Lighting designer Anne Kustner Haser shares her insights on how to light the room where we spend most of our sleeping hours: the bedroom.
Q. What considerations should be taken into account when lighting a bedroom?
A. The areas of the home that we tell our clients to focus on most and where they should get the biggest bang for their buck are the
spaces they use every day. This includes the master bedroom suite. I often see this as something homeowners have not given much thought to. They have not considered their bedroom as a space they should make extra special. I then remind them that they start their day and end their day there. It should be a room that they look forward to waking up in and coming home to. Before we start designing, we ask a lot of questions about how the client will use the space: Do they read in bed? Do they watch TV in bed? Do they both go to sleep at the same time? We go through these questions to tailor the lighting solution to their needs. After that has been established, we design the lighting to suit their lifestyle.
Q. What kinds of lighting should you have in a bedroom and why?
A. I like the ability for homeowners to have a wide range of moods and settings for their bedroom, depending on the features they have in the room, whether it’s a fireplace, a TV, an architectural feature, artwork, or a seating area in front of a beautiful view. It also depends on the style of the room—whether it is traditional, eclectic, or contemporary. Whatever the style, we start with the lighting of the bed and work our way from there.
Soft lighting is probably the way to describe the overall effect. Mixing up the lighting from different sources adds variety. We may have accent lights lighting the pillows, bedside reading light from a lamp or sconce, floor lamps near a seating group, and a chandelier in the center of the room. As in most rooms, I tell my clients that there are many ways to light a room—not just one way. And, the more layers in the room, the more variety. With more layers, too, the less one relies on any one layer. Each layer can be dimmed to achieve that soft lighting look.
Q. Can you touch upon some Best Practices for bedroom lighting, as well as some common pitfalls homeowners might run into?
A. As far as Best Practices go, I like to “pop” the bed, meaning that I like to highlight the pillows and bedding. After all, the bed is typically the largest piece of furniture in the room and if it has a magnificent headboard with sumptuous bedding, you want to show that off—kind of like a centerpiece. Sometimes those accent lights can double as reading lights, but for most people, when they get into bed, they’ll find that turning them off will be the most comfortable.
I also like to give the client controllability from their bedside so that they don’t need to get up to turn off the lights. This can be done from a bedside lighting control keypad, remote control, or a simple tabletop dimmer to turn off a bedside reading lamp.
As far as pitfalls, I would say that people often ask for downlights in their bedroom, thinking that they would be best. I tend to disagree. I like the master bedroom to have more of a soothing feel. Having holes in the ceiling is not my idea of relaxing; I think it looks too commercial. Do we use downlights in a bedroom? Absolutely, but they have a small aperture to accent an architectural feature or artwork and are not used as general illumination.
Q. What are the biggest challenges when designing lighting for a bedroom?
A. One challenge can be the ceiling height. Sometimes the bedroom has a towering two-story or very high ceiling, and yet the client wants the room to feel intimate. With that, we try to lower the perceived ceiling height by suggesting a chandelier or use lamps or sconces to relate to the ground more. The eye is naturally drawn to the brightest objects in the room, so we try to lower the eye by lighting the hearth of the fireplace or the coffee table in a seating group or a bench at the end of the bed. It just feels more comfortable in the bedroom when you have the brightest lighting at a lower level.
As in most rooms, the lighting feels best when it is balanced—not all of the lighting in one particular area. Another challenge, then, is when the bedroom has walls of large windows. Granted, there is usually a spectacular view associated with this scenario, but sometimes that view goes away at night if the view is overlooking an ocean or into the woods or mountains. If there is no lighting outside offered by a cityscape or landscape lighting, then there are dark walls of black glass. In order to balance the lighting in this case, we try to find some way to bring lighting into that area that does not block the view during the day and also offers a balance of light at night. Depending on how contemporary or traditional the room is, this can be accomplished with in-ground or floor-mounted uplights shedding indirect light onto the ceiling. Sometimes it’s lighting a sculpture that works well in the space. Sometimes, there is an opportunity to have a floor lamp lighting a cozy sitting area. Sometimes, there are curtains that we can wash with light from the top or bottom.
Q. What are the best product options that exist on the market today in terms of efficiency?
A. We still like a long-life MR16 for the accent lights for all their wonderful qualities, especially their ability to dim to a low level and still look great. More and more, though, we are seeing LEDs coming in as an option that can work well, and besides, our clients are asking for them. In our office, a good LED source doesn’t look like an LED source. More and more there is a variety of fixtures that illuminate and are illuminated with LEDs, such as bedside sconces or pharmacy lamps. They are coming in with great color, good control, and low heat. Even for children’s bedrooms, we like small bedside sconces or reading lights in LED. The worry of a child leaving them on or having the bedding in contact with them is less of an issue.
Anne Kustner Haser, LC, IES, IALD, LEED AP is the President and Design Principal of Anne
Kustner Lighting Design (AKLD),which she found in 1994. As Principal, she establishes the design direction and ensures the high quality design standards by overseeing all of AKLD’s projects. With both Fine Art and Interior Design degrees, Anne has a passion for lighting architecture. She combines aesthetics with technical expertise from her years of designing at a consulting engineering firm. AKLD has successfully completed numerous architectural lighting and control system designs in a wide range of applications and environments throughout the United States. Completed projects include lighting for municipalities, corporate offices, retail, high-end residences, museums, galleries, restaurants, houses of worship, libraries, schools, exterior facades, and landmark lighting. Anne’s projects have received awards from the IES and the International GE Award of Excellence for Residential Lighting.