Apartment Therapy Complete and Happy Home (2015)


setting up your home



Maxwell Ryan

Apartment Therapy Founder

daughter, Ursula

Any great photographer will tell you that good lighting makes all the difference. The same is true in your home.

Lighting focuses your attention, makes colors deepen and shine, and adds a shimmering energy to a room.

While sunlight is best, you can’t always control how much of it you get, so there are three other types of lighting to utilize. Each is important and should work harmoniously to create atmosphere and mood.

Ambient lighting (or general lighting) provides overall illumination and comes from pendants, chandeliers, ceiling lights, recessed lights, and wall-mounted fixtures.

Work lighting is bright, focused light in areas where you read, cook, or get ready in the morning. It typically comes from desk lamps, floor lamps, track lighting, and vanity lights.

Accent (or focal) lighting creates visual interest and draws attention to the parts of your home you want to showcase, like artwork or architectural details. It often comes from track lights, indoor spotlights, recessed lights, or picture lights.

Using just one of these light sources, no matter how bright, will never make a room feel comfortable. The most visually interesting spaces have multiple points of light (at least three) that work together to create an overall glow. When starting to think about lighting schemes in your home, keep these steps in mind.

1. Start with work lighting. Consider the functionality of your space, and add work lighting in areas that need it.

2. Feather in accent lighting to highlight your favorite areas: a mantel or art wall, for instance.

3. Take stock of the current lighting situation; then fill in with ambient light.

light sources, defined

pendants + chandeliers

Think of them as the jewelry of your home. They add drama and personality and quickly update a room—especially for renters who may feel stuck with ugly overhead fixtures. Try one of these lighting scenarios in your space, and be prepared for immediate (and effective) results.

•   Mount one over a dinner table to create an inviting or romantic atmosphere.

•   Hang a row of pendant lights to visually separate an open floor plan.

•   Punctuate a sitting area in a bedroom or living room by adding a low-hanging fixture.

table lamps

Lamps are one of the most fun ways to put your design stamp on a room. Where it gets tricky, though, is selecting the correct size. A table lamp should be proportionate to the furniture it sits on. That means the shade should be no larger than one-third of the table’s surface. And it should be tall enough to provide light without shining directly into your eyes. A good rule of thumb: make sure the bottom of the shade is at eye level when you’re sitting next to the lamp on a sofa, chair, or upright in bed.

track lighting

The ultimate multitasker, track lighting (a line of lights attached to a rail on the ceiling) has the ability to fill the role of ambient, task, and accent lighting all at the same time. Directing individual lights toward the ceiling creates ambient lighting. Angling them at specific elements, such as artwork, turns them into accent lighting. And if you rotate them toward a kitchen island or desk, they become task lighting. You get the flexibility of creating custom lighting schemes with one system. In other words: if you’re looking for easy, you found it.

table lamps: the just-right fit

let’s talk bulbs

Traditional incandescent bulbs are being phased out in favor of energy-efficient options. Here’s what you need to know about the three main types of bulbs taking their place.

CFL (compact fluorescent light): They last ten times longer than an incandescent bulb and produce less heat. Some CFLs can be dimmed, but not all. Note: They contain small amounts of mercury and should be recycled properly.

LED (light-emitting diode): One of the most energy-efficient options. Expensive in comparison but cheap when you factor in their life span—typically up to 25 years. Most LEDs work with dimmers.

Halogen Incandescents: The closest in resemblance to incandescent bulbs in light quality and shape. However, they aren’t as energy-efficient or as long-lasting as the other options. Can be used with dimmers.

cheat sheet: watts to lumens

New energy-efficient bulbs come with a new way of measuring light. Instead of how much energy a bulb consumes (wattage), measurements are now based on how much light a bulb puts out (lumens). This quick guide will help you understand the conversion.