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Pro tips to improve your home’s lighting—without an electrician

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Designers share their strategies to buy or DIY your way to a calmer, more flattering lighting scheme

Kitchen lighting with a diffuse overhead and focussed wall sconces for task lighting.
Guggenheim Architecture and Design Studio used a mix of diffuse overhead and focussed task lighting in this kitchen.
Haris Kenjar

The right lighting can make a room feel cozy and welcoming. In the rooms where we work, proper illumination can make your life easier. Lighting can make or break the mood in a room. Don’t believe us? Imagine a restaurant dining room: It has soft, dim, flattering light with candles on the tables and mirrors bouncing the warm light around the room. Then picture the same room come closing time when the staff has turned on the fluorescent overheads to mop the floors—you’re in a different place. Curbed asked three decor pros for their tips and tricks to improve the look and feel of a home’s lighting without calling in an electrician.

Unify your bulbs. Jenny Guggenheim, owner and principal designer at Guggenheim Architecture and Design Studio in Portland, suggests you change out all the mismatched types of bulb—especially old compact fluorescent ones—with one type of LED bulb. “In old homes there are sometimes three or four different types of lightbulbs (each with its own color temperature),” says Guggenheim. “This easy fix can go a long way towards elevating your lighting.”

Pick the right LEDs. They are now the gold-standard of efficient lightbulbs, but shopping for LED bulbs can be confusing. The designers we talked to all recommend 2,500K to 2,700K warmth LED bulbs. “That range mimics daylight, but a little on the warmer side,” says Guggenheim. Our pros all also cautioned that you get what you pay for: The cheaper the bulb, the lower the quality of the light it will cast, so shop a specialty lighting store or your local hardware instead of a big-box warehouse store to source higher-quality products.

This home by Common Bond Design shows layered lighting in action, including a metal shade overhead, a Panton Pantella light, a Dornstab floor lamp, and a George Nelson bubble floor lamp—all made with different materials of shades!
Mark Weinberg

Aim for at least two layers of light. Designer Alex Kalita, founder of Common Bond Design in Brooklyn, says your first layer should be the practical, which is typically brighter, overhead lighting, particularly in areas you need a lot of light like bathroom and kitchen. The second layer of light is the table, floor, and accent lamps you bring into the space.

Diffuse your light. When building layers, you need one that is diffused, says Kalita. “You’ll immediately recognize how expansive the light is... it’s softer, warmer, and more flattering,” she says. Diffusion can take many forms, including the opaque glass of a bulb and the fabric, glass, or paper of the shade. If all your light is coming from clear, bare bulbs and fixtures with opaque shades, think about swapping some of the bulbs and shades for a more inviting light.

(Mostly) ignore the trends. A lot of the popular lighting options available today feature metal shades or bare bulbs. However, neither style produces the most flattering light, so use them sparingly (metal shade lamps are good for task lighting). A basic ceramic lamp with a simple white paper or fabric shade is a timeless option that casts soft light.

Try a paper globe shade. “I love the light from Noguchi Akari lights,” says Kalita. However, she cautions that if you have kids or pets the table and floor lamps are susceptible to tears. Instead, she suggests buying an affordable version first and see how it goes, or opt for a Noguchi pendant that’s safely out of reach.” (Pearl Rivermart has long been Curbed New York editors’ source for simple paper globes in a range of sizes.)

Pay attention to scale. Guggenheim says she often sees people using too small of a light source, like a tiny table lamp in a large entryway. “Always check the dimension of the light fixture, if you can’t see it in person,” she cautions.

Put lamps everywhere. They’re not just for side tables, says interior designer and owner of the Woodhouse Lodge in Greenville, New York, Megan Pflug, “I love putting lamps on shelves mixed in with books or on open shelving in the kitchen. You can even put one on top of the fridge.”

Theatrical lighting gels
Theatrical lighting filters, like these Rosco gels can warm up a too-cool light.
Plug-in lamp dimmer.
A plug-in lamp dimer like this one from Lutron let’s you adjust your lamp’s output.

Dim your accent lights. When shopping for table lamps, always look for options with a dimmer switch. If you have ones that lack a dimmer, you can purchase a plug-in dimmer that will let you control the brightness. Lutron sells a basic plug-in dimmer in white, black or brown (approximately $14 each on

Hack an LED panel fixture with theatrical supplies. Kalita has improved the cool cast of an LED panel like with colored plastic films that are normally used to filter stage lights. “Cut the gel to size and put it over the integrated lighting strip,” she says. Kalita recommends a ¼ or ½ CTO orange gel (the two main manufacturers are Lee and Rosco); find them at a theatrical supply store or through Amazon.

Upgrade the landlord special. If your rental has those ugly glass fluted shades, screw off the shade (pack it away to reinstall when you move out) and screw a chrome tip lightbulb into the socket. “It’ll give you diffusion with some reflectivity,” says Kalita. Another place to use chrome-tip bulbs: In 1980s-style vanity bathroom lights.

Go for a luxe bulb. In addition to chrome-tipped bulbs, other specialty bulbs can improve your lighting. For example, a low-wattage Edison-style LED can do a lot tone down a harsh overhead. Kalita likes placing an oversized, opaque, globe bulb in conventional fixtures with an exposed socket, especially porcelain keyless sockets found in older homes. Curbed editors love the energy-efficient porcelain globe bulbs from British manufacturer Tala (sold through both West Elm and Rejuvenation in the U.S.).

Rig up a pendant. If your home lacks ample overhead lighting, you can use a plug-in pendant light where you need it, say over a dining table or counter. For a more polished look, Pflug recommends you look for pendants that have more attractive cords, not just a basic plastic-coated ones.

Wrought iron bed with plug-in bedside sconce.
A plug-in Humanhome sconce illuminates a bedside table in this room by Common Bond Design.
Biz Jones
Navy blue bunkbeds with plug-in wall sconces.
Plug-in wall sconces from Schoolhouse Electric light up a pair of bunkbeds in this room by Guggenheim Architecture and Design Studio.
Haris Kenjar

Add wall sconces. Layer light into a dining room or brighten a bedside table with a plug-in wall sconce. Again, look for a model with a cloth cord or even a metal cord covering. Schoolhouse Electric, Humanhome, and Rejuvenation have attractive options that don’t feel like an afterthought.

Don’t forget candles. Pflug, who recently designed the dining space at her hotel the Woodhouse Lodge says that adding tea lights in glass jars is a super-affordable way to transform the mood of a room. “Put them everywhere,” she says, “It makes things warm and inviting.”

And if you do decide to call an electrician… Put all your overhead lights on dimmers; it’s a fix our experts say is well worth the price of a professional. (If you’re handy, you can probably DIY this too.)