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How to Light a Home Office

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  • Spring Lighting Event

Today’s home office is more than just a place to work—it can also be a room to relax, catch up on emails, read, and watch TV, so it calls for lighting and furnishings to accommodate these various functions. On top of that, it needs to harmonize with the rest of the home, and provide a sense of atmosphere and comfort. For expert tips and ideas on how to light a home office, we turned to Chicago-based interior designer Carole Post known for her streamlined contemporary projects—and her smart, layered approach to lighting.

How do you approach lighting a home office differently from lighting a commercial space?

Carole Post: In a commercial setting, you want a consistent single-level light source—not so much ambiance or atmosphere. In a home office, you want to achieve different levels of light to create a mood and atmosphere that is interesting and flows with the design of the house. Since it’s a private space, you can be a little bolder. You can hang a statement pendant, for example, or use lighting to emphasize a piece of artwork, or accent the architecture through wall washing.

What are some rules of thumb when lighting a home office?

CP: Keep in mind that it’s a functional place for you to work but it should also reflect your personality and interests. It should have a comfortable, properly lit area for reading, relaxing, and viewing a computer screen or a TV and a place to display collections or artwork.

As such, lighting should be layered to enhance the various roles of the room. I consider the natural light conditions and choose a combination of ambient, task, and accent fixtures. You need ambient lighting—such as recessed or ceiling-mounted fixtures; sconces; or up lights—to establish an overall level of lighting in the room. Task lights—a desk lamp, or a floor lamp next to a chair—are specifically for working at a computer, writing, or reading. And accent fixtures—a small, recessed wall-washing can, monopoint, or uplight from the floor—can be used to highlight art or architectural features.

Can you offer ideas about the overall lighting design for a home office space?

CP: When layering lighting, the fixtures and light sources should not be a distraction. I like to have one fixture, like a pendant, make a strong visual statement, and then the rest of the lighting—whether recessed or accent lighting—work around the perimeter of the room to highlight features and objects.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is the quality of light and how it renders color. Light sources should be of similar color temperature for balance. If you’re using incandescent and halogen sources, be sure your LED lamping is at a warm Kelvin temperature similar to incandescent (2700k-3500k). Investing in a dimming system is energy efficient and allows you to easily control the levels of light.

What’s important to know about overhead lighting in a home office?

CP: I don’t usually like using recessed fixtures for general ambient lighting in a home office because it tends to create hot spots and can look very static. General ambient lighting can be achieved quite effectively by using a large pendant fixture with a diffused light source. Pendants can also add a dramatic element to the room. I love Marcel Wanders’ Skygarden from Flos, or Vibia’s Warm Pendant for a more subtle design; both provide a beautiful, soft glow. Another great option when you need more directed light is Ron Gilad’s Dear Ingo for Moooi. It’s an iconic piece that can be used in variety of spaces, from industrial to classical. When it comes to hanging a pendant, locate it in the center of the room, at least 6 feet above the finished floor.

Wall sconces and uplights can also balance ambient light by bouncing light off ceilings and walls. Flos’ Foglio gives a beautiful up and down glow of light, and would be great in a space where you want to accentuate the architecture and get some reflected light off the ceiling.

How can lighting impact productivity or energy level in a home office?

CP: A dim or improperly lit office can make you sleepy. You’ll get eye fatigue if there’s poor light when you’re looking at a computer screen. To avoid this, be sure to layer in corrective light, such as a task light behind the computer screen.

What are some factors to consider when selecting task lighting for a home office?

CP: I prefer simple, clean fixtures that can easily articulate at the arm, head, and in height. I also recommend LEDs to avoid heat while working or reading. Artemide’s Tizio is a classic design that’s now offered in LED. I really like Koncept’s Z-Bar and Equo designs, which are available in desk and floor versions. They both can be configured in different shapes, and you can twist and turn them when you want them out of the way.

Be sure the base of your task lamp doesn’t take up too much surface area and that the fixture is stable when positioned.

What accent or decorative lights do you like in a home office?

CP: Tech Lighting’s ELEMENT series is great for highlighting artwork or wall washing, and I particularly like the flexibility of their 4-inch adjustable downlight, which has a great aiming angle. If a room has eight-foot ceilings, install the lights 24 to 30 inches in from the wall.

When ceiling conditions don’t allow for a recessed fixture, a monopoint is an excellent alternative. Tech Lighting’s Joshua and T156 Head are great low-voltage options that give off a tight, crisp beam. For a line-voltage alternative, Marset’s Atlas has a unique, minimal design with a wider angle of light.

Can you offer tips for positioning furnishings to optimize lighting potential?

CP: In general it’s ideal to have natural light sources in front of or adjacent to work surfaces and computer screens to avoid glare. This also optimizes views to the outside. If exposures have varying brightness during the day, you can use solar shades to soften and cut down on heat without compromising the light source and view.

Placing shelving and storage behind the work surface allows for easy access and can create an interesting visual. In larger spaces, I’ll often envelop shelving around the room for a more intimate atmosphere. A comfortable seating area or single chaise or lounge chair can be placed as the plan allows—often somewhere in front of the work surface.

For More Ideas + Inspiration

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Laura Edwards

Laura is a Texan who has called California her home the last ten years. As an experienced Interior Designer she has advanced knowledge of modern and classic lighting, furniture and bath products. She loves the design industry and is always attending trade shows and exhibits around the world. She swam competitively for FSU where she met her husband Peyton. They reside in Los Angeles with their dog Renegade.