People don’t think much about light, though we should. It is light reflecting off of the objects around us that allow us to see. Lighting can change mood as quickly as music, can highlight our attributes or flaws as well as any color or makeup, and can alter our perception of the entire world in a single moment. Yet most of us flick a switch and don’t think about our lighting arrangement until a bulb burns out, and then only long enough to spit obscenities about how LED lights are supposed to last forever, change it, and go on with our lives.
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It’s time to break the cycle and start considering how we can light up our lives in a way that flatters our decor, makes our house feel like a home, and creates a sense of comfort and serenity. Basic overhead lights are fine, but tend to be clinical and lack any sort of poetry. They also cast unflattering shadows, whereas using a set of lamps allows you to decide what you wish to highlight, what to shroud in darkness, and to help make yourself and your private mess as alluring as possible to anyone you invite through the door. Here’s a series of lamps that everyone can use in their home. Each one is versatile, welcoming, and lets you use it as you see fit.
A bankers lamp is classically stylish and lends gravitas to any desk it sits upon. It also provides a low grade room illumination that works well with a fireplace or candles to give you non-invasive radiance that is kind on the eyes for hours upon hours of staring at numbers. These lamps were constructed specifically to help reduce eyestrain in people working with small digits, but not throw a glare over a whole room. Classic and subtle.
Instead of a standard table lamp, try attaching a light on the end of a swing arm to a shelf or table. This is especially useful in small spaces where you need every flat surface you can get, and lets you choose where to point the light. Though it may look a touch tacky, we’ve found that a light on an arm with a magnifying glass is good for people of any age, whether they do detail work or not. Once you notice how much you reach for it, you’ll wonder how you lived with only stationary lights.
Though a string of lights isn’t technically a lamp, we’re suggesting that you put them inside a glass container, rather than stringing them around like you did back in college. In a cluster they offer a soft glow that can be quickly covered with a cloth to dampen it, or given coloration to help highlight features of a room.
You don’t need a full crystal arrangement dangling above your ballroom, merely a small and tasteful lighting array that hangs freely in the air. Wind chimes for the eyes, the slight sway that comes from air movement in your house makes the light seem more alive and adds an air of playfulness to any room where it’s put.
Normally a spotlight conjures up images of an immense light mounted on a prison wall to capture escaping fugitives. In a home, you should be trying for something that draws the eye to a striking piece in the room. By using a soft, glowing spotlight over a piece of art or a plant, you highlight it for visitors, and more importantly can control where people look so they don’t notice if you have shabby furniture or a part of the room you’d rather they didn’t stare at.
Silver, brass, copper, and other semi-precious metals develop a patina over time, which gives them age and dignity. Even more interesting, they will change depending on how light hits them, which means you end up with a chameleon that is both the source and the object of what you’re showing off.
Like a wedding, the lights in your house need to have something old to go with all the modern lamps that can be had for pennies. Most people will get an antique brass lamp to kill a couple of birds, but going for something that looks as if it is almost medieval is a fun way to spice up a dreary interior, or insinuate a rich, unspoken history.
For something rustic, we generally think of something that at least looks homemade. You can buy a driftwood lamp wiring kit and make it yourself, or get an item with a lot of woodgrain and steel, as if taken from a turn of the 20th century barn. These give any room a homey feel that can split up ultra-modern decor, and provide a sense of appreciation for the simple life.
Lights aren’t always about what you’re trying to show, but what you’re trying to hide. Framing lights are hidden around objects or items to give them an ethereal glow. This is commonly used in churches to subtly imply holiness around a religious icon, such as the star of David, the crucifix, the Star and Cresent, or a pentagram in some cases. You can do it around a portrait of a favored pet to give an effect similar to the soft spot, only more understated.
Having a hurricane lamp that uses actual lamp oil is more a matter of safety than it is one of aesthetic appeal, but it works both ways. With a hurricane lamp a blackout won’t leave you in the dark, and they’re easily mobile for taking with you from room to room. Also less mess than candles should you want to add a little romance.
Do this one wrong and you’re going to look a fool. Do it right, and you get a campfire appeal wherever you are. You can buy a fake fireplace if that appeals to you, or get a reddish bulb on a basic lamp stuffed inside a hollow log. When you want low light and a low-tech charm, this is right up there with a lighted globe for brightening up a room in a unique way.
Bare bulb lamps conjure up speakeasies, underground tunnels, police interrogation rooms, and starkness. If you have a gaming den or anywhere in your home that needs to feel a little sketchy, wine cellars are good for this, then a carefully chosen bare bulb can make anything you do in there feel tawdry and a little criminal, which is a fun thrill for those of us who do nothing more dangerous than scrapbook.
3D lights are the lava lamps of the modern age, so you need to be careful with them. This is more something fun for decorating an office or maybe brightening up a kitchen. Use these as a jovial afterthought, not your main means of lighting up the night.