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Updated: Feb 3, 2020

When trying to solve a lighting dilemma – all kinds of solutions are tried that waste energy and do little to get the right light in the right amount to the right areas of the room. Because lighting can be one of the most difficult elements of design many homeowners are unsure of the correct lighting solutions. Sometimes it’s knowing what not to do that makes all the difference. So here are some common lighting mistakes and how to get it right.

Lamps should be an attractive addition to your home but decorating with light fixtures rather than buying a lamp based on beauty and their light output, performance, and distribution usually results in a less than optimal lighting experience and a waste of costly energy besides. The right table lamp should be both attractive and functional so keep in mind your lighting needs when shopping for a lamp.


A most common question – What is the correct height for and end table, or bedside lamp, or buffet table? The answer to that depends on the height of the table on which it is to set.

A good rule of thumb when buying a table lamp for an end table is that the combined height of both the lamp and table should not be more or less than 58 to 64 inches high. This rule holds true for all table lamps, floor lamps, or buffet lamps in a room. It helps give the room a cohesive look.


This is a very common mistake – and one most of us have made at least once. A too small lamp on a large table or a very large lamp on a small table will not only make the lamp and table look disproportionate but it will also make the sofa or chair next to it look wrong. Take a look at your table. Is it a big heavy table? It will accept a large visually heavy style lamp. Is the table more petite or thin? The lamp for this table should be a lighter, more delicate style.

A wide lamp will visually anchor your space. Bedside table lamps often need to be rather wide, but not very deep, because these tables are often only about 16 inches deep.

Typically, your table lamp should be no more than 1 ½ times the height of the table it will set on and the lamp shade should never be larger than the table. Light weight lamps are good for less active areas in the room. If you have children or pets a heavier lamp will be more stable and safer.

When sitting next to a table lamp the bottom of the shade should be at eye level height. If your new lamp is too tall you’ll be blinded by the bulb.


Like the lamp itself the lampshade has to be right as well. The most common mistake with the lampshade is buying one that is too large for the table the lamp is intended for. Choose a shade that has a diameter no larger than 2 inches less than the base length. So if your base is 15 inches tall the shade should not be more than 13 inches in diameter or widest part of the shade.

Shades are usually white or ivory simply because these let the most light through and illuminate the room better. But they don’t have to be. Black or other colored shades direct the light down giving your room some drama with pools of light in various areas throughout the room. You may want to mix various shade colors for a bold lighting statement or choose colors that don’t get lost against your wall color.


A beautifully colored lamp is good—the wrong color or too many colors isn’t. Be sure your new lamp is a color that works well with your room. You can use a lamp to introduce a complementary color to your room. Many people use all one color for their lamps to give it a cohesive consistent look but this isn’t always the best way to go. When choosing lamp color a good formula to follow is typically use no more than 3 colors, your main color and 2 complimentary colors.


Your lamps do not have to match. In fact, it’s best if they don’t. But before mixing learn some do’s and don’ts. Don’t just mix random lamps, the best way is to mix styles that have something in common—either a common shade, metal finish, color, or shape—different but all having one key element that is alike. Another easy way is to mix styles is to choose a sculpture lamp with two or more ginger jar lamps, for example, which have a color in common light and dark. Mixing metals is fine but, again, there’s do’s and don’ts. Your metals do not have to match but they shouldn’t be too


It is fine to mix metals carefully—bronze looks fantastic with copper they are two metals with the same elements. Chrome looks great with nickel. Nickel can look stunning with certain light bronze shades. Silver and gold is often seen together and can look splendid. But mixing too many differing metals in the room is a decorating faux pas.


Good lighting design uses a mixture of task, general and accent lighting. Ceiling lighting is usually the general light, lamp tables are often used for task lighting—sewing, reading—and accent lighting are generally small lights that give a dark corner a nice glow. This is called ‘’layering.’’ Table lamps are a nice and important part but not the only part of a good lighting plan. Consider using floor lamps, pendants, or ceiling lighting in your lighting plan.


I’m sure you’ve noticed that certain types of light such as florescent make you look washed out or sick. The wrong types of light can make your whole room look washed out and bland. LED 2700K is a popular warm type of light today and may be a good choice but keep in mind it can give your room a yellow cast, choose 3000K which is the closest to natural light which is white, show your rooms colors to their best advantage and is comfortable. 4000K and up is very cool and blue—if you have a modern style room in whites and blues this may be a good light for you.

Sometimes the right light can be wrong for the time of day or situation. It’s always good to have choices and a dimmer switch is really something everyone should have for those times when you want some ambiance. 3-way bulbs are also great when you need a brighter light for reading or sewing and want to lower it for watching television or conversation.

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