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Bright Ideas for Home Office Lighting

How do you feel after working in your home office all day? Are you fatigued or tense? Are your eyes tired? Or do you feel relaxed and peaceful?

Your physical comfort has a lot to do with the lighting in your office, says Doreen Le May Madden, a certified lighting consultant and principal at lux lighting design in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Madden, who frequently instructs interior designers and architects on the principles of home office lighting, believes that how a room is lit directly impacts the way people work in it. "If you don't feel good in a space, you won't work as productively," she says.

Uniform is not best

You may be surprised to learn that an evenly lit room is not ideal. "If we are working in a space with one uniform type of lighting, which a lot of us do... that can cause a lot of distraction to our eyes," says Madden. Since our eyes are attracted to the brightest area in the room, if everything is lit uniformly, there isn't one area that is brighter than all others. Therefore, says Madden, "our eye is constantly shifting, looking for the brightest spot. That tires us. It can cause eye fatigue and strain."

Create layers and angles of light

One way to avoid uniform levels of lighting is to use indirect lighting sources. "A fixture that reflects off of the ceiling back down into the space is the least glaring and the most comforting angle to the to eye," says Madden. "You want to create layers of light — different intensities of light at different angles." It's also a good idea to have an adjustable source of light that's close to your reading and writing tasks, she says. Try using an adjustable table or desk lamp near your work area, and make sure that you can "fine tune" the intensity and angle of the light for the particular task you're completing.

You want to create layers of light — different intensities of light at different angles.

Wash your walls with light

Many home office workers spend a lot of their time working in front of their computers. If the area around your monitor is not well–lit, there will be a contrast between the bright computer screen and the darkness of the room, which will certainly create eye strain after awhile. To avoid this situation, try "washing" the wall behind your computer with a recessed "wall washer", a light fixture that looks like a regular light that would project light down the wall, but, says Madden, "the optics, or reflectors, inside are designed to kick light out of the side instead of having it shoot straight down."

Beware of glare

The horizontal surfaces in your home office can contribute to glare if they are highly reflective. "I see a lot of interior designers using gloss granite or highly metallic finishes. Those can cause glare if the fixtures aren't placed properly," says Madden. She suggests placing ceiling light fixtures either behind a desk or to the side of the desk, "so that the glare isn't bouncing off the desktop into your eyes." Also, choose the material for your horizontal surfaces carefully. Matte finishes are usually best for work surfaces because they cut down on glare.

Mix up the color

Variations in the color of lighting can also create an attractive effect. Different types of bulbs provide different shades and colors of light. "An incandescent lamp... has a lot of yellow in it and a halogen lamp has more bluish white to it. By mixing different types of bulbs you'll achieve an effect that is more pleasing to the eye," states Madden.

Halogen bulbs Fluorescent bulbs Incandescent bulbs
Reading Indirect lighting Everyday lighting and dimming
Last approximately twice as long as regular bulbs Last approximately 10 times as long as regular bulbs Have been used for the past 80 years
Reduce cost of replacing bulbs Great energy–savers Least expensive way to light an office 

Think about your décor

The colors that you choose for your home office influence the amount of lighting that's needed. An office decorated with dark colors — mahogany woodwork, for example, and hunter green, maroon, navy, and browns in the carpet and furnishings — will need more lighting than an office with white or light walls and furniture. "Everything in a dark office is absorbing the light," says Madden, "so no matter how much light [the office occupant has], they still feel as though they don't have enough." She suggests overcompensating with your lighting by making a dark office about 20% brighter than you normally would if it were decorated in light colors.

Project an image

If you meet with clients in your home office, you're probably interested in making your space look professional and expressing your personal style. "You can use lighting in a decorative sense to convey a certain image," says Madden. For example, try focusing light on a piece of sculpture or a painting. The lighting fixtures you choose–the sconces, table lamps, and task lighting — can also reinforce a certain look. "If you're a very 'tech' company, you might want to go with a sconce that has a minimalist look," states Madden. "If you're a financial consultant, you might want a more conservative look, so you would go with a more traditional style of lamp."

Consider your natural lighting

Does your home office have windows? If so, don't rely on sunlight to illuminate your space, even if you have a south–facing window or a casement that gets flooded with day light. Think about using a shading accessory and make your interior light levels adjustable. "I always put all of my lighting on dimmers so you can have control of the lighting levels," says Madden. That way, she says, on a bright day, you can turn your office lights on a low level to "soften some of the harsh lighting coming in [the windows] so it doesn't seem so drastic and isn't as much of a contrast with what's outside." On overcast days when you would need more light, you can crank up the dimmer intensity.

Give fluorescent a try

If you've avoided fluorescent lights in the past, believing that they produce light that's too cold and blue, it's time to take a second look. "A lot of nice fixtures are now coming in fluorescent — for energy efficiency and also they have a great color rendition," says Madden. In some instances, the quality of the light is so rich that you may not even know it's coming from a fluorescent lamp. "You can get a lot of nice fluorescent bulbs now that fit into recessed lighting that are dimmable," she adds.

Do your homework

Before hiring a lighting designer or buying fixtures, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the variety of lighting that's available. "I find my best clients are the most knowledgeable; they do their homework before they hire me because they want to know what's available," says Madden. "I'm finding that most people are getting very involved with their lighting and finding how important it is to them and to their quality of life."


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