Now obviously I don’t know where you all are and what time you read this but when I got up yesterday morning (6.33am in London since you ask) it was lashing with rain and horribly dark. After a cup of coffee and a shower I realised that, for the first time this year, I was going to have to put my make up on in the dark. Which for me is always the official sign that Autumn is here. You can forget the official dates and the equinoxes and all that. It’s the first morning I can no longer rely on natural light to put my face on (as my mother would say).
And so, over a second cup of coffee, with all the lights still on, and after the blowing of a bulb which of course I didn’t have a replacement for, I started to ponder the question of seasonal lighting. I’m not sure we think about changing the lights for Autumn – it’s more just a question of turning them on when they have been mostly off for a few months.
But there’s more to it than that. I feel like the focus on interior design has led us to a place where we have begun to think about lighting as an extra decorative element in a room – the earrings on the outfit if you like. We fuss over the shape of the base and the colour of the shade and whether it shows off that picture on the wall or highlights the curve of that vase.
All that seems to come before its primary function which is, of course to help us see properly. And at this time of year we need more of it. And we need to make sure we have the right lamps for the right job.
I have said before that all rooms need layers of lights. This means that you should include overhead, floor and task lamps. Wall lights are good for highlighting pictures or creating an ambience by washing light gently up and down the walls but aren’t essential. Dimmer switches, however, are (and no I don’t have enough of them either).
But lighting a room doesn’t end there.
You probably do want a pendant light that you can just flick on when you walk into the room. But if your ceilings are too low and you have opted for spotlights (or are about to embark on a lighting scheme using them) then keep them round the edges – about 30cm in from the wall and use your furniture placement as a guide to where to position them. Rather than going for the middle of the walls try the middle of a window (if it isn’t central) so it will wash light over the curtains rather than a random bit of wall. Or position one over a painting. Another over the coffee table or fireplace.
Now that’s the fixed stuff. You need to have a task light at the end of the sofa or by an armchair so you can see what button you are pressing on the remote or the page you are reading. This doesn’t have to be a super bright bulb but the dimmer it is the closer it needs to be to the thing you are trying to see.
Angled lamps are good for this as you can bring them nearer or change the angle of the beam.
For more general ambient light you can look for a table lamp. For anyone not sure of the difference, this is probably more decorative in shape, with a shade and you can’t change the angle of it. A pale fabric shade will diffuse the light gently all around as opposed to a dark one which will keep it more focused up and down. If you have a bright bulb this may be enough to read by, particularly if you have several dotted around the room at different heights. Desk lamps tend to have a solid metal shade that focuses the light in a direct beam onto the thing you are looking at so they are practical but less pretty.
Finally a floor lamp can do both those jobs depending on the style you choose. Floor lights are also good if table space is limited. We don’t have enough room for a table at the end of the sofa for example so it’s a tall thin floor lamp for us.
And a last word on screens – you will minimise eye strain if you keep the brightness similar to your surroundings. If that’s tricky then try and make sure that the light source is focused on it so that you can see it properly.
When it comes to seasonal changes I spoke the other day about updating your home without spending any money and lighting is one way you can do this. Do you have a cosy reading chair or a seat that you love more on dark winter days? Now that it’s darker do you need to bring another lamp from elsewhere in the house. I have a task lamp fixed to the window sill in the sitting room that looks pretty but I never sit there to read so it’s purely decorative. In winter it needs to move back to the library where the single task floor light works for one chair but not the other.
Changing lampshades with the seasons is also a good way to freshen up a room and choosing a pale one for winter will release more light. Alternatively, while many people find the naked bulb a look that is too industrial for most living rooms, there are more frosted globe bulbs available now which give a softer light. Some, like the one from Houseof.com have a brass disc at the back which acts as a reflector and will push back more light.
So yes I’m saying seasonal lighting is a thing but first check what lamps you already own and see if they are doing their job. Ask yourself is this giving me enough light and is that light in the place I need it to be? And adjust or add accordingly.