Good lighting a real mood lifter: Takes place of quickly receding daylight in fall

This photo displays 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 and school during the day. (Ron Egozi/Elena Colombo via AP)

Sunset is arriving noticeably earlier, meaning less mood-lifting daylight for everyone. The weather is turning colder, so we’re already spending even more time cooped up inside the homes where we’ve huddled.

Many of us are working and studying at home by day, then trying to shift into relaxation mode in the same rooms at night.

If ever there was an autumn when things could be a bit brighter, 2020 is it.

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


As shown here, designer Brian Patrick Flynn suggests using dimmable true daylight LED bulbs to avoid the yellowing effect warm bulbs have on spaces. On his patio, the bright white casts a beautiful glow as the sun sets. (Robert Peterson, Rustic White Photography/Brian Patrick Flynn via AP)

Differentiate night from day

It’s hard to step away from work or school 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.

Set a smart LED bulb to this brightness in the morning and keep it 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.”

This photo shows the inside of a home designed by Brian Patrick Flynn. Flynn recommends table lamps with pure white shades to help cast clean, bright white throughout a room, as shown here. Colored lamps shades, especially those with interior lining in different colors or metallics, can look amazing but also alter the color values of other design elements in a space. (Robert Peterson, Rustic White Photography/Brian Patrick Flynn via AP)

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

This photo shows part of Brian Patrick Flynn's Atlanta home. Flynn designed a 30-inch globe fixture made of opaque white acrylic and aged brass for a play on midcentury modern and traditional styles. Flynn always suggests having a main lighting source have pure white daylight output to keep spaces feeling bright, crisp and clean. (Design by Brian Patrick Flynn, photo by Robert Peterson/Rustic White Photography)(Robert Peterson, Rustic White Photography/Brian Patrick Flynn via AP)

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 like 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 surrounding surfaces.


Warm your space with firelight

In the fall, light a few logs in a traditional fireplace to shift the mood your home’s mood. 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 a source of indoor firelight, be sure to follow any fire safety restrictions where you live.

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.


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