Science is catching up to what professional lighting designers have known for years- great lighting can help us feel better. The right kind of light can help us relax or be more alert, and nowhere is this more important than in our homes. It is light for feeling that can fill us with delight when we return home after a long day out. If you have ever walked into someone else’s home, a beautiful restaurant, or comfortable hotel lobby and breathed an audible sigh of relief and relaxation, chances are lighting played a huge role.
I break light for feeling into four different categories: lights that burn, bubble, sparkle, or reveal. What you choose to use depends on your situation- your home, your budget, and your story.
Lights that Burn
Candles are among the worst producers of useable light known and dramatically increase the risk of damaging house fires, but that does not stop us from consuming thousands of them every year- it is a $3 billion dollar industry. Why put a fireplace in a restaurant? Why put an oil lamp on the table? Why light candles on the dresser? Because lights that burn can help us feel good. If you need a quick fix for one of the rooms in your house, candles might be the ticket.
Lights that Bubble
Lights that Bubble are an alternative, like a candle that never burns out. The 1960’s lava lamp is my favorite example of Lights that Bubble (and the reason for the admittedly strange category name). A lava lamp is not unlike an electric candle- it is soft, mesmerizing light that slowly changes as the contents inside heat and cool. Like a fire in a hearth, we can watch a lava lamp for hours.
Lava lamps might look great in a mid-century modern home, but they do not fit into traditional or more contemporary homes. Instead, consider lights that do not literally bubble, but that break up light into virtual bubbles, like patterns projected onto a wall or ceiling. This kind of light can help us feel good but fit stylistically with our home.
Lights that Sparkle
Functionally and economically, pendants- and their cousins the chandelier and wall sconce- are unnecessary expenditures. It would be far cheaper to put in two recessed downlights over an island that cost $75 each than to put two $375 pendants over the same spot.
Yet we know that we will like it better with pendants, because they provide light that sparkles. Adding in these kinds of lights typically requires electrical work, and is thus a little harder to achieve in existing homes. They can be easily integrated into new homes or remodels, relieving the pressure on lights that burn and lights that bubble and reducing visual clutter in a space.
Lights that Reveal
Lights that burn, bubble, and sparkle call attention to themselves, and that is part of what helps us feel good. We can get a similar good feeling from light that reveals something else, like a favorite painting or a hand-crafted vase.
Often, lights that reveal are hidden away in a soffit or behind a glass-fronted cabinet door, and we see only the effect of the light and not the source itself. This can reduce glare and call our attention to the beauty of the space or to treasured objects, which often makes more sense than adding three or four lights that bubble.
The promise that light can help us feel better is the talk of the industry today. So do the cutting edge thing- light a candle a dinner tonight.