is a spacious loft, a small box/studio or a three-story house, proper lighting -- often an overlooked decorating component -- can make it feel homier. We talked to a trio of local lighting experts about which kind of lighting makes a room and what to look for -- budget- and style-wise.

The power of light

Mariah Van De Wiele, lighting consultant at Lappin Lighting, 222 N. 2nd St., said it's important to recognize how light affects your mood. Light can help you relax, stay awake, feel safe or help your eyes adjust to whatever you're doing, be it watching a movie or washing dishes.

Compare a fast-food and sit-down restaurant, Van De Wiele suggests. Fast-food lighting is fluorescent and blunt. In a sit-down restaurant, however, the lighting is contrasted -- dim and bright lights are placed in high and low spots to make a more intimate, comfortable setting. While the institutional lighting is hardly inviting, the caf/'s helps "time go by a little faster," Van De Wiele noted.

Next, consider your cubicle. Kim Kuerbs, manager of Citilights, 1619 Hennepin Ave. S., said poorly lit offices often "drain" your eyes. When a place is too dim -- with flickering fluorescents or simply insufficient light -- you're likely to feel more drained and tired at the end of the day, said Kuerbs. Inadequate light can also trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder, or wintertime blues.

Often, if you notice lighting in a room, it's because it's probably not doing its job, Kuerbs said. Good lighting often goes unnoticed but plays a crucial role in setting the tone of your home.

Tips and tricks

But how do you create the right light at home? There are so many different kinds of lights -- lamps, track lighting, chandeliers, etc. -- which do you choose? And where do you put them?

Plus, what if you're on a budget?

Van De Wiele said that while budgets are always an issue, prices in the light industry are decreasing due to increased competition. Kuerbs said you can often dramatically improve a rooms lighting by simply changing a dim bulb. In that case, almost anyone can afford to brighten a room or accent a piece of art (be it a priceless Picasso or your kid's priceless drawing displayed on the fridge).

Plus, even a small, inexpensive lampshade can warm a drab room when it's of the right hue, noted Carol Downing, owner of Carol's Lampshade Wagon in southwest Minneapolis.

- Kitchens

Downing recommends thinking about kitchens practically. She suggests using inexpensive lamps or light covers since it's likely you'll need to replace them. She also recommends washable lampshades because kitchens "get dirtier faster."

In keeping, Kuerbs suggests going with bright lighting in the kitchen since that's where many day-to-day tasks need to be completed. She suggests fluorescent or higher-wattage bulbs.

Because it's often a central gathering place, Van De Wiele suggests using contrasted lights to create an inviting atmosphere. Place lights in both high and low places, a la the caf/ model, and consider undercounter lighting, monorail lighting, track lighting (which starts at just $30) and even candles.

- Bathrooms

As with kitchens, Downing also emphasized the importance of practical, inexpensive and washable lighting for bathrooms. Bright lights are also key, in order to shave, apply makeup, etc., with a minimum of blunders.

However, unlike kitchens, bathroom lighting needs to aim to eliminate shadows, Van De Wiele said. To create light that shows the truest colors, lights that surround a mirror should be above and on the sides. Kuerbs suggests even putting light behind you as you face the mirror, because then light is created from each side, thus eliminating all shadows.

- Foyers and hallways

The important thing to remember about foyers and hallways is that they set the tone of the room they lead to, Kuerbs said. However, the lighting also has to be practical -- consider attractive overhead lighting or wall sconces that you can turn on at the flick of a switch.

- Living rooms

One of the main things to keep in mind with living rooms, is making sure natural light in the daytime is made up for with lamps at night, Kuerbs said.

Kuerbs suggests buying dimmers, which she said can start at about $50 and can be installed without an electrician. Dimmers can create a low-lit atmosphere for guests or relaxation, but can also brighten a room that needs cleaning or is used for reading. They can be bought separately and attached to either lamps or lights, Kuerbs said.

Keep in mind in this and other rooms that dimmer lights make a room feel intimate and small, while brighter lights make a room feel larger.

- Bedrooms

Van De Wiele said bedrooms usually flow with the style of the rest of the home but can be even more personalized. "That's your haven; that's your oasis," she said.

Downing agreed, saying the theme of the home often blooms in the bedroom, "You can go real gaudy, with beads and feathers," she said. "Or you can do plain ... it's kind of fun, and it's interesting."

However, there are a couple of practical matters to consider. If both you and your partner like to read in bed, consider getting a pair of small reading lamps that can each zone in on the page before you without shining light in the other person's face.

Also, bright lights can really wake up a person. So consider using soft, low-wattage bulbs overhead and adding lamps atop dressers and other places where you needdirect lighting.

In the end, Van De Wiele said it's important for people to remember to take decorating risks. "It's not like it's just lights anymore, It's more like artwork," she said, scanning the Lappin showroom with more styles of lighting than one person could ever imagine.

"Don't be scared to do something different visually. It's that one thing that people are scared to do that ends up being the coolest thing in the house."