Lighting Buying Guide: How to Choose Lighting Fixtures

You could just leave it all to your contractor—the amount of lighting, the type and style of light fixtures, their placement, the choices and arrangement of switches, their placement. Chances are, however, you’ll get bare minimum to meet code. The lights may qualify as adequate for a house, but if you want lighting that creates a home and showcases it perfectly for every occasion—even when there’s no occasion at all—you need to know how to choose lighting fixtures that will bring a room to life.

  • Entryways—Large, formal entryways lend themselves to a striking lighting focal point that sets the tone for a home. The power of lighting is equally important in a smaller home. A welcoming space needs to be well-lit for arrivals, and you need to be able to see whether you’ve picked the right jacket when you’re leaving. While high-ceiling entryways allow for dramatic chandeliers, conservative ceiling heights can benefit from soft arrangements of recessed or flush-mount lighting. Include a dimmer switch so you can match illumination to mood or need.
  • Kitchens—Since kitchen use, size and layouts can be so varied from home to home, lighting design can be complex. However, impactful choices can break up matchiness and set off a kitchen’s style.
    • One way of looking at kitchens is by lighting levels—ceilings, cabinets and counters, appliances and toe kicks.
    • Another is by lighting work areas—island or counter space, pantry, sink, cooking areas and dining areas.

For large kitchens, you may want a central fixture or chandelier for the room or pendant lighting for an island but recessed ceiling lighting to illuminate an isthmus or perimeter work area. Both smaller and large kitchens benefit from under-cabinet lighting and its clarity without shadows. Toe kick lighting can be especially convenient for nighttime—or for finding dropped items—providing just enough light without bright overhead lighting. Final considerations include cabinetry clearances, traffic patterns, and a lighting fixture’s location in relation to cooking vapor and your ability to keep the light clean and bright.

  • Living Rooms and Great Rooms—Common living areas are where we entertain guests and family, but they’re also areas where household members come to watch a movie, curl up with a book, work on a task or homework, enjoy quiet time and a snack, or have a quiet conversation. So many uses translate into a need for different types of lighting at a number of levels.
    • A ceiling-mounted chandelier provides whole-room lighting. Alone, however, it may be too harsh for some activities or leave corners or edges dark.
    • If you have a fireplace or other focal point, consider an additional layer or area of mounted or integral accent lighting that allows for a more intimate feel.
    • To allow full use of a room, be sure to have plenty of lighting at a personal level—table lamps, arc or floor lamps, or even integral lights mounted at those levels.

While overhead lighting usually works best with multiple switch locations, more personal lighting should have switches conveniently located.

  • Bedrooms and Master Suites—Relaxation and creation of private space are paramount in bedrooms and especially for master suites. While an overhead source of light is usually a given, you may find task and localized lighting just as important.
    • The right design combination can give you additional options like illuminating one portion of the room while leaving the rest dark or reducing light values with soothing lowlights.
    • You may opt for the luxury of wall-mounted sconces rather than table lamps or special lighting for a comfortable work area.

While dimmers are always a nice touch, you may also want to consider three-way or even four-way switches to ensure you can operate certain lighting fixtures from multiple locations. In a master suite with a bathroom or dressing area, you may want to be able to control certain lights from both the entrance to the bedroom from a hallway as well as the doorway to the adjoining dressing area or bathroom.

  • Bathrooms—Bathrooms may be one of the most important rooms for knowing how to choose lighting fixtures simply because bathrooms have so much impact on how we feel about ourselves. We see ourselves in the mirror, fix our hair and makeup, get ready for the day, clean up after dirty tasks, survive sick days, soak away rough days and prepare ourselves for sleep.
    • Sink, shower, bath and toilet areas all need to be well-lit, but dimmers or colored light options can add a relaxing touch.
    • Use clear, natural light to do hair and makeup in the morning, but incorporate the ability to take the edge off at day’s end.
    • While most lighting in a bathroom is overhead lighting, sinks and vanities usually feature wall-mounted overhead lighting to minimize shadows in the mirror and hallmark a clean, stylish space.
    • Don’t forget the luxury of a heat lamp on a chilly winter morning.

For safety, always ensure that bathroom lighting fixtures are rated to withstand bathroom steam and humidity.

  • Closets—Behind closed doors, closets are often overlooked, but ensuring the space is well-lit makes it a pleasure to use and keep organized. While reach-in closets typically benefit from a simple overhead fixture, larger walk-in closets may need several fixtures. Recessed lighting or directed lighting can optimize storage spaces and ceiling clearances.
  • Hallways and Staircases—Even if a passageway has a window, narrow proportions can make it feel like a tunnel. Ceiling or wall-mounted lighting can light the way and prevent trips and falls over runners, stray toys or pets. Since you’re often traveling the length of the passage, consider three-way or four-way lighting that allows multiple switches. Corners and landings are also convenient places for a small table and lamp.
  • Garages and Workshops—Big, open utilitarian spaces demand large fixtures that emit plenty of light so that you’ll always be able to find the self-tapping screw that you just dropped. Lighting here needs to be simple, tough and able to withstand quick cleanings to keep light bright and clear. Spot lighting—fixed, perimeter, under cabinet, mobile, rolling or reel-based—is a big plus.
  • Porches, Patios and Outdoors—For safety, outdoor lighting must be rated for outdoor use. For style, outdoor lighting can make a real statement. Choose multiple types of fixtures to achieve the look that lights up your outdoor spaces—from porch light pendants, chandeliers or ceiling fans with lights to wall-mounted sconces, spotlights, motion lights, dusk-to-dawn lights, landscape lighting and even deck lighting. Illuminate areas, walkways, water features, or landscaping or architectural features.

Creating a beautiful lighting design for a home is the art of understanding where to place sources of light—the heights and the locations—and carefully choosing the best types and intensities of lights that will consistently provide the just-right level of illumination for what you want to do. If you’re committed to getting your lighting choices right the first time for a new build, remodel or interior overhaul, come to Coburn’s. Stop by your nearest Coburn’s Kitchen & Bath Showroom location. We have the perfect lighting choices for every room in your home.