Bedrooms

How to plan bedroom lighting - pick the ideal combination for a soothing space

Follow this expert advice to discover the fail-safe way to create a successful bedroom lighting scheme from scratch

How to plan bedroom lighting Future
(Image credit: Future)

As anyone who has an interest in interiors knows, planning bedroom lighting well can have a transformative effect on a space. Choose the right mix of lighting and you can alter the function and feel of a bedroom, giving an area washed in bright light, an instantly cozy, relaxed mood simply by the flick of a switch.  

There's nowhere more worthy of a lighting makeover than a bedroom. As well as being a space in which we relax, unwind and rest each evening, we also need it to be well lit when getting ready each morning. 

'When planning your bedroom,' advises Rohan Blacker, founder of lighting specialist, Pooky, 'make sure that lighting is part of the plan from the very start as retrospective planning can sometimes lead to compromise.'

'The first thing to consider when planning your bedroom lighting is what you need on a practical level,' explains Niki Wright, founder of Lightsandlamps.com. 'The minimum number of lights in a bedroom is probably two: a ceiling light and a bedside lamp or pendant, but there really is no maximum.'

Read on to discover how to plan bedroom lighting successfully to ensure your room can easily switch from soothing to energizing.

1. Know your lighting types

Bedroom lighting

(Image credit: Turner Pocock)

'Layering your lighting is the key to creating the perfect balance of warmth, cosiness and function in your home,' continues Pooky founder, Rohan Blacker. 'This is particularly important in a bedroom as you will need a combination of task and ambient lighting solutions for relaxation, reading or getting dressed.'

There are three main lighting types that you should be aware of and should be incorporated into your design. These are ambient lighting (or general), task and accent lighting.

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(Image credit: Future/Paul Raeside)

Ambient lighting

Ambient or general light is the main light, usually via a pendant or ceiling light, that a room receives. It's perfect when you're doing general tasks, from getting ready in the morning when it's still dark outside and choosing your outfits for the day or just looking for something in your room. 

More functional than mood setting, it's a must in any space, even though you may not use it that often.

'Ceiling lights provide an opportunity to be more creative,' says Rohan from Pooky. 'Choose a colorful or ornate piece to provide a focal point in the room, or for the more adventurous, a chandelier is a great addition to a bedroom to create a sense of grandeur.'

If your ceilings aren't very high, or you or your partner are quite tall, you can either look to installing a pendant above the bed to ensure you don't walk into it or install recessed ceiling lights for a comprehensive wash of bright light.

'Consider hanging pendants over each bedside table for an interesting alternative to a table lamp or wall light,' Rohan adds.

How-to-plan-bedroom-lighting-Future

(Image credit: Future)

Task lighting

Used to highlight an area for a specific 'task', like reading, this type of lighting is always found by the bedside and often, depending on the size of your room, elsewhere in the room where you need some well-defined light. 

'Dressing tables, wardrobes and reading nooks areas where more focused task lighting is required,' suggests Peter Bowles, founder and MD of Original BTC.

Angled lights and table lamps are best for bedsides, while wall lights, floor lamps and mirror lights are good choice for the rest of your space.

'Keep bulbs shaded with material as opposed to with glass,' suggests Pooky's Rohan, 'unless you want to use the light source for reading. If you’re a book lover, directional wall lights are far more effective than wall or table lamps with lampshades, but they are far less equipped to create warm, ambient light. Consider whether you have room to install both.'

How-to-plan-bedroom-lighting-Original-BTC

(Image credit: Original BTC)

Accent lighting

Pretty self explanatory, the job of accent lighting in a scheme is to highlight certain areas in a space, from picture lights to wall lights. This provides you with an alternative to using your main ambient light, when you need to brighten your bedroom.

2. Consider the placement of light switches carefully

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(Image credit: Future/Davide Lovatti)

'First and foremost, the bedroom is for relaxation, so using lighting with dimmers is ideal for mood lighting and creating the perfect ambience,' says Niki Wright.

If you want to install dimmer switches for full control on your lighting, you'll need check the lamps and bulbs before you buy, as some may not support dimmers. 

The placement of light switches, too, can also help with convenience. 'Position switches near the doorway, as well as by the bed, so you don’t have to get up to turn them off and return to bed in darkness,' suggests Peter from Original BTC.

3. Think creatively

How-to-plan-bedroom-lighting-Benjamin-Moore

(Image credit: Benjamin Moore)

Just because a light is a functional item, doesn't mean you can't be creative in your choices. The combined form and function of a lamp can combine beautifully to give out a wonderful glow. Take a look at the latest lighting trends for a steer on what styles are popular and decide from there.

Rohan agrees. 'Think about what feel you’re after in the bedroom - pretty and feminine, warm and cosy, something with a more opulent flavour – then utilise your lighting scheme so that it will help you create that feeling.'

Fabric shades

Depending on the weight and color of fabric used, these can give out a beautifully diffused light and are an excellent choice if you want to create a softer glow. 

A great alternative to a bedside task light, a table lamp with a fabric shade will bathe your bedside in a soft glow.

'Whatever the fitting, bedrooms are the perfect room in the house to experiment with shades, using brighter colors or patterns to add accent tones to your scheme, perhaps to match a throw or a scatter cushion,' says Rohan from Pooky.

'Whether it be bold in color, in pattern or a bit of both - we have seen an uplift in sales of our brighter, more vibrant shade varieties. Maybe customers are pairing with more neutral pared back interior schemes, or perhaps just finding the confidence to go for a more adventurous design,' he says.

How-to-plan-bedroom-lighting-Future

(Image credit: Future)

Space savers

In a small bedroom, if you don't have room for a bedside table or would rather a clutter-free space, consider wall lights or small pendants as an alternative. 

'Think creatively - floor lights with adjustable arms or even a pair of low-hanging pendants can make dramatic bedside lights,' advises Peter.

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(Image credit: Future/Tom Leighton)

'Consider different types of light fitting, not just the light they provide,' suggests Peter. 'Wall-mounted lights are great space-savers in small, low-ceilinged rooms and are ideal for creating a clean, boutique hotel look.'

How-to-plan-bedroom-lighting-Original-BTC

(Image credit: Original BTC)

Simple form

If you'd rather your lighting take a back seat in your decor, there are plenty of options to choose from to make this work. Recessed lighting is ideal for ceilings, as well as inside cupboards and wardrobes, casting light only where and when you need it.

Choose lamps with a simple, unobtrusive design to blend in, rather than dominate, the decor.

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(Image credit: Future/Davide Lovatti)

4. Introduce smart lighting

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(Image credit: Future/Brent Darby)

Smart lighting systems, like Philips Hue, Lifx and WiZ can give you complete access to your lights via your smartphone.

'Smart lighting systems can be complicated, but if done right, they can really help to create the right atmosphere in the room at a touch of a button,' says Niki, 'and there is no better place for such a system than in the bedroom.'

You can set timers to have your lights switch on automatically in the evenings, as well as programming them to act as a SAD lamp, turning on each morning with a light that slowly goes from dim to bright, helping you wake naturally.

How-to-plan-bedroom-lighting-Pooky

(Image credit: Pooky)

What lighting is best for bedrooms?

'Bedrooms are practical as well as relaxation spaces, so you'll need to plan your lighting accordingly,' says Peter from Original BTC. 

The aim, he advises, is to 'create a layered scheme that will work at any time of day and across the seasons - cozy in winter, light and airy in summer.'

Every bedroom should have ambient and task lighting, no matter how small it is - a bright overall light and a separate focused light for reading are both essential. 

Larger rooms should include accent lighting too, and if possible, install dimmer switches on all lights. If it's too late to install dimmers, invest in smart bulbs - they too will give you full control how brightly (and dimly) you want your lights to shine.

How many lights do I need in a bedroom?

Lightbulbs are now measured in lumens - roughly speaking, this represents the light that each one gives out. The higher the lumen, the brighter the light. A traditional 40W bulb gives off 400 lumens, while a 60W bulb around 700 lumens. 

Generally speaking, a bedroom needs between 10 and 20 lumens per square foot of space so if you multiply your square footage by 10, 15 or 20 (depending on how bright you want it), you'll get the exact amount of light that the space needs. You can then divide this across a number of lightbulbs in light sources throughout the space.

Bear in mind that unlike kitchens and bathroom lighting that needs to be bright, bedroom lighting is mostly used at night so they tend to look their best when lit with low light. Even though you have a layered scheme that covers ambient, task and accent lighting, you'll rarely use all three types at once. It's far more likely that you'll light the space using  just task and accent lighting.

How bright should a ceiling light be?

As ceiling or pendants provide ambient light, they need to cast a bright light over the entire room when switched on to fill in the gaps that any focused task lighting or accent lighting may not reach.

Usually ceiling or pendant lights should be decorative when switched off and practical light sources when on.

There's much debate on whether to choose cool white or warm white bulbs for your lights. Cool light can feel quite harsh in a bedroom, with warm white feeling a far more organic choice for a sleeping space. It's really a personal choice so if you're not sure, install a smart bulb as they will give you the choice of both tones.