CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Looking for a fast and inexpensive way to transform a room in your home? The answer might be as easy as turning on a light. Changing the lighting in living spaces can make them seem warmer, cozier and relaxing.
"People spend the most time in their homes at night, when the lights are on," says Hans Joubert, owner of Lighting & Bulbs Unlimited, which has stores in the Charlotte, N.C., area.
Just as restaurants use lighting to set a mood, homeowners can too, he said.
Because rooms have many functions, it's important to have layers of light. In a family room, for example, recessed lighting overhead can provide good general light but won't be enough for tasks such as reading. Lamps and wall sconces give off more targeted lighting.
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When watching TV, avoid screen glare by turning off the overhead lighting and turning on wall sconces. Picture lights over artwork — many run on batteries and are a snap to install — add low-level light for a cozy feel.
Layers are important in the kitchen as well, where you need bright light to cook and clean but want dimmer, less harsh light for eating and entertaining. In bathrooms, Joubert recommends recessed lights for general lighting, with sconces in or around the main mirror so shadows don't fall on your face when applying makeup.
Even the most expensive lighting fixture won't deliver the right kind of light if you install the wrong bulb.
Know how much light you need a fixture to deliver, and choose the right wattage accordingly, said Jessica Herring, an interior designer with Visual Concepts in Rock Hill, S.C. If you have high ceilings, use a high-watt bulb in recessed lights.
Know what type of light works best for certain tasks.
"Florescent bulbs are horrible for bathrooms," Herring said. Incandescent bulbs make rooms seem cozier. Bulbs with intense light, such as halogen, are best used for task lighting, such as under kitchen cabinets.
Colors look different under different bulbs, so take that into consideration when picking out paint or fabric, she said.
Sometimes, a new shade is all a lamp needs to refresh a space.
"Mixing and matching classic lamps with traditional shades is perfectly OK," says Octavia Mikell-Yon, manager of The Lamp Place in Charlotte. "Before, the design styles were that you had to have a round shade with a round lamp. Now, as wide as your imagination is, that's as far as you can go with your lighting."
Adding accessories, such as tassels or finials, are fun ways to jazz up an old lamp.
Putting a light on a timer is a simple way to make daily life a little easier. Sylvania sells a $35 digital wall switch timer that runs off the astronomical clock, telling a light to turn on at the minute of sunset. You tell it when to turn off. Installing timers for outdoor lights can be an important safety project, and it's nice to have one or two indoor lights on timers to deter burglars and to welcome you home in the evening.
For those with a bigger budget, specialty lighting stores sell packages that turn certain lights on and off to create "settings," or certain moods, in a room.
But the easiest way to use lighting to improve ambience is to install dimmers and three-way switches to vary the brightness of the lighting.