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Fearless Decorating: Lighting, lighting, lighting

Realtors like to the say the most important thing in real estate is location, location, location. Interior designers like to say the most important thing in decorating is lighting, lighting, lighting. This is by far one of the most overlooked areas in the average home. Successful hotels and restaurants know the secret to creating an inviting atmosphere is with the right lighting.

So a good lighting plan is one of the most important components of a design plan, whether it’s for renovating an old home, designing a new one or just updating your current décor. When it comes to lighting your home, you can never have too many light sources. 

A well designed room will utilize all three types of lighting:

• General – this illuminates an entire space.

• Task – bright lights used to focus lights on a particular area for tasks such as reading, knitting or chopping vegetables.

• Accent – used to spotlight decorative objects and create mood.

Many homes have just one light fixture in a room in the center of the ceiling. Not only is this insufficient for tasks, but it won’t give the room a warm and inviting feel. By adding other light sources within the room such as track lighting, you can strategically place spotlights to direct the light to various areas.   

When Nancy renovated her kitchen, she installed six additional recessed ceiling lights, more then she thought she needed but it turns out to be just right. To control the amount of light and energy, she placed the lights on dimmers. Now, she has enough light to work but can dim them in the evening for more atmosphere. When she built her sunroom, she knew in advance that she wanted the furniture to sit in the center of the room, so she had the contractor install outlet plugs in the floor to accommodate her table lamps. This solved the potential hazard of people tripping over the cords.

The ability to transform a room just by adding different types of lighting is amazing. Uplights, which are canned lights that sit on the floor, are wonderful items to use in corners, especially with large plants. They shine the light up onto the walls and ceiling creating a warm glow to an otherwise dark corner. Small rooms will seem larger with the installation of recessed ceiling can lights or wall washers, which will shine the light down onto the peripheral walls. Hallways and entranceways are sometimes dark; brighten them by adding canned light, track lights or picture lights.

In Shirley’s home, she has 35 lamps in different sizes and shapes to create the mood she wanted to achieve. This became a problem in the evening when she had to go from room to room to turn them on and off. She solved this by putting them on timers. She also created a romantic look in her bedroom by installing rope lighting in the tray ceiling.

We love to use a variety of lamps in decorating homes. We place small ones on bookshelves, in powder rooms and on kitchen countertops. Floor lamps are also a great way to add accent or task lighting in a home. We even like to use lamps on desks in the work place; this can give a desk on homier feel. 

And don’t forget about lamp shades. By simply swapping old ones for new ones, you might find you don’t need to buy new lamps. We’ve even been known to spray paint a client’s lamp shades the same color we used on her walls.

Visit high-end restaurants, hotels or bars and you’ll see the incredible difference lighting can make – and duplicating those effects can be simpler and less expensive than you think. And the reward is a lighting atmosphere in your rooms that will be warm, unique and very inviting.

• Shirley Nichol of St. Charles and Nancy Reinke of Algonquin are partners in Sanctuary Interior Design and can be reached at

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