The power of lighting to add ambience to a room

The softly lit room

I sometimes struggle with the idea that I am solely an “interiors writer”. My brain is full of so many thoughts and ideas I’d like to share, some about interiors, but many others about art and creativity, about parenting and menopause and a long list of other topics, some trivial, some profound. I am a writer and stylist working in the interiors industry, but that doesn’t mean I particularly enjoy writing about the next interiors trend or which designer just launched a new collection. I probably can’t advise you where to buy x/y/z homeware product, and it’s unlikely that I know what Dulux’s paint colour of the year is.

Even in my interiors books I like to delve more into the why of a home rather than the what. Why did the owner choose this home? Why did they pick that artwork and hang it in the bathroom? Why did they decorate in these colours? I want the story behind the home, not just the catalogue of where they bought what. I love design and art and creativity and I love inspiring others to create a home they feel proud of and that reflects their personality. I love writing and I love creating something magical and unique out of very little and I love my little community of people as obsessed with HOME as I am. Creating a home wherever you live and regardless of your budget or the particular chapter of life you’re living through (married, single, with/without kids, divorced, flatmates, whatever…), that is something I can help with. So what makes a house (or apartment or boat or room) feel like a home?

If you’ve followed me for a long time you’ll know that I’ve moved around a lot over the years: London>Kent>New York>Boston>Los Angeles>Texas>Seoul>Los Angeles>London>Kent. When you move a lot you become uniquely skilled at settling into a home really fast, whether it’s rented or owned. It doesn’t take much. My brother came to visit recently from LA and he commented that my homes always feel ‘homey’ very quickly. And as I sit here now and look around my little rented place by the sea that I’ve only lived in for a few months, I can see that he’s right.

Even when I know I won’t be in a home for very long I still make an effort to put my mark on it. Actually it’s not an effort, it’s a compulsion – I have to do it! It’s what I love and it’s what makes me tick. I don’t really bother with paint or anything that costs real money because why would I renovate my landlord’s home for them? (The question of whether or not to invest much into a rental is a topic for another piece because it really depends on where you live and what your prospects and desire for home ownership are. In some countries owning property isn’t a high priority and I do wonder if my children’s generation, at least those living in expensive cities like London, will be forced to not care about owning a home because it is rapidly becoming financially impossible without a high paying job or wealthy parents). Anyway, tangent! Like I said, it’s an entire article in itself.

Speaking personally, my goal has been to buy another home after selling my place in the States, so saving my pennies has taken priority over fixing up a rental while I live in it for a short time. I know I’m not alone in this. And what is the first thing I do when I move into a new place, especially a rental where I may not love everything about the decor? I light it well.

My NUMBER ONE tip for instant ambience (read: homey vibes) is lighting. I know, I know, don’t roll your eyes, it’s not groundbreaking. Every designer who has ever lived has shared this nugget of interiors advice. And yet…how many homes do I visit that get it wrong? So many! Seriously, a shocking amount. I styled a big commercial shoot in a massive house in North London last year – trust me, there was plenty of money sloshing around – but the most shocking lighting situation throughout the home. Cold, harsh LED bulbs adorned a huge and likely very expensive chandelier hung in the triple height foyer – the bulbs with that blue-ish tint like you’re in the cheese aisle at the supermarket. The right bulbs and it would’ve felt like a different place entirely. Warm and cosy and inviting instead of too bright, harsh and a little bit sad and depressing.

The day I moved into my current rented home earlier this year, I plugged in all my lamps before I did almost anything else. Below is my first night, surrounded by moving boxes, but with one corner of calm lit softly by lamp light. A glass of wine and my favourite chocolate biscuits from childhood helped as well. The next day I added a couple of lamps to the bedroom along with some favourite artwork and plants and it almost felt like home.

lamp lighting adds ambience to a simply decorated room

From where I sit, in my 30 square metre, high ceilinged living room I count seven lamps. Some may say it’s excessive but honestly I’m thinking it needs more. They are dotted around, on the piano, on the mantel, a side table, and they elevate the room’s custardy magnolia painted walls (a favourite of UK landlords. Why?) to something close to elegance. With the harsh overhead light switched on, the room loses it’s charm, but with the warm, low light of a variety of lamps, it glows warmly. Low energy LED bulbs (I bought mine at IKEA) – the warm, almost amber toned ones – prevent my electricity bill from being shocking. So, lamps. If you see one you like, don’t ask do I have anywhere for it, just buy it. You can never have too many. And don’t even think about putting that overhead light on unless you’ve lost something down the sofa and you need searchlights.

I just deleted an entire paragraph with other quick tips (plants, books etc…) because you know what? This is THE ONE. If you can only do one thing, sort your lighting and it will transform your home.

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