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May 28, 2022

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Lighten up: Making the most of lighting can keep winter blues, pandemic fatigue at bay

Summer allowed many of us to get out of our homes more despite the pandemic

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A fire feature in a New York home designed by Elena Colombo. In the evening, the warm light from a fire feature like this one can change the mood in a home that's been used for work during the day.
A fire feature in a New York home designed by Elena Colombo. In the evening, the warm light from a fire feature like this one can change the mood in a home that's been used for work during the day. (Ron Egozi/Elena Colombo) Photo Gallery

Sunset is noticeably earlier, meaning less mood-lifting daylight for everyone. The winter chill has set in, so we spend even more time cooped up inside the homes where we’ve huddled, and sometimes completely quarantined, due to the new omicron variant.

Many of us are still working and studying at home by day, then trying to shift into relaxation mode in the very same rooms at night. And we’re doing all of this while battling the many stresses that this pandemic keeps on delivering.

If ever there was an winter when things could be a bit brighter, this is it.

So while better light bulbs or a repositioned lamp won’t solve everything, it’s a great time to reassess the way your home is lit — and possibly make some changes.

Differentiate night from day

It’s hard to step away from work when you’re living in your workspace. One way to shift the mood and tell your body and brain that it’s time to relax is to change the lighting when day becomes night.

By day, use light bulbs that mimic daylight (about 5000 Kelvin). Virginia-based architect Warren Ralston says this is usually the lighting we see in offices, because its cool white hue offers plenty of energizing brightness.

Smart LED bulbs can be set to this brightness in the morning and kept there all day.

“Another great thing about 5000K daylight LED is how well it works for video conferencing,” says Atlanta-based interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn. “Anytime I’m working from home, I turn on the overhead LEDs and it eliminates yellowy shadows from the videos.”

When your workday is over, switch to lamps and fixtures fitted with traditional warm bulbs or set your smart bulbs to a lower intensity (about 3000-3500 Kelvin, or as low as 2500 for very warm light).

Many types of smart light bulbs can be adjusted easily with a remote control or through an app, Flynn says. “This is hugely helpful for creating ambience and warmth versus using pure daylight for work purposes.”

You can also set your lights on timers, so your preferred evening lighting comes on automatically.

Light your things, not your rooms

Brightening up your home may be about repositioning the lights you already have, rather than adding more.

“Light has to reflect off of something in order for your eyes to perceive that light,” Ralston explains. “So you don’t really light a space. You light a surface. You’re lighting a wall or a floor or an object.”

Try positioning lamps or overhead lights so the light bounces off items you want to highlight, or off surfaces such as a glossy tabletop or lustrous fabric.

Consider rearranging furniture and art to make better use of the light coming from ceiling fixtures and sconces.

Ralston sometimes uses virtual reality technology to show clients what a room will look like at different times of day, and how lighting options would look paired with different furnishings. He says they’re often surprised at how different the light looks depending on what surfaces surround it.

Warm your space with firelight

In the winter, lighting a few logs in a traditional fireplace is a great way to shift the mood in your home. And if you don’t have a fireplace, you can still enjoy that same warmth and flickering light, says designer and sculptor Elena Colombo, who creates fire features that range from elaborate outdoor installations to delicate tabletop fire bowls.

A small fire bowl can be used on a coffee table or as a centerpiece on a dining-room table to create a warm, welcoming, flickering light that’s a step beyond what candles offer, Colombo says. Many fire bowls burn an alcohol-based gel that requires no ventilation.

“As soon as your eye sees the flame,” she says, “it just changes your mood.”

When choosing your source of indoor firelight, just be sure to follow any fire safety restrictions where you live.

And when night falls, Colombo suggests switching on a few low-wattage lights near the door to your deck or patio. Just having a view of your warmly lit outdoor space can keep you from feeling penned in on a dark autumn night. It will make your home feel more expansive, and maybe even inspire you to grab a coat and sit out under the stars.

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