Whether you want to highlight the fireplace, a painting, or your new French doors, use accent lights to focus attention on important elements. Find ways to incorporate uplighting, rather than downlighting, for a softer effect. To emphasize a wood-beam ceiling, add wall-mount sconces, hide spotlights behind furniture, or place rope lights on a ledge around the room's perimeter to create a warm, upward glow.
Installing dimmer switches on your light fixtures saves energy and allows you to tone down too-bright ambient lighting or create a more nuanced lighting scheme. Plus, a dimmer can extend the life of your bulbs and minimizes the times you must change hard-to-reach fixtures.
Spread Out Wattage
Don't try to illuminate your whole kitchen with one or two mega-bright ceiling fixtures. This is a recipe for shadows and glare. Instead, use a blend of ambient, task, and accent lighting. Put lower-wattage bulbs in each luminaire. For example, with 100 watts in undercabinet task lighting and 200 watts spread among several wall sconces, you can put a 20-watt bulb in each of your pendant lamps for ambient light that won't overwhelm.
Warm and fresh, with better color rendering than even the best halogen bulbs, natural light is the ideal complement to an electric lighting scheme. Whether you're adding or widening a window, installing a skylight, or just rethinking the windows you have, make sure you consider how to keep daylight from getting too harsh and hot. A west-facing window may require a heavy-duty covering or a tinted screen.
Get the Most Bang
Low-voltage MR16 bulbs have a high color temperature that makes colors really pop. The bulbs provide perfect, low-cost accent lighting. You'll need a base designed to accommodate the bulb, but investing in a few MR16 picture lights to spotlight artwork can completely change the feel of your room.
Choose High-Quality Fixtures
A well-made light fixture looks better, lasts longer, and gives clearer light, so inspect your fixture's construction the way you would a piece of furniture. Some questions to ask: Are the metals sturdy, not lightweight? Are the sockets high-quality porcelain, not plastic? Does the shade hide the bulbs? Do joints and connections look solid? Do parts screw together easily?
Liven Up Recessed Lighting
Decorative trims dress up common recessed can lights and are easy to install. Consider a light-diffusing baffle: a wall-washer shield that aims and intensifies light, a beveled glass shade, or an acrylic lens that adds a splash of color to a room.
Use Energy-Efficient Bulbs
Save the earth and your money each time you turn on the lights by using dimmable light-emitting diode (LED) and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. Some LED bulbs can last up to 12 years.
Through the Wire
Use corded ceiling or wall-mount fixtures to provide inexpensive lighting without hardwiring. These light fixtures are flexible, affordable, and don't require an electrician for installation. Just hang, plug into an outlet, and glow.
Hire a Professional
Some lighting projects are perfect for the do-it-yourselfer, such as installing dimmer switches. But for bigger jobs, get customized advice from a trained lighting specialist, Certified Lighting Consultant, or lighting designer, who will create a plan based on your needs and budget.
Tip: When you turn off the circuit breaker, tape over switches so they're not accidentally turned back on.