Lighting Dos and Don'ts: Common Mistakes to Avoid

Proper lighting can transform the ambiance and functionality of any space, whether it's a home, office, or public area. Achieving the right lighting design requires careful consideration and attention to detail. Many people unknowingly make mistakes when it comes to lighting, resulting in poor illumination, uncomfortable glare, or an overall unappealing atmosphere. In this article, we will explore the most common lighting mistakes and provide dos and don'ts to help you create a well-lit and visually pleasing environment.

Proper Placement: Finding the Right Light Positions

Dos Include:
  • Use a combination of ambient, task, and accent lighting to create layers of light that serve different purposes and enhance the overall ambiance.
  • Place overhead lights, such as chandeliers or pendant lights, in the center of the room to distribute light evenly.
  • Install recessed lights strategically to avoid creating dark spots or harsh shadows. Strive for uniform illumination across your space.
  • Consider the function of the room and the activities that will take place when determining the placement of task lighting. For example, in a kitchen, under-cabinet lighting should be positioned directly above countertops for efficient task illumination.
Don'ts Include:
  • Avoid placing all lighting fixtures in a single location, as this can lead to uneven light distribution and create shadows or dark corners.
  • Do not rely solely on overhead lighting without incorporating additional sources, as it can create a flat and uninspiring atmosphere.
  • Avoid placing task lighting directly above a person's head, as it can cast shadows on the workspace and cause eye strain.
  • Do not position wall sconces too high or too low, as this can result in ineffective lighting and unflattering shadows.

Balancing Light Levels: Avoiding Over- or Under-illumination

Dos Include:
  • Use a combination of lighting sources with varying brightness levels to achieve a balanced and comfortable lighting scheme.
  • Consider the natural light entering your space and adjust artificial lighting accordingly. Use blinds, curtains, or shades to control excessive sunlight during the day.
  • Make use of dimmers to have control of the intensity of light in different areas. This allows you to customize the lighting levels based on specific needs and occasions.
Don'ts Include:
  • Avoid over-illumination by using excessively bright bulbs or fixtures. It can lead to discomfort, eye strain, and a harsh environment.
  • Do not rely solely on dim lighting, as it can make tasks difficult and strain the eyes. Ensure that you have adequate light levels for the intended activities.
  • Avoid using fluorescent lights with a high Color Rendering Index (CRI) in residential spaces, as they can create an unnatural and unflattering lighting effect.

Choosing the Right Bulbs: Wattage and Color Temperature Considerations

Dos Include:
  • Select bulbs with appropriate wattage for the space. Consider the size of the room, the desired brightness, and the function of the light.
  • Pay attention to the color temperature of the bulbs. Warmer color temperatures (around 2700K-3000K) are suitable for creating a cozy and relaxed atmosphere in living areas, while cooler temperatures (around 4000K-5000K) are better for task-oriented spaces like offices or kitchens.
Don'ts Include:
  • Avoid using bulbs with wattage that is too high for the fixtures, as it can cause overheating and potentially damage the lighting equipment.
  • Do not mix bulbs with different color temperatures in the same space, as it can create an inconsistent and unappealing lighting effect.

Avoiding Glare and Shadows: Achieving Optimal Lighting Distribution

Dos Include:
  • Use diffusers, frosted glass, or lampshades to reduce glare and soften the light emitted by fixtures.
  • Position lights carefully to avoid casting shadows on work surfaces, such as desks or countertops.
  • Use indirect lighting techniques, such as wall washing or uplighting, to minimize harsh shadows and create a more even distribution of light.
Don'ts Include:
  • Avoid using bare bulbs or fixtures without diffusers, as they can create uncomfortable glare and make it difficult to see properly.
  • Do not position lights directly above or behind mirrors, as it can cause unflattering shadows on the face.

Dimming and Controls: Creating Ambiance and Energy Efficiency

Dos Include:
  • Install dimmer switches for adjustable lighting levels. This allows you to create different moods and save energy by reducing the light output when full brightness is not required.
  • Use smart lighting systems that enable you to control the lighting remotely or set up automated schedules. This adds convenience and energy efficiency to your lighting design.
Don'ts Include:
  • Avoid using non-dimmable bulbs with dimmer switches, as it can cause flickering or even damage the bulbs and switches.
  • Don't forget to label or group your lighting controls for easy and intuitive operation.

Harmonizing Light Fixtures: Coordinating Styles and Sizes

Dos Include:
  • Choose lighting fixtures that complement the overall style and theme of the space. Ensure that the finishes and designs harmonize with the existing decor.
  • Consider the scale and proportion of the fixtures in relation to the room. For example, a large chandelier may overpower a small dining area, while a tiny pendant light may get lost in a spacious living room.
Don'ts Include:
  • Avoid mixing too many different lighting styles in a single space, as it can create a cluttered and visually confusing atmosphere.
  • Do not select fixtures that are disproportionately large or small compared to the room, as it can disrupt the balance of the space and make it appear awkward.

Lighting for Specific Tasks: Task Lighting Dos and Don'ts

Dos Include:
  • Install task lighting in areas where specific activities take place, such as reading nooks, study areas, or workstations. Use focused lighting fixtures, such as desk lamps or adjustable spotlights, to provide ample illumination for the task at hand.
  • Consider the color temperature of the task lighting. Cooler temperatures (around 4000K-5000K) are ideal for activities that require focus and concentration.
Don'ts Include:
  • Avoid using overhead lighting alone for tasks that require detailed work, as it can cast shadows and make it difficult to see small details.
  • Do not position task lighting in a way that causes glare or shadows on the work surface. Adjust the angle and height of the fixtures accordingly.

Avoiding Common Design Pitfalls: Lighting Mistakes to Steer Clear Of

Some general, all-purpose don'ts include:
  • Avoid relying solely on one type of lighting, such as overhead or recessed lights, as it can result in a flat and uninspiring atmosphere. Incorporate different lighting layers for a more dynamic and visually appealing space.
  • Don't neglect the importance of lighting controls and automation. Having the ability to adjust lighting levels and create presets can greatly enhance the functionality and energy efficiency of your lighting design.
  • Avoid using outdated or inefficient lighting technologies. Instead, choose energy-efficient LED bulbs and fixtures, as they consume less energy, last longer, and offer a wide range of options in terms of color temperature and design.

By avoiding these common lighting mistakes and following the dos and don'ts outlined in this article, you can create a well-lit and visually appealing environment that enhances both the functionality and ambiance of your space.


Love to Know: 10 Interior Design Lighting Tips for Beginners
University of California - Davis: Ergonomic Lighting Tips
Instructables: LEDs for Beginners
The New York Times: Lighting a Room, Simplified