interiors & styling

Tips for Layering Lighting Like a Designer

Tips for Layering Lighting Like a Designer - roomfortuesday.com When I asked everyone what types of blog posts they wanted to see this year, over 50% of the post requests were lighting related. I had no idea so many of you were interested in lighting roundups, wanted to learn more about lighting design, or needed guidance on expertly selecting different fixtures for your home. Lighting happens to be one of my favorite things to source when it comes to interiors and home design, so today I thought it may be helpful to share my tips for layering lighting like a designer! I’m also including my go-to lighting resources. Believe me when I say, you’re going to want to pin this lighting post because it’s packed with LOTS of good info! Click through for all things lighting design, my best tips, a helpful Q&A, and of course- the resource list. 

Tips for Layering Lighting Like a Designer - roomfortuesday.com

15 Designer Lighting Tips

Let’s begin with some basic lighting tips, shall we?

  1. Adequately Light Each Room // Make sure each space has enough light fixtures to illuminate the room for its given function.
  2. Consider the Budget // Too often, I see beautifully renovated spaces and can tell when the budget was used up before the lighting phase happened. Allocate funds for lighting! Believe me- it’s not an area to skimp on. I actually think it’s one my top 5 areas in our home I’m willing to splurge on.
  3. Choose the Right Bulb // A beautiful light fixture is only as good as the bulb it contains. After all, the function is to LIGHT a space. It’s important to buy the right bulb for brightness and temperature. The bulb alone can really influence a room for better or worse.
  4. Select a Variety of Fixtures // I once went into a client’s home that was flush mount city (pre-renovation). Every single fixture in the home was a flush mount. It’s important to use a variety of fixtures for a layered designer look: chandeliers, pendants, sconces, floor lamps, table lamps, gallery lights, flush mounts, semi flush mounts, etc. Don’t limit yourself to one or two types of light fixtures.
  5. Mix Metals // Mixing metals is a GOOD thing. I’m a big fan of mixing contrasting metals. For example, I’ll often pair an antique brass with a polished nickel.
  6. Keep it Cohesive // While I do love mixing metals, I usually stick to the same brand in a space so that the finishes will be consistent (brass is a notoriously tricky finish to match, and all brands have their own version). It’s easiest to source all of the brass lights from one brand to keep things cohesive and matching.
  7. Disguise the Cords // Unless they’re hardwired or on a battery remote, light fixtures plug into an outlet and have a cord. There’s nothing worse than a big knot or messy looking bunch of cords. Use cord conduit to hide a sconce or picture light cord, consider floor outlets, or use zip ties or velcro to neatly organize your cords, tucking them in an intentional way for a more tailored, thoughtful look.
  8. Understand the Function of the Room // A kitchen lighting plan will look very different than a living room because they have different uses. Ask yourself how the space will be used and how bright it needs to be. That can also help you pinpoint where the lighting should be positioned and what type of fixtures you’ll need.
  9. Too Bright is Bad // Having a room that is “too bright” is not a good look. You’d think the brighter, the better… but that’s not the case when it comes to lighting design. Smart design over clinical bright design, always!
  10. Put Your Lights on Dimmers // Speaking of a bright space, a good way to avoid that is to put your fixtures on dimmers, so you have complete control as the mood or function of a room changes.
  11. Sketch Out a Lighting Plan // Just like a floor plan, when renovating or designing a space- sketch out your lighting floor plan. Seeing it from above can help you identify where there are gaps and ensure the space is evenly lit.
  12. Highlight Features & Vignettes // If your home has a beautiful architectural feature, like built-ins, highlight it with some gallery lights. If there is a vignette you love, add a table or floor lamp. Think of your top three focal points in a room and add a light fixture to highlight them.
  13. Integrate Contrasting Materials // All of your lighting shouldn’t be metal or “slick”. It’s important to incorporate other textures and surfaces in your lighting plan… consider a chandelier with cotton shades, a sconce with a linen shade, a floor lamp with a silk shade, etc.
  14. Don’t Forget Exterior Lighting // So many people have beautifully lit interiors and the exterior is dark and depressing. We spend a LOT of time using our outdoor spaces, and this is a reminder to remember exterior lighting! It’s often forgotten. From porch lights to sconces and string lights to landscaping lights- it makes a big difference outdoors having a thoughtfully lit space, which makes for a charming exterior.
  15. Choose a “Hero” Fixture // Allow one fixture to be the star of the room, and the others should support it, rather than compete. Usually the hero fixture is the largest or most dramatic fixture, or it is often associated with the main focal point in the room (like a chandelier over a dining table).

Tips for Layering Lighting Like a Designer - roomfortuesday.com

Favorite Lighting Resources

Eventually it would be amazing to add lighting to our Tuesday Made shop (many of you have asked!), but since we just launched less than four short months ago, we’re still learning and nailing down our selections, shipping process, and are taking baby steps when it comes to growing the shop. As Emmett says, “We don’t want to get too big for our britches too quickly.” Haha! Hopefully someday we can add lighting to our portfolio. In the meantime, I’ll drop a BIG list of 20+ favorite lighting resources that I use and love below (that are all accessible to consumers- not just to the trade):

Tips for Layering Lighting Like a Designer - roomfortuesday.com

Lighting Q&A

Is it ok to mix finishes in the same room?

Absolutely! In fact, I encourage it. Just make sure the fixtures in the same finish are consistent (all of the brass fixtures are the same brass, all of the nickel is the same nickel, etc).

When should you add a ceiling medallion?

I like to add ceiling medallions in spaces that have a dramatic hanging light fixture of some sort- a pendant, a chandelier, and sometimes even a semi flush mount. They’re great for rooms that are more formal, like a dining room, a formal living space, a bedroom, etc. They’re also ideal for emphasizing a beautiful vignette… like a pendant or chandelier hanging above a soaking tub would totally warrant a ceiling medallion. The medallion should look cohesive with your millwork, and I have an installation tutorial for you here!

Tips for Layering Lighting Like a Designer - roomfortuesday.com

How many light fixtures should each room contain?

This depends on the size and function of each room- a hallway will have considerably less fixtures than a living room… but generally no LESS than 3-5 fixture in the average space. For example, my formal living room has seven: two sconces, three gallery lights, a table lamp, and a floor lamp.

How do you know how high to hang your pendants or chandeliers?

This really boils down to personal preference, but I like to have numbers tucked away as a starting point. Sometimes a light fixture will visually intersect with an architectural feature, a piece of art, or something else, and the alignment can look odd- so I’ll fudge it in one direction or another until it feels balanced and intentional. As far as the numbers go, I have them stored in my brain…. and again- I use them as a starting point.

  • If you’re hanging pendants above an island, you want at least 24″ between the pendants.
  • Pendants above an island should also have a minimum of 30″-36″ clearance beneath the bottom of the pendant and the top of the counter.
  • That’s the same dimension I like to start with for a pendant or chandelier hovering above a dining table… 30″-36″, give or take. I like to add an additional 3″ for every foot of ceiling that’s above 8 feet.
  • Wall sconces should be installed 5-6 feet above the finished floor.
  • If installing wall sconces above a mantel, I usually land anywhere between 15″-18″ above the top of the mantel.
  • In bedrooms, if you’re installing bedside sconces, those usually float around 21″-22″ above the top of the mattress, or 42″-44″ above the finished floor.
  • In great rooms or spaces with vaulted ceilings, chandeliers and pendants should be installed so the bottom of the fixture is between 8-9 feet off the floor.
  • For gallery lights, I like them to be anywhere from 1/2-2/3 the length of the artwork (or built-in).

Tips for Layering Lighting Like a Designer - roomfortuesday.com

Do you like can lights? Are they still acceptable?

I’m a designer who doesn’t have a problem with can lights-especially when they’re on a dimmer. They’re often necessary and add functionality in spaces where more light is required- like a kitchen. I try to buy minimal looking ones and I always install other light fixtures that accompany them (sconces, a pendant, etc).

Is there a type of light fixture you really dislike?

Boob lights!! You knew that was coming, haha! I’m halfway joking because most people aren’t into them and that seems like a boring, expected answer. Aside from those, there are certain fixtures I like to call “bug trappers” and you can probably guess what they do: trap dust, bugs, and are difficult to clean. Anything with an open top and a closed bottom (basically a bowl shape)certain lanterns or semi flush mounts… they’re just not for me. I think there are lots that are beautiful, but for cleanability purposes, I’ll pass.

Tips for Layering Lighting Like a Designer - roomfortuesday.com

What is your favorite designer lighting?

Oooh, I love this question! My favorite designer trade accounts? Visual Comfort, Circa Lighting, and Hudson Valley Lighting… or vintage lighting. Most of these designer fixtures can be found (available to consumers) in the big list I linked above- at places like One Kings Lane, McGee & Co, Alice Lane, Stoffer Home, etc.

Was that information overload? Did I talk your ear off? Are you 100% over lighting at this point? I started writing and couldn’t stop thinking of points to discuss. I could chat about this subject all day. I’m all ears for your questions in the comment section below! I hope this post was helpful and informative. I’m going to work on some lighting roundups, pairings, and even entire room collages for you (all of which were popular requests).

Tips for Layering Lighting Like a Designer - roomfortuesday.com

I’m pretty passionate about lighting, if you couldn’t tell. One of my dreams or goals is to design a lighting line someday. I would absolutely LOVE to do that, so if you know of anyone in the industry who is looking for a partner or collaboration, I’m your girl!! Haha! But really, it’s a longterm goal of mine and would be a complete dream come true. Hold me to that, ok?!

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  • Reply
    Peggi
    February 23, 2021 at 5:08 am

    Whoa, girl, thoughts on lighting? My main difficulty with lighting, honestly, is cost. I’ve been guilty of waiting until a room is mostly done to look for a ceiling fixture, only to find that my favorite examples double the cost of my room. No bueno. I’ll be smarter in the future; I promise! Another illumination issue I have is bulbs. So. Many. Choices. My brain sincerely locks up when I’m trying to decide. Too bright? Not bright enough? Too cool or warm. LED, halogen? Help. Also, dimmers freak me out; electrical current needs to be on or off. Hmmm, floor lamps. Important and versatile, but I find so many of the choices uninspired. Maybe I should search for some swanky vintage examples? Table lamps, on the other hand, are basically collectable in my book! Gimme all the shapes, colors, materials, sizes…shades! Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, truly my main problem with lighting is that I don’t make a plan. I get distracted by the pretty and forget about the practical. 💡 I guess I need professional help. Clearly, I came to the right place.💜

    • Reply
      Lauren
      February 23, 2021 at 8:45 am

      This was me last summer Peggi! Picture this: 16 light bulbs, all on dimmers, being replaced with LED by a husband who is used to working in a lab-No Bueno. I made him return every single bulb because the house looked like a hospital. I found some amazing info graphics online regarding LED bulbs and lumens- how to select the bulb depending on the application. HUGELY helpful! Now I have zero issue selecting the right one-and if I do, I pull up my info graphic. Btw-dimmers are an LED bulbs best friend! Unless the electrical itself isn’t installed properly, you shouldn’t ever have an issue. Almost all the lighting in our house is on dimmers, and trust me when I say, it’s totally necessary. But I completely understand the trepidation!😜

      • Reply
        Barbara Baker
        March 17, 2021 at 2:46 pm

        Lauren, I would love to see the “info graphics” you refer to! That’s my biggest issue is picking the right bulb and I stand there and get overwhelmed my the amount of choices.

        • Reply
          Lauren
          March 18, 2021 at 7:44 am

          Of course Barbara! I’m going to include some links for you! This first one has a lovely I for graphic of temperatures and where each temperature works best. Just scroll down until you see the graphic and screen shot it! https://www.takecontrolandsave.coop/welcome-to-our-blog/posts/2020/may/lighting-color-temperature/
          This second link is a helpful graphic for watts to lumens conversion-I think most people don’t realize that the wattage of the bulb will be lower when switching over to LED, and that’s where the lighting can go really wrong, even if the color temperature is spot on. Another reason why dimmers are super LED friendly!
          https://cleantechnica.com/2014/01/31/shrink-footprints-ultimate-guide-light-bulbs/
          Again, scroll down to find the graphic to save! The articles in both links are super helpful as well, and worth the read. Have a lovely weekend Barbara!

          • Barbara Baker
            March 18, 2021 at 11:43 am

            Super helpful Lauren, Thank you! The charts are pinned and copied, no more confusion!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      February 23, 2021 at 8:09 pm

      Cost is a big one for me, too. I feel like I have to save, save, save to make my lighting vision manifest. Easier said than done! I’m a fan of vintage fixtures… we’ve even rewired a few and it still cost less than the modern-day designer counterparts. You know I like mixing high & low :) Dimmers freak you out?! I’ve never thought about them in that way, but now I probably will. Haha! Lamps are definitely my favorite light fixture to collect and I currently have too many sitting in my prop closet unused. I’m a sucker for a pretty lamp, so I can relate. Lighting plans definitely help me stay on track, but sometimes it’s fun to buy what you love and make it work. I hope your Tuesday was a really good one! I’m off to make dinner and snuggle some dogs. xox

  • Reply
    Melissa D
    February 23, 2021 at 7:37 am

    Oh boy, lighting… there’s so many choices! I get so overwhelmed when I start trying to figure out a lighting plan on this house reno of mine – first with trying to decide on what TYPE of lighting, and then there’s still all the pretty choices to go through. Of course, my husband’s choice would be can lights everywhere (and then he hates to turn them on because it’s too bright!). Anyways… all of that to say, this is a super helpful post that I can save and refer back to! I think your own line of lighting would be fabulous.

    I do have one question, if I may pick your brain for a minute. In our kitchen/sunroom reno, we’re planning to vault the sunroom ceiling. it’s roughly a 12x12ft space with a big cased opening into our galley kitchen. I’m struggling to figure out lighting in there. What would you suggest for lighting in a room with lots of windows and a vaulted ceiling?

    • Reply
      Lauren
      February 23, 2021 at 8:35 am

      I second this motion on Melissa’s question! 🤣😂This definitely applies to our great room- 15’ ceilings and tons of windows!😥

    • Reply
      Sarah
      February 23, 2021 at 8:05 pm

      SO many choices! It’s time consuming, but I love it. I could browse through fixtures all day long and be a happy lady. haha! You may absolutely pick my brain- I’m always happy to help or offer feedback. I love the idea of a few pendants in your sunroom- or a large chandelier to provide balance. It sounds like a gorgeous space, Melissa!

  • Reply
    Lauren
    February 23, 2021 at 8:33 am

    Ahhh lighting. It’s the biggest pain in the A other than electrical, haha! Like you, lighting is an area where I’m willing to splurge a bit. Jeff? Not so much. He wants the look of champagne on a Miller High Life budget…the two don’t mix. I’ve largely taken over the plans and direction for each room of the house, and carefully select items I know I can get away with budget-wise. Lighting is one that’s difficult because it does tend to have a higher price tag-even when you try to be budget conscious.
    Our house is nothing but can lights- poorly installed ones might I add! In our living room they installed 7 smaller ones (on dimmers) but none of them are in a straight line with each other. Huge pet peeve! Needless to say, a plethora of can lights and a distinctive lack of (enough) outlets in each room, means eventually we will have to account for those fixes when we renovate. I’m not looking forward to it-I hate doing ceilings, but the end result will be far better than what’s here! The rest of the fixtures are boob lights and fans. 🤢 I have my work cut out for me! I’m interested in learning more about your process with lighting planning. When you’re making a design plan for the room, how do you narrow down the different lighting options, and select which types will go where? Do you account for floor lamps in your floor plans? All the details! Clearly we all struggle in the lighting department, haha!! I love the selections in your roundup by the way! Beautiful options in every type, and I’ve saved a few for when we’re at that point. My lighting win this week was selecting our bedside table lamps for our primary bedroom. Only one has been purchased so far, but it’s absolutely gorgeous, and accomplishes the look I want perfectly! I’m off to dream about what this house will look like when the mess of can lights isn’t glaring at me! Have a great Tuesday! Xo

    • Reply
      Sarah
      February 23, 2021 at 8:03 pm

      Hahaha!! Lighting is my favorite ;) Jeff and Emmett are the same. He will never grasp the cost of lighting, and he’s a finance guy. I’m like- mister, you get what you pay for when it comes to light fixtures, haha! He also complains when I buy a cheap one and the installation process is hell. Ha! The good news about your can lights? Dimmers! That’s fantastic. One of my designer friends lives in a home with THE MOST can lights I’ve ever seen and she refers to her ceiling as swiss cheese. Makes me laugh every time because I know it drives her bonkers. We still have some boob lights left to replace in our house, too… don’t worry! We all have them. I usually make mooodboards, pick my top fixtures, then drop them into a floor plan to see the scale with the furniture, room size, etc. I can’t wait to see your bedside table lamps- that’s a major win. Great job on picking those out! Hope your Tuesday was a good one, Lauren! xo

  • Reply
    Deborah
    February 23, 2021 at 9:12 am

    Our bedroom has can lights, but it is also wired for a central fixture over the bed that’s currently covered with a plate. (It took us a while after we moved in to figure out what that phantom extra light switch “controlled”!) That room has 8-foot ceilings, and the light would be above the bed. We have a TV in that room to watch stuff in bed, so we don’t want a light going down too low that would block the view of the TV. Any thoughts on how tall of a semi-flush mount or chandelier we could get away with there?

    • Reply
      Sarah
      February 23, 2021 at 7:59 pm

      I think this is one of those classic “lay in bed and see where your viewpoint falls” situations. Sometimes I’ll even use a ballon to mimic a pendant or a light fixture and tape it or hang it, shift it around, until I’m content with the positioning. When installing our TV in our bedroom, Emmett and I both did the “lay down test” to make sure we could both see. Sometimes it’s less about rules or measurements and more about what looks nice visually while functioning properly. A semi flush mount should work well in your bedroom- those usually don’t hang too low. I hope that’s helpful! I know it’s not a mathematic equation, but that’s how I do it here at home. Haha!

  • Reply
    Nicolle
    February 23, 2021 at 9:58 am

    Do you have examples of how you floorpan lighting and what that looks like?

  • Reply
    KarenJ
    February 23, 2021 at 10:23 am

    Great post Sarah. I’m obsessed with lighting! It’s by far my absolute favourite thing to buy for the house. Etsy is also a great resource for fixtures that I don’t think you mentioned. I’ve found several unique and quite reasonably priced options there.

    • Reply
      Sarah
      February 23, 2021 at 7:55 pm

      Thanks, Karen! I think lighting is my favorite thing to buy for our home, too. How could I forget Etsy?! Thank you so much for the amazing reminder. I’ve purchased many handmade and vintage fixtures from there and have been very happy with them. I’m so glad you brought that up :)

  • Reply
    Sarah Mason
    February 23, 2021 at 9:12 pm

    Lighting is such a broad topic! I always have trouble deciding shape, size, and color for shades. Any tips for buying the correct size and shape shade for table and floor lamps?

    • Reply
      Sarah
      February 24, 2021 at 8:03 am

      It really is, Sarah. I feel like maybe I should put together a shade buying guide- visuals might be an easier explanation, as often times I just go by balance, how it feels, what works well together… it’s all dependent on the lamp base you’re shopping for :)

  • Reply
    Jennifer Laura
    February 24, 2021 at 7:43 am

    Love the tip about the “hero” lighting and then all of the other lights should support it- I agree 110%!!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      February 24, 2021 at 8:04 am

      Yes, exactly! I feel like it’s easy to want lots of dramatic or over the top fixtures, but you really only need one. Too much a good thing isn’t always a good outcome. Haha! It also helps the budget to have “supporting fixtures” :)

  • Reply
    Barbara Baker
    February 24, 2021 at 10:33 am

    I hope I didn’t miss the information, but what is your go to light bulb for both living spaces and kitchen, bath areas?
    I found an article from 2017 when you partnered with GE, but nothing newer. It is most confusing when shopping for bulbs and I can never remember how many Lumens are optimal.

    • Reply
      Sarah
      February 24, 2021 at 5:18 pm

      The GE article I wrote is still very relevant and we still use the same bulbs! I always prefer a warm bulb, so those can be found throughout our entire home. The kitchen bulbs are a bit brighter- but still not cool toned. Maybe it’s time for a new bulb post and I can break down my preferences?

  • Reply
    Barbara Baker
    February 25, 2021 at 10:08 am

    Oh please! I’m sure your readers, and me, would find it very helpful!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      February 25, 2021 at 4:32 pm

      I’m adding it to my calendar :)

  • Reply
    Cici Haus
    March 17, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    We’re starting our bathroom renovation and I’m not sure how much lighting we need! We’ll have a chandelier over the bathtub (which is in the back corner), a separate light inside the shower and 2-3 sconces over the vanity (opposite the tub). The room is pretty big – 11×12 – so there’s 9-10′ between the chandelier and vanity sconces. Do we need cans too?

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 21, 2021 at 12:01 pm

      Hi Cici, congrats on your upcoming bathroom renovation! That’s exciting. It really depends on your space, the natural light, how the room functions, the floor plan, and what look you’re going for. Given the size of your space, additional cans (on dimmers) may make sense.

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