How to Choose Great Lighting for Your Home: Tips to Give You Confidence

Choosing lighting for our home is one thing I used to put in the ‘too hard so I don’t want to think about’ basket. It meant I would walk into a lighting store, become completely overwhelmed, argue with my husband, and then we’d just be so overwhelmed and undecided we’d walk right out again without having come to any solutions. So frustrating.

This is not my proudest moment, but if you’ve been following my blog for a while you would know there is a reason Mr Nerd and I had a bare lightbulb hanging in the middle of our bedroom ceiling for years when we bought this house – we just couldn’t decide what to do.

Beautiful pendant lights in this renovation by Alana Willis I featured here.

I was so embarrassed about it – but I’ve since learned that not being able to choose or decide on something is not at all uncommon. Whether it’s a light, a paint colour, a window treatment or a couch, when it comes to decorating a home, making decisions can be really hard and when you get overwhelmed it can actually be so daunting it prevents you from pulling the trigger, full stop – so you end up doing nothing. Decorating paralysis! (That’s another idea for a whole new blog post).

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about renovating and decorating a house, it’s that with time, you actually get better at it, and you get more confident. You learn from your mistakes, you trust your own decisions more and more, you discover your personal style. Just like anything, the more you practice renovating, styling and practicing decorating a house, the better you get at it.

When Urban Lighting reached out to see if we could partner together on a post, I knew instantly what I’d like to write about – tips for the everyday home owner (like me!) to give them confidence on choosing lighting for a home.

By no means am I a lighting or interiors expert AT all – but these days I don’t doubt myself anywhere near as much as I used to, and as we’ve gone through the process of replacing our 1970s house’s old, very dated lighting with new, I’ve learned a few things, and I’ve picked the brain of many an interior designer over the years. So today I’m sharing a few of the little tips I’ve picked up over the years that I hope will give some of you guys more confidence as well! Here goes.

There are three basic types of lighting for interiors and once you know each you’ll find it way easier to approach choosing lights for your home. Promise!

Ambient lighting – (also known as general lighting) is the lighting that gives a room overall illumination. It will give a space a nice comfy level of brightness so you can, you know, see. This could be lighting from recessed downlights, chandeliers, oyster lights (which we’ll get to again later). Pretty much all rooms need a good source of ambient lighting to work.

Task lighting – This is lighting that aids you to perform a specific task like studying, reading, preparing food on the kitchen bench. It could mean your desk lamp or track lighting affixed to the undersides of kitchen wall cabinets to help you read a cookbook or chop carrots and not your fingers.

TASK LIGHTING: Stunning task lighting in this beautiful kitchen renovation by Staple Design is not only functional, giving good light to the prep bench, it also makes a feature of lovely items on the open shelves. Photography: Meghan Plowman.

Accent lighting – the fun lighting! Accent lighting is usually recessed, track or pendant lighting that is directed at or intended to showcase a particular thing you want to highlight; a corner, a painting, a stunning bedhead, whatever. Maybe you have a beautiful granite island bench in your kitchen, you want to highlight the textures and colours of a Toodyay stone feature wall in your 70s home, or you want to make a night-time feature of an amazing dracaena in your front garden. Or maybe your home boasts none of these cool things (mine doesn’t) but you want to add atmosphere, drama or charm, or want to layer a look. Accent lighting can help set the ‘feel’ of a home (think of a lovely cane pendant in a foyer adding that beachy look to a coastal-inspired interior, or a quirky rustic pendant light giving a fun touch to an industrial-inspired home). (Basically, in my opinion, accent lighting is the lighting that is the most fun to pick out).

This 1920s house by Klopper & Davis Architects features these gorgeous mid-century inspired pendants. Photo by Jody Darcy.

The right lighting can make a small room look bigger.

There’s a reason the old oyster light has gone out of fashion (hopefully never to return) – beyond the basics of lighting up our homes so we don’t trip over at night, they aren’t really doing our interiors any favours. I know them well… our house still has some (yuck) Not only do they tend to date a space quickly but they also light up the centre of the room and make corners recede and seem darker – making a room appear visually smaller. A mix of carefully considered recessed downlights and lamps in awkward corners will help avoid this problem. Lamps in corners are awesome because you’ll notice instantly how much bigger a space feels but cosy-bigger (in a good way).

From Trendenser.

Low ceilings don’t have to mean sacrificing pendant lights.

Gone are the days when a hanging pendant light would only work if your house had high ceilings, a big dining room or a capacious foyer.

These days there are a huge variety of beautiful pendant lights in all shapes and sizes on the market, so even if you have ceilings on the lower scale of things, or a smaller room, you can still get away with having beautiful pendant lights in your home. The trick? Knowing where you can get away with putting one. If your house has low ceilings, think about making a disused corner a beautiful feature instead with a lovely pendant light, a gorgeous chair and a little side table, bookcase, bar cart or indoor plant instead.

In a bathroom, you could have a pendant light hanging above or to one side of a vanity. Or a pendant light above a dining table or two or three above a kitchen bench – it’s a nice focal point and means you can get away with hanging lights even if you have low ceilings.

A gorgeous pendant light makes this powder room nook extra-special. From Style Curator.

Small bedroom? Pendant lights can add impact without taking up valuable space.

When it comes to bedrooms, I am loving the trend of having pendant lights flanking a bedhead above a bedside table. It’s such a good fix for small bedrooms and apartments as well when you need to make the most of every bit of space, because bedside lamps can be chunky and take up a lot of space. A pendant light will also make a small space visually seem larger. Our bedroom is small and I’ve been seriously considering doing this in our room. If you don’t want to affix pendant lights to the ceiling, there are also some options that plug in at a power point and you can wrap the cord around a frame screwed into your wall (for example, those IKEA EKBY brackets – cheap as chips at $5 each. You can see one below in a bedroom of Little Terrace Perth, a gorgeous house my friends Kim and Jeff from @studioatelier own).

Another idea for adding pendant lighting to a low-ceilinged bedroom is a larger one above the foot of the bed. My husband kicked up a fuss initially when I showed him the George Nelsen replica light I’d bought for our bedroom makeover. “It’s too big!” But, even though it seemed a little crazy, it works, because it’s over the foot of the bed. It adds so much more impact to our small bedroom than any kind of recessed downlighting would have and I absolutely love it.

Our bedroom makeover with George Nelsen light. Photo by Heather Robbins.

Moodboard, moodboard.

Know you love a pendant light or a floor lamp but not ready to buy it because you’re not confident it will work with your interiors scheme? Moodboard it. I use Pinterest ALL the time for creating moodboards. If you don’t want people to see your crazy late-night Pinterest binging (or how many chocolate brownie recipes you’re drooling over) don’t forget, you can make boards secret.

I find that because Pinterest is so visual it’s so easy to see at a glance a whole bunch of products together and see what works and what doesn’t (it probably sticks out like a sore thumb).

I also use a great free resource called Olioboard for making moodboards/room schemes – takes a small bit of time to get used to it but once you know it you’ll be all over it. It’s a really good way to layer products over each other in a room setting and help you make decisions, whether it’s to buy new interior lights or pull the trigger on that occasional chair. Here’s an example of a cute room another Olioboard-er has put together.

Just like a stylish, warm winter outfit, lighting should be layered.

While central oyster lights (and their voluptuous cousin, the ‘boob light’) were super-popular 30 years ago (my 1970s house still has some oyster lights which we can’t wait to replace) in the past decade we’ve seen a huge shift in popularity to recessed downlights like LEDs.

When planning a room’s lighting scheme, think about the idea of using light in layers – recessed lights, pendants and/or lamps. You might think you can put up a whole bunch of recessed LEDs lights and your room will be done. But chances are, without sources like table lamps and floor lamps, for all that money it could just make your carefully planned interiors appear disappointingly flat and dull. Lamps and pendants effuse warm, inviting, gentler light and add depth and interest to your interiors that will take it from being average to amazing.

Don’t dismiss the idea of dimmer switches.

Forget any daggy connotations you might have of sleazeball characters in 90s movies dimming the lights and playing Marvin Gaye. Dimmer switches are the BEST. You can create any kind of mood, whether you want to cosy up and watch a movie, have a board game night or an intimate Game of Thrones-themed winter dinner party. Your lighting can literally determine the mood of the night.

This post was supported by Urban Lighting. All writing here is my own. Maya x


Author: Maya Anderson

When Maya Anderson was thinking of a name for her homes and design blog, nothing seemed more fitting than House Nerd. Obsessed with everything to do with houses, renovating and interior design, Maya is a features journalist by training with a background in print and a focus on homes and real estate. She has been renovating her 1970s house since forever, loves dogs and can eat her body weight in dumplings.

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