How to choose the right lighting for your home

Lighting is an important factor to make a space functional and beautiful at the same time.

Whether you’re renovating, redecorating, or simply looking to upgrade your lighting fixtures, choosing the right lighting can make a world of difference.

There are so many different things to consider when choosing the right lighting for your home, like placement, type and choosing the right bulb for your needs.

In this guide I’m sharing all the ins and outs about how to choose the right lighting for your home, from various lighting types and the right fixtures, to mistakes to avoid.

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How to choose the right lighting

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    The 3 types of lighting you should use in every room

    Every space should have 3 types of lighting: general, functional and mood lighting.

    There is no rule about how many of each a room should have, it depends on the size, room orientation (because north facing rooms have natural light in the morning whereas south facing rooms in the afternoon), and when and how it’s being used.

    General lighting

    This is the type that creates an even light level across the whole room. It can be a chandelier or pendant, plafond or recessed spot lights.

    Think of it like this: if you flip the switch in a room and the 1 or 2 lights that turn on, those are your general lights.

    Functional lighting

    The next type of lighting is functional lighting.
    It’s in my opinion the most important type because it gives you the right amount for the different activities you do in a space.

    Functional lighting doesn’t just have to be 1 or 2 lamps in the room, it can be a lot more of different kinds.

    Think of functional lighting as a reading lamp for example. But I’m going more into detail of the different kinds of functional lighting when explaining it for each room further down (so keep reading).

    Mood lighting

    Last but definitely not least is mood lighting.
    As the name says it sets the mood and creates a cosy atmosphere in a room.

    This can be anything from table lamps to wall uplights or even candles (yes, mood lighting doesn’t even have to come from a lamp).

    Nadine, founder of Malmö-based interior design studio NH.DESIGN.

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    Assess your needs and analyze the space

    As always with interior design, choosing the right lighting for your home starts with functionality.

    That means both the architectural layout of the space, like window and door placement, but also how you place your furniture.

    Good lighting means a good balance between all 3 lighting types and depends on the room’s size and how you use it.

    That’s why it’s important that you start there.

    Ask yourself this:

    When will you use each room?
    How will you use it?
    Who else will be in the room, and will multiple people use it at the same time?
    If they do, will they all do the same thing or different ones?

    The answers to these questions determine what the right lighting and placement for each type will be.

    How to choose lighting when you’re building a new home vs when you’re moving into an already existing home

    If you’re building a new home it’s important to start thinking about how you’ll be using and furnishing the space before it’s actually built.

    That way you avoid costly work after to add extra lighting or outlets.

    It’s never too early to hire an interior designer to help design your new home!

    If you’re unsure how to pull it all together and want to avoid missing important things,
    book a free Discovery Call with me and let’s chat.

    When your architecture is already set and you’re not building or re-building the space and therefore changing the lighting placement, general lighting is always the first to be decided. It’s common to have 1 or 2 power points in the ceiling depending on the size of the space.

    The next step is to decide on the placement for functional lighting. For this, have a look at the furniture placement and, if that’s working for you and your needs, determine the activities you’re doing in the space.

    The last type of lighting to add is mood lighting. Again, have a look at the room’s layout and decide where you want to create a “moment”, a cosy feeling or atmosphere.

    Styling Secrets guide by NH.DESIGN

    Styling Secrets

    Learn how to style any room in your home like a pro with my Styling Secrets guide.

    How to choose the right lighting for different rooms

    Different rooms require a different approach to layering the 3 lighting types.

    How to choose lighting for your living room

    The living is one of the rooms often referred to as the heart of the home. That’s why the right lighting is super important here. We spend a lot of time in the living room but we also do a lot of different activities, especially if the living room is part of an open concept with a dining area and kitchen.

    line art illustration lightbulb

    Pro Tip

    For the perfect amount of light for different activities, choose a dimmable bulb.

    General lighting in the living room is most commonly either chandeliers or pendants, plafonds or recessed spots (also sometimes called can lights).

    They’re mostly placed in the center of the room because that way the light fixture sits above the coffee table.

    If the room is bigger it’s also possible to have 2 power points in the ceiling for 2 light fixtures. That way the room can be divided into separate zones, like a living room area for socializing and watching TV and a dining space.

    General lighting, no matter what kind it is, should always be fixtures with an open shade to disperse the light and spread it evenly across the room.

    line art illustration lightbulb

    Pro Tip

    Good materials for this are thin fabric shades, clear or lightly frosted glass shades, or chandeliers with exposed bulbs (frosted as well, otherwise it can be very bright directly in your eyes).

    Functional lighting for the living room is activity based and ranges from reading lamps to lighting by the TV over lit up bookcases and picture lighting.

    Most people read on the sofa or in a separate armchair so it makes sense to have a functional reading lamp close by. That can be a floor or wall lamp, depending on the architecture of the area. But it should always be a lamp with a closed shade to focus the light on one spot.

    Mood lighting in the living room can be table lamps, wall uplights or even candles. Like the lamps used for general lighting, mood lighting should also spread the light to create the most cosy atmosphere.

    Need helping designing a living room you love?

    If you’re unsure how to pull it all together and want to avoid missing important things, book a free Discovery Call and let’s chat.

    How to choose lighting for your bedroom

    The bedroom is the room where we go after a stressful day, where we want to relax and recharge.

    Lighting in the bedroom is an important element to make us feel calm while it needs to be functional at the same time.

    General lighting in the bedroom is very similar to the one in the living room. It’s most commonly either chandeliers or pendants, plafonds or recessed spots (also sometimes called can lights).

    They’re mostly placed in the center of the room because that way the light fixture sits (almost) above the bed.

    line art illustration lightbulb

    Pro Tip

    If the room is bigger it’s also possible to have 2 power points in the ceiling for 2 light fixtures. In that case using the same light fixture is the best, otherwise the room can look too busy.

    Functional lighting for the bedroom is also activity based like in the living room, but since the activities are limited there is no need for as many different kinds of lighting. The lighting can range from bedside lamps to wardrobe lighting, lighting by a make-up vanity or dressing table, to picture lighting.

    Almost all of these kinds of light fixtures should always have a closed shade to focus the light on one spot. The exception is lighting for a make-up vanity or dressing table. In this case the lighting should be a little less focused to spread the light evenly across your face when sitting in front of the mirror. If you’re using these Hollywood-type of mirror and bulb combinations, make sure to choose frosted bulbs.

    line art illustration lightbulb

    Pro Tip

    For the perfect amount of light for different activities, choose a dimmable bulb.

    Mood lighting in the bedroom can be table lamps, wall uplights or even candles. Like the lamps used for general lighting, mood lighting should also spread the light to create the most cosy atmosphere.

    Need helping designing a bedroom you love?

    If you’re unsure how to pull it all together and want to avoid missing important things, book a free Discovery Call and let’s chat.

    Bedroom design guide

    Design Guide - Bedroom

    Learn how to design the bedroom of your dreams with my tried and tested 6-step process.

    This step-by-step includes everything you need to design your bedroom, from floor planning to product selection.

    How to choose lighting for your kitchen and dining area

    Kitchens, the other heart of the home, require a different approach to lighting than other rooms in the home. They’re highly functional spaces and the right lighting is key. Because of this, the lines between general, functional and mood lighting in the kitchen are a little blurred.

    General lighting in the kitchen can be chandeliers or pendants, plafonds or recessed spot lights (also sometimes called can lights).

    Chandeliers or pendants are generally only used above kitchen islands or dining tables because they would otherwise be in the way of opening cabinet doors.

    Using chandeliers and pendants above kitchen islands makes them both general and functional lighting, which means the fixtures should be more open or see-through to spread the light.

    In kitchens there also is no mood lighting in the traditional sense, but a lot of the lighting can still be used to create a cosy atmosphere.

    line art illustration lightbulb

    Pro Tip

    Without any other lighting in the kitchen, chandeliers or pendants above kitchen islands can also be used as mood lighting and create a nice atmosphere.

    Countertop lighting underneath wall cabinets is highly functional for food preparation, cooking and baking, so the light fixture should be bright and focused on the countertop area. On its own, countertop lighting can be used as mood lighting, especially if the countertop area is styled beautifully.

    Other lighting to create a “moment” is integrated spots within glass-door cabinets to highlight decorative elements.

    Need helping designing a kitchen you love?

    If you’re unsure how to pull it all together and want to avoid missing important things, book a free Discovery Call and let’s chat.

    Hi, I’m Nadine

    Interior design expert, globetrotter and the creative mind behind this blog and NH.DESIGN.

    I’m originally from Germany but have been living abroad for over 10 years, from Canada and the UK to Sweden.

    So I ask myself the question what “home” means every day.
    I have made it my mission to help as many people as possible to find their own answer to this.

    Join my creative world on Instagram @nhdotdesign or find out more about me

    How to choose lighting for your home office

    The home office should be a well-lit, functional room.

    It’s also one of the only rooms I wouldn’t recommend using chandeliers or pendants for general lighting, unless it’s a big space with tall ceilings.

    I’d suggest using plafonds or flush-mounts (slightly bigger and lower reaching plafonds), or recessed spot lights (can lights) altogether.

    Because of its highly functional nature, a home office should have a good work lamp for the desk area. It should have a closed shade to focus the light on the work area.

    Other functional light fixtures in a home office space are shelf- or picture lighting, which can also create a nice atmosphere.

    To spread lighting in a soft way, especially during the darker seasons when the light of 1 work lamp would be too harsh in an otherwise dark room, you can work in some wall uplights or table lamps.

    line art illustration lightbulb

    Pro Tip

    For the perfect amount of light for different activities, choose a dimmable bulb.

    Need helping designing a home office you love?

    If you’re unsure how to pull it all together and want to avoid missing important things, book a free Discovery Call and let’s chat.

    How to choose lighting for your bathroom

    Being highly functional but still with the goal of creating a spa-like feeling, bathrooms are the 1 room in a home for which I would always recommend dimmable lights, for every fixture.

    The same reasons for not having chandeliers or pendants in a home office applies to the bathroom as well, with the same exception of a large space and tall ceilings.

    For general lighting plafonds, flush-mounts (slightly bigger and lower reaching plafonds) or recessed spot lights (can lights) are great options.

    Because the bathroom is where most people get ready, the right functional lighting is key. You should always have lighting around the mirror, ideally from both sides to spread the light evenly and not cast shadows on your face (which helps a lot when applying make-up). This can either be wall lamps or lighting integrated into the mirror. If you’re choosing wall lamps make sure to mount them high enough to have the light go across the whole mirror. Also, use shades that let a little more light through, like clear or frosted glass ones.

    Bathrooms don’t need extra lamps just for mood lighting. That’s where the dimmable bulbs I mentioned in the beginning come in. With those, any light fixture can become mood lighting. Dimmable lights are also great when you’re using the bathroom during the night, or in the morning when you just got up, and don’t want to be blinded by bright lighting.

    Need helping designing a bathroom you love?

    If you’re unsure how to pull it all together and want to avoid missing important things, book a free Discovery Call and let’s chat.

    The power of light - temperature, colour, base fitting and more

    No matter the room, choosing the right light bulb is key. Looking at light bulbs online or in store all those numbers and specialty terms can be confusing though.

    So let’s shed some light on things (see what I did there)?

    Lumen vs Watts

    A lot of people get this one confused, or think it’s the same thing (plot twist, it’s not).

    Lumen is the amount of light put out by a bulb, so the brightness. Watts is the energy it takes to light the bulb.

    So if you’re trying to decide on the right light bulb, check the lumen number and make sure it’s the brightness you want.

    Kelvin

    The light from bulbs can have different colours, from yellow over white to blue, depending on the number of Kelvin.
    The lower the number the more yellow (warmer) the light, the higher the number the more blue (cooler) the light. 

    line art illustration lightbulb

    Pro Tip

    The “whitest” colour is around 4000 Kelvin.

    LED

    Most bulbs these days are LED (Light Emitting Diode). They last longer than traditional, or incandescent, bulbs and don’t get as hot, which means they’re great in closed spaces.

    The right fitting

    To choose the right light bulb you have to make sure the base fitting is right for the fixture. Look for the E number on the packaging and make sure it matches the one on the fixture. Most light fixtures recommend a specific bulb, too.

    Frosted vs clear

    Light bulbs come in 2 different “finishes”, clear or frosted.
    With clear bulbs you can see the filaments inside and the light is slightly more bright and intense. So-called Edison bulbs take the interior filaments to a whole new level and are often used for decoration.
    Frosted light bulbs have a milky coating around the glass so you can’t see the filaments inside. The light from these bulbs disperses more compared to clear bulbs.

    I’d recommend using frosted light bulbs anytime you can see the bulb within the fixture.

    Round vs candle

    There is no functional difference between these kinds of bulbs, they just have different shapes. So it depends on the light fixture and what kind of bulb fits into it.
    Candle shaped bulbs are often used in fixtures where you can see the bulbs, like chandeliers, because they look a little more elegant.

    The White Guide by NH.DESIGN is a helpful resource to choose the right white paint colour.

    The White Guide

    Not every white is the same, and choosing the right one isn’t easy.

    Learn everything about undertones and how to pick the perfect white paint colour for any room in your home with my White Guide.

    Choosing lighting for energy efficiency and sustainability

    In today’s world, energy efficiency and sustainability are crucial considerations. When choosing lighting options, keep these factors in mind.

    Smart lighting

    Technology has become a big part of our homes and lighting is no different.

    Smart Lighting, or Smart Home Lighting, has some amazing features to customize the lighting in your home while being energy efficient and sustainable. So it’s a win win!

    Every Smart Lighting system is a little different, even if they have the same or similar features.

    In this lighting guide I’m explaining the TRADFRI system from IKEA which can be combined with Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

    Usually you need a specific bulb to turn any light fixture into Smart Lighting, but some fixtures come with integrated Smart Lighting bulbs. Those bulbs and fixtures are dimmable, and you can often change the colour, too (not just between warm yellow and cool blue, but also colours like red or green or purple). Smart Lighting can either be controlled through remotes for the specific system or an app you can download.

    The TRADFRI system from IKEA is a great budget-friendly example of Smart Lighting. You can use the bulbs in any light fixture and control brightness and colour, both Kelvin and rainbow colours, through the remote or TRADFRI app.

    In the app you can even set different “scenes”, which means each room can have a different light set-up.
    You can also create different set-ups within a room (like connecting all general lighting together and turning multiple lights on/off at the same time).
    You can even set a timer for specific lights to turn on and off at certain times.

    This is a great feature for bedside lamps: set a timer for 5 minutes before getting up and the lighting helps you wake you up, especially in the winter when it’s still dark outside.

    line art illustration lightbulb

    Pro Tip

    The IKEA Home Smart system also has tons of other great features to make your home smarter – from sound systems to remote controlled electric blinds!

    Nadine, founder of Malmö-based interior design studio NH.DESIGN.

    Design Consultation

    Ask a Designer

    Need help putting the finishing touches onto your home?

    During this 1 hour virtual Design Consultation you get my expert advice on your specific interior challenge.
    From finding the best layout, choosing the right colours to solving storage problems and styling tips – ask me anything!

    Choosing the right lighting for your home is a blend of art and science. By understanding your space, exploring different lighting types, and considering things like fixture selection and light temperature, you can balance lighting in your home.

    Remember to maximize natural light and prioritize energy efficiency for a sustainable and eco-friendly home.

    With these design tips it’s easy to choose the right lighting for every room in your home.

    Thanks for reading!
    If you enjoyed this post, follow along for more interior design tips and inspiration on my Instagram @nhdotdesign and sign up for my Welcome Home Letter.

    Take care, Nadine

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