How to Light a Bedroom
Los Angeles designer Jamie Bush offers expert advice for a functional, restful room
Picking proper lighting for the bedroom creates a warm and inviting space, but deploying directional lights for dressing along with diffused lighting for sitting areas can be challenging. Los Angeles-based interior designer Jamie Bush, recognized for his ability to combine period and contemporary décor, shares his secrets for a well-lit bedroom.
YLighting: What's your number-one piece of advice for lighting a bedroom?
Jamie Bush: Setting the mood is most important. You don't want glaring overhead lighting, which can be unappealing and harsh. The right approach combines practicality—getting light where you need it, for things like reading or getting dressed—with the ability to step down that light to create an enveloping warmth. I put every fixture on a dimmer, so the light can be softened.
YL: How do you develop a bedroom lighting plan?
JB: I'm trained as an architect, so we start with a furniture floor plan and measure everything out, down to where the plugs go. If there's art on the wall we install ceiling spotlights, set two feet in from the wall if it's a standard eight-foot ceiling, or farther in if the ceiling is taller. You want the light to hit at eye level, where artwork hangs. If we use a pendant or a semi-flush ceiling fixture, it's usually centered in the room, often over the bed, so we try not to hang it too low—typically eight to 12 inches from the ceiling. I like to use fairly large fixtures—my philosophy is that fewer, larger elements in modern design makes a larger impact. I don't use many small or standardized sizes. To me they seem to lay flat, or look like tchotchkes. I prefer things with presence and size and scale. I love the Bronze Age 4 Light Surface Mount ceiling fixtures, but I would use four, six, or eight of them grouped on a ceiling depending on the size of the room. You could do a grid or a pattern. They have a warm, rich glow, which would work well on a wood ceiling in a modern home.
YL: Nowadays, many bedrooms are more than just places to sleep—they're also places to work, read, and spend family time. How can lighting help accommodate all these activities in a single room?
JB: The key is creating flexibility, and the ability to control light levels, so if someone wants to sleep and someone wants to work, you can accommodate that. Instead of one big overhead light, use different lighting in each area. At a desk, use task lights as well as a couple overhead pins to illuminate the whole space; that way you have options. Both the I.Cono Table Lamp and the Tab LED Table Lamp look terrific on a desk, but don't seem like you brought them home from the office.
YL: What should one look for when choosing bedside lighting?
JB: If your reading light is a table lamp, make sure you pick a shade with a light tone. A black or dark gray shade might look cool, but if it doesn't glow with light you can't read by it. If you're a serious reader, opt for for a swing-arm task light that's adjustable both vertically and horizontally, for maximum flexibility. The Manhattan Wall Light is super-practical and very handsome in the bronze finish. But if you don't read much, or you only read on an iPad, sharp light is less critical, so you might want something more sculptural, like a glowing blown-glass fixture. The Cesta Table Lamp is a great-looking modern lantern that would be so chic as a bedside table lamp. The soft glow at night would be soothing and incredibly warm. And I love the Quart Table Lamp as a task reading light. The combination of the marble base with the oak stem and the painted metal shade gives a lot of natural interest in a compact design.
YL: What are good alternatives to table lamps for bedside lighting?
JB: Sometimes we'll hang pendants over bedside tables—they're a good option, especially for smaller rooms, because they don't take up space on the table. One I like is the geometric walnut Laurus Pendant Light from Cerno. And the Aplomb Suspension Light is a great-looking piece, especially with the concrete finish. It's more for mood lighting than reading, though.
YL: Anything people should make sure to avoid when lighting a bedroom?
JB: Installing only overhead cans—or too many—is a common mistake. It flattens everything out, there's no dimension, and it's unflattering—you look older and more saggy.
YL: Is symmetry important with bedroom lighting?
JB: No. But balancing and layering the light is. I like multiple types of fixtures. For example, I might place a floor lamp next to a lounge chair, table lamps on either side of the bed, and a decorative fixture on a dresser. I always try to have something with a shade to give a general warm glow. Also, some source of indirect lighting—light bouncing off something—whether sconces that throw light back on wall, cove lighting that grazes the ceiling or an architectural feature, or picture lights or spots for artwork. The goal is to bring your eye around the entire room, not just to focus on the bed. Bringing light to different corners makes a space feel bigger and balanced. The goal isn't an evenly lit room, but an interestingly lit one, so your eye travels from fixture to fixture.
YL: How do you choose the right bulbs for a bedroom?
JB: I try to use as much incandescent light as possible. No fluorescents! And no halogens—they are too crisp and sharp. If you use LEDs, look for 2700-3000 Kelvin—they have more warmth, and are closer to daylight or incandescent light. Limit your lighting sources to just one or two, such as only incandescent and LEDs—and match the level of warmth, so the overall room has a consistent look and feel. When light bulbs don't match, the whole room looks out of balance.
YL: Any advice for installing dimmers?
JB: I like to do lighting control panels, like a Crestron or Lutron system, and have all the dimmers preset, so when you walk in you press one button and every light goes on at the same time and you don't have to physically turn on any lamp. You can create three different settings, so you can easily set the right mood.
YL: What about sconces in the bedroom?
JB: I like swing-arm sconces for reading. For example, I can see the Excel Double Wall Sconce over a bedside table in between a pair of twin beds in a small guest room. Sometimes I'll use one sconce to flank a doorway or an architectural feature, like a wall between two windows. They can be used along a hallway leading from bedroom to bathroom. A more sculptural sconce can stand alone as a strong design element in a room.
YL: How would you incorporate modern lighting into a more traditional bedroom?
JB: It's all about the mix. You have two options: Either pick one big statement piece—a contemporary fixture in the center of a room that has scale and presence, and is clearly an anomaly, the thing that breaks the rule. Or, introduce several modern fixtures, to create a rhythm and train the eye that it's an intentional move to introduce this new design language, and not a mistake or lonely leftover. Natural materials work best, those with texture and irregularity such as woods, alabaster, natural stones, metals with patina, and linen. Chrome and white glass can look cold in that type of setting. The Bristol Easel Floor Lamp, based on a vintage Italian design, is a perfect crossover, especially in the antique brass finish. The Deadstock Catherine Table Light uses great natural materials—brass, white marble, and black steel—and would look terrific on a console table illuminating some old prints on the wall, or sitting on a stack of books.