Lighting Mistakes Everyone Makes and Clever Tricks To Fix It

Lindsey - November 12, 2023

Lighting is a necessary and often underestimated element in home decor. It has the (literal) power to transform a space into a warm and inviting haven. Whether it’s creating a cozy ambiance in the living room, providing focused illumination for workspaces, or highlighting the beauty of your decor, the right lighting for the right purpose can make a world of difference. Let’s look at some common lighting mistakes, then move forward with some bright ideas to make your home’s lighting work for you.

Photo: Southern Living

Ignoring the Room’s Purpose

Many homes – especially new builds – utilize the same type of lighting throughout the house without considering the specific needs of each room. Selecting the right lighting for tasks at home is paramount for enhancing the function and comfort of your environment. First, take an inventory of your spaces and needs. Consider bright, focused lighting for work areas and kitchens, softer ambient lighting for living rooms and bedrooms. Task lighting, such as desk lamps or under-cabinet lights, should be strategically placed to provide ample illumination for the activities you and your family partake in regularly.

Photo: Perfect Picture Lights

Insufficient Lighting

Insufficient lighting in a room can significantly impact the overall atmosphere and functionality of your space. Beyond aesthetics, inadequate lighting can compromise safety in some rooms – like kitchens or workshops – leading to potential hazards and accidents. Insufficient illumination may strain the eyes, too, causing discomfort and hindering activities such as reading or working on a computer. In contrast, proper lighting can enhance mood, promote productivity, and accentuate a room’s design elements. To avoid these drawbacks, make sure you’re employing enough light to suit your room’s purpose and design.

Photo: The Spruce

Incorrect Color Temperature

Have you ever struggled with choosing the correct color temperature for room lighting? Choosing the wrong one for your space can throw off the entire vibe of your space. Warmer color temperatures, like soft yellows and oranges, create a cozy and inviting atmosphere, perfect for living rooms and bedrooms. In contrast, cooler tones, such as whites and blues, are ideal for task-oriented spaces like kitchens or work areas, promoting concentration. Neutral tones, such as soft whites, provide versatility and are well-suited for most settings. Consistency in color temperature throughout a home ensures a seamless flow and prevents visual discomfort. Striking the right balance between warmth and coolness contributes significantly to the overall comfort and visual appeal of each living space.

Photo: Haworth

Neglecting Task Lighting

Neglecting task lighting in home decor is a common mistake, hindering the functionality of your space. The use of only ambient lighting may result in inadequate vision for specific activities like reading, cooking, or working. Without dedicated task lighting, shadows and eye strain may occur, impacting productivity and comfort. To remedy this, install task lighting where needed, such as under cabinets in the kitchen or beside reading nooks. Incorporating targeted lighting solutions, such as desk lamps, under-cabinet lights, or pendant fixtures, ensures that every corner of a room is well-lit for its intended purpose, enhancing the overall usability of your home.

Photo: Nedlands Group

Ignoring Dimmer Switches

Dimmer switches play a pivotal role in home lighting, offering versatility and control over the ambiance of a space. The ability to adjust light intensity allows for easy transitions between various activities and moods, from bright and energetic to soft and intimate. Dimmers enhance energy efficiency, too, allowing homeowners to use only the light needed, thereby reducing electricity consumption. Beyond practicality, dimmer switches add a layer of luxury to a home, enabling individuals to customize their lighting without changing a fixture or a bulb. Install dimmer switches to create a more dynamic and inviting living environment.

Photo: 1st Dibs

Overlooking Scale

Choosing fixtures that align with the room’s proportions is essential; oversized fixtures can overwhelm, while undersized ones may appear inconspicuous or, worse, ineffective. Striking the right scale ensures harmony, allowing lighting elements to complement other decor in your space. If you fall in love with a large, focus-grabbing lighting element, make sure to layer with smaller, practical pieces. CJC Furniture shares, “A handy hack for estimating the width of the chandelier is to add the width and height of the room in feet and use that to estimate the diameter of the chandelier in inches.” Likewise, maybe you aren’t interested in a showstopper for a space, but you want to choose multiple, small cozy lighting options. The options are endless – just make sure to watch out for balance in each room.

Photo: Decoist

Mismatched Styles

Mismatched lighting styles in home decor can disrupt the visual flow of your space. Coordinating lighting elements—whether modern, vintage, or eclectic—ensures a seamless flow with your personal style, too. Thoughtful selection of fixtures that complement each other and the rest of your room contributes to a more polished and intentional design, but remember: choose what you love (and what functions for the space it’s in) first! Ultimately, the right lighting not only enhances your decor but also sets the mood, creating a harmonious atmosphere that reflects your unique taste and personality. So, illuminate your space with intention, and let your light fixtures tell a story that resonates with you.

Photo: House Beautiful

Ignoring Natural Light

Don’t forget one of the most important lighting sources in your home: the sun! Natural light‘s dynamic quality transforms interiors throughout the day, influencing colors and textures in a way artificial lighting cannot replicate. Exposure to natural light has proven health benefits, for plants and people, positively affecting mood and sleep patterns for the latter. Maximizing natural light reduces the need for artificial illumination, too, promoting energy efficiency. Incorporating large windows, skylights, or sheer curtains not only enhances the visual appeal of a home but also contributes to a healthier and more inviting living environment.

Photo: The Spruce

Incomplete Layering

Creating a well-balanced and adaptable lighting scheme involves the incorporation of multiple layers, typically ambient, task, and accent lighting. Ambient lighting provides overall illumination, establishing the baseline for a room’s brightness. Task lighting, on the other hand, is essential for focused activities such as reading or cooking, ensuring that specific areas are illuminated to suit a specific purpose and prevent eye strain. Finally, accent lighting is more decor-based, highlighting architectural features, artwork, or other elements. The blend of these three types of lighting enhances functionality and contributes to the overall atmosphere of a space. By carefully considering ambient, task, and accent lighting, a space can be transformed to suit various needs, moods, and occasions, creating the adaptable environment your home needs.

Photo: Emily Henderson via My Domaine

Inadequate Lighting in Entryways

Overlooking the importance of entryway lighting is a common mistake, but it can have consequences for owners and guests. The entryway serves as the first impression, setting the tone for the entire living space. Inadequate lighting in this area diminishes the sense of warmth and hospitality. In contrast, a well-lit entryway establishes a positive and inviting atmosphere. It can also be helpful for homeowners: picture arriving in the dark and flipping a switch. Do you have the lighting you need to feel welcome coming home each day?

Photo: LK Design

Overhead Lighting Only

Relying solely on overhead lighting in home decor is a big mistake that can undermine the layers you need for a well-designed space. Overhead lighting, while providing general illumination, often falls short in creating a cozy and inviting ambiance. In fact, you may have seen jokes on social media about people who never turn on overhead lights; they can be too bright and stimulating for some. Using only a singular light source can cast harsh shadows and neglect specific areas, leaving corners and surfaces in the shadows. To avoid this, incorporating a mix of lighting types is crucial. Integrate floor and table lamps, sconces, and other ambient lighting options strategically throughout your space. This not only addresses the functional aspects of lighting but also adds depth and warmth, creating a more inviting atmosphere that embraces both style and comfort.

Photo: Erin Williamson Design

Ignoring Artwork and Decor

Failing to highlight artwork and decorative elements with proper accent lighting is a missed opportunity for visual impact in home decor. Art and other decor elements should be focal points in any room, deserving the dedicated attention it took for owners to bring them into their space. Without thoughtful accent lighting, these pieces can fade into the background. Implementing carefully positioned spotlights, track lighting, or wall sconces can accentuate the details, colors, and textures of decorative elements. Highlights for your decor can let your carefully chosen art pieces shine!

Photo: Brit Dot Design via My Domaine

Ignoring the Ceiling

Neglecting the potential of ceiling lights as a decorative element is a design oversight that can diminish the appeal of a space. While, as mentioned, many people don’t like to turn on their ceiling lights, they do serve an important purpose: to provide a baseline light for your rooms. Opting for plain or inadequate fixtures in this area misses an opportunity to make a stylish statement more in line with your own decor. Elegant chandeliers, intricate pendant lights, or even well-designed recessed lighting can serve as eye-catching focal points and elevate an entire room’s ambiance. These fixtures illuminate the space but also contribute to the decor’s cohesiveness, adding a layer of personality.

Photo: David Land via House Beautiful

Inconsistent Heights

Hanging pendant lights at inconsistent heights is a mistake that can result in an uneven and disjointed appearance of your space. Pendants, when properly aligned, contribute to a balanced and well-designed aesthetic. However, inconsistent heights can create a chaotic vibe, drawing attention away from the intended focal points. Achieving uniformity in pendant light heights, whether over a kitchen island, dining table, or in a hallway, is essential for a polished and intentional look. While measuring from surface to lamp base is ideal, Gatheraus offers additional advice to keep things consistent: “Look for lights with an adjustable cord or chain so you can easily fine-tune adjustments to get each pendant perfect on-site.”

Photo: EcoWatch

Overlooking Energy Efficiency

Neglecting energy-efficient lighting options is a significant oversight with both financial and environmental consequences. Traditional incandescent bulbs, known for their inefficiency, contribute to higher electricity bills and increased carbon emissions. Energy-efficient lighting not only reduces electricity costs but also lessens the demand on natural resources. By neglecting these eco-friendly options, individuals miss an opportunity to contribute to a greener future while enjoying the immediate benefits of lower energy bills and a smaller carbon footprint. As you’ll see mentioned in other portions of the list, solutions like LED or CFL bulbs, natural lighting, and dimmer switches are all great ways to pursue a more energy efficient home.

Photo: Apartment Therapy

Lighting Tip: Use of Mirrors

The strategic use of mirrors in a home is a brilliant technique for enhancing lighting in your home. Mirrors are adept at reflecting natural and artificial light, effectively multiplying whatever existing illumination you’ve chosen for a room. Placing mirrors opposite windows can bounce natural light throughout the space, making rooms feel bigger and brighter. Additionally, mirrors can amplify the impact of artificial lighting sources, helping to distribute light evenly and reduce the need for additional fixtures. Ultimately, consider mirrors as a layering technique for differing light sources in your room.

Photo: USA Today

Lighting Tip: Smart Lighting

Installing smart lighting systems can revolutionize the way you interact with and manage illumination at home. These intelligent systems, controllable via smartphones or voice commands, offer an unprecedented level of customization. Users can effortlessly adjust color temperatures, ranging from warm, cozy hues to cool, invigorating tones, adapting the lighting to suit various moods and activities. You’ll never have the wrong color tone if you go this route! Moreover, the ability to control brightness levels allows for fine-tuning the ambiance according to preference or specific needs. Plus, you can set up lighting schedules, ensuring lights are on when needed and off when not, promoting energy conservation and safety. Consider installing a smart lighting system to create dynamic, responsive, and energy-efficient lighting environments tailored to your lifestyle.

Photo: Elle Decor

Lighting Tip: Statement Fixtures

Choosing a few statement lighting fixtures is a strategic approach that injects character and visual interest into a living space. These standout fixtures not only illuminate but also serve as captivating focal points, commanding attention and defining the room’s aesthetic. At a minimum, switch out build-standard lighting to better suit your individual taste! Whether it’s an artistic pendant, an elaborate chandelier, or a uniquely designed floor lamp, these statement pieces contribute to the overall design narrative. By focusing on a select few fixtures, the room gains a sense of intention, allowing each piece to shine individually while contributing to the whole. This deliberate curation of standout lighting can transform your space into a visually dynamic environment where illumination becomes an important part of the overall design.

Photo: Iekel Road Home

Lighting Tip: Highlighting Architectural Features

Leveraging lighting to accentuate architectural details or interesting features within a home is a design strategy that can highlight the space itself as art. Well-placed fixtures can cast a spotlight on intricate moldings, unique textures, or interesting structural elements, turning them into visual focal points. Whether it’s track lighting grazing along a textured accent wall or uplights showcasing a stunning fireplace, the blend of light adds depth and drama to the architecture. Using lighting as a tool to highlight architectural nuances transforms a home, elevating its character and allowing the structural elements to become an integral part of the overall design narrative.

Photo: This Old House

Landscape Lighting

Extending your lighting design outdoors with landscape lighting is a great strategy to enhance curb appeal and create envy among your neighbors. Thoughtfully placed lights along pathways, highlighting garden features, or illuminating outdoor architectural elements can turn a nighttime exterior into a unique showcase. Beyond aesthetics, outdoor lighting – including motion lights – provides safety and security, guiding pathways and deterring potential intruders. Warm, strategically positioned lights can also extend the use of outdoor spaces, making them inviting for evening gatherings. By incorporating landscape lighting, homeowners can showcase the beauty of their property after sunset, fostering a welcoming ambiance that not only elevates the overall aesthetic but also enhances the functionality and enjoyment of outdoor spaces.

Photo: Depuley

Lighting Tip: Adjustable Lighting

Opting for adjustable lighting fixtures is a savvy choice that brings versatility to your home lighting design. The ability to alter the direction and intensity of light allows you to sculpt and define the atmosphere in each room. Think of your child reading in a well-lit reading nook. These fixtures, equipped with movable components or adjustable arms, allow you to customize the direction and intensity of light, catering to specific tasks, moods, or focal points. Whether it’s a directional spotlight for highlighting artwork or a desk lamp with a movable neck like in Pixar films, these fixtures provide control over the ambiance. This adaptability not only adds functionality but also ensures that your lighting design remains dynamic and responsive to different occasions.

Photo: Decoist

Lighting Tip: Layered Pendants

Hanging pendant lights at varying heights is a design strategy that can transform a space, infusing it with visual intrigue and dynamic energy. Note that this is different from accidental inconsistency in heights, which could throw off the look of a room. This purposeful arrangement not only breaks away from the conventional uniformity of lighting but also creates a sense of depth and movement. The interplay of lights at different levels adds a sculptural quality, turning the pendant arrangement into a captivating focal point. This approach is particularly effective over dining tables, kitchen islands, or in open living spaces, where it can define zones and establish a visually appealing hierarchy. The varying heights not only contribute to a more aesthetically interesting ambiance but also provide practical illumination, ensuring that light is distributed evenly across the room, making it a noteworthy and stylish element in the overall design scheme.

Photo: Lee Valley

Lighting Tip: LED Strips

Incorporating LED strips into your home design introduces a versatile solution for subtle ambient lighting. Placed strategically under cabinets, along staircases, or behind furniture, these strips emit a soft, diffused glow that not only enhances visibility but also adds a touch of sophistication to your living spaces. The flexibility of LED strips allows them to adapt to various contours and spaces, creating a seamless and integrated lighting effect. Their energy efficiency and diverse color options further contribute to the overall ambiance, allowing homeowners to personalize their environment with ease. Whether used for task lighting in the kitchen, safety lighting on staircases, or as an artistic element behind furniture, LED strips provide a stylish and functional way to illuminate your home with modern flair. Midnight hack: put a motion sensor LED strip underneath your cabinets so it illuminates the floor. When you need to do a nighttime bathroom trip, you won’t be assaulted with harsh bathroom lights.

Photo: Schoolhouse

Lighting Tip: Sconces for Vertical Interest

Installing wall sconces is a design strategy that adds additional layers of lighting. These fixtures, mounted on walls at various heights, add compelling vertical interest, drawing the eye upwards and contributing to the visual depth of a room. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, wall sconces serve a practical purpose by creating a well-distributed light source. Whether flanking a mirror in the bathroom, lining a hallway, illuminating a reading chair, or framing a focal point in the living room, the upward or downward illumination they provide complements overhead lighting, reducing shadows and creating a more balanced ambiance. Wall sconces are a versatile and effective means of infusing both style and functionality into a home’s lighting design.

Photo: Hudson Valley Lighting via American Lighting Association

Lighting Tip: Mixing Materials

Experimenting with different materials and textures in lighting fixtures is a design approach that can add interest to your space with some visual richness. Materials, such as metal, glass, wood, or fabric, bring unique textures and tones, creating an interplay of light and shadow. Mixing these elements in fixtures like chandeliers, pendants, or lamps introduces a layer of complexity and personality to the room. Whether it’s the industrial allure of exposed metal, the warmth of wooden accents, or the elegance of textured glass, varied materials contribute to a multi-dimensional aesthetic. This experimentation not only adds diversity to the lighting design but also becomes a distinctive element in the overall decor, but may sure you choose pieces that are based on the feel of the room.

Photo: CNN

Lighting Tip: Seasonal Lighting

Incorporating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) lights into your living space can be a transformative solution, especially during darker months or for individuals affected by the seasonal shift in sunlight exposure. SAD lights, often designed to mimic natural sunlight, emit specific wavelengths that can positively impact mood and alleviate symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder. Placing these lights strategically, such as near workstations or in common areas, allows users to benefit from increased exposure to bright, full-spectrum light. Beyond their therapeutic benefits, these lights have evolved over the years to seamlessly blend into home decor, providing a practical and aesthetically pleasing solution to combat the winter blues or low-light environments, fostering a more uplifting and energized atmosphere indoors.