Light is a life-enhancer. The right lighting can make the difference between feeling dull and awkward and feeling happy, alert, and pleasantly stimulated. Good lighting can even make you look better.
Colors can make you feel energetic or serene, nurtured or adventurous.
Light and color
Color and light are interdependent. The stimulus of light on the retina causes us to perceive color and our perception is affected by the quality of the light. Some tones of light can cause us to misperceive colors. Almost everyone has made the mistake of dressing indoors only to step outside and find that the colors of the clothing we chose don't exactly match.
Colors can also appear different because of reflections from nearby objects. The same color may appear different with a matte or a shiny finish.
The goal of every lighting scheme is to select the amount and quality of lighting to render colors as accurately as possible.
Light and color tips
Before buying paint, fabric or floor coverings, always check the colors where they will be used. Pay attention to the color throughout the day and night.
Consider which direction your room is facing. East-facing and north-facing rooms will receive bluer light and may benefit from warmer colors and lighting. West- and south-facing rooms may feel more comfortable with a wash of cooler light and color.
Colors are flattered by lighting with similar hues. Incandescent light is warm. It enhances yellows, reds and oranges. Daylight bulbs enhance blues and greens. Lights from the opposite side of the color wheel can muddy a color. Clear, halogen lighting shows intense colors at their best and is a great choice for a vivid, multicolor decor.
White walls flatter any color of furnishings because they are natural light reflectors, enhancing both natural and artificial light.
Color values look best in a room where lighting is evenly distributed.
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Incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, full-spectrum
Rooms without much sunlight can benefit from halogen lights. It is most like direct sunlightcooler and clearer than incandescent yet warmer than fluorescent.
Cool-toned lights look best when illumination is highest. Warm-toned lights look best at low levels of illumination. Halogen is an excellent choice for brightly lit interiors. Incandescent lights or even candlelight will complement low-lit rooms best.
Full-spectrum lighting is considered psychologically beneficial. Consider full-spectrum if the level of daylight in your home is low overall, or if you live in a rainy climate. Full-spectrum lighting renders color more accurately than any other light.
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Lamps, chandeliers and sconces
Lamps, chandeliers and sconces can be as creatively varied as any works of art. Chandeliers are the prima donnas of the lighting world. They bring instant glamour to any room. Cut crystal is the most widely known material, but chandeliers can be found in wrought iron, brass, tole, wood and ceramic. Contemporary interiors can be enhanced with chandeliers of steel, chrome, plastic and even paper.
Lamps can be as varied as the rooms they go in. Lamps can even be improvised from found objectsceramics, sculptures, vases or pitchers. If your lamp is your art, you can place it in your room as precisely as a sculpture.
Sconces can range from looking like artwork on your wall to a discreet source for a wash of light. These are the most versatile of lighting options and are perfect for every décor.
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When to use built-ins
Built-in lighting is artful in a different way. If the light source is hidden in the architecture, light itself becomes the constantly changing design element. It can add or change the intensity of color and emphasis to create different modes in your living space. If your room is filled with art, for example, you can highlight certain pieces of art with a wash of light and use shadows to downplay less important ones.
Soft lighting focused on a comfortable seating area encourages intimate conversation. Candles and a gentle downlight on a dining table illuminates the food and flatters the guests. A large party can be made more lively by evenly distributed bright light, encouraging a flow of movement and lively talk. Dimmer switches add drama to any occasion by lowering light where it's not needed and brightening the areas where activity is centered.
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How to use daylight
White is the best reflector of natural light in a room but bold colors can enhance the vibrant quality of daylight.
Morning light is not too hot or harsh in color. Rooms with east-facing windows or skylights rarely need supplemental lighting until evening activities begin.
Rooms that receive strong afternoon sunlight should have protective window coverings. Rooms with afternoon exposure, west-facing or south-west facing windows get the most intense sunlight and there is potential for damage to furniture, rugs and artwork. Consider the warmth of the sunlight entering the room in the afternoon. Extremely warm tones, like strong reds, oranges and yellows, may overheat the room's décor.
North-facing rooms that receive little or no direct sunlight will tend to feel cool. Warm tones will help warm them.
Rooms with banks of south-facing windows are blessed with abundant natural light in all seasons. These rooms have an abundant natural glow that flatters every decorating style.
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