The lighting in my apartment has been tricky from the beginning. This is the story of how I decided on key lighting for my home and honed my design voice in the process.
After I bought my place, I jumped into renovating right away. I had zero experience renovating, and while there was no structural work needed, the apartment was dingy and in desperate need of a makeover. As you can see from the pictures below, it was dark and had zero character. All renovations for the entire apartment needed to be completed in roughly 6-weeks since that was when I needed to move out of my previous apartment. If I didn’t finish, I would either have to store my belongings and stay somewhere temporary (a big cost) or live in a construction zone (a big inconvenience). Here are some before photos:
Highly motivated, I jumped into making punch lists, finding a contractor, and ordering materials on my own to help keep costs down. Lighting was a big question mark for me. The main room of the apartment is a large rectangle and I made the design choice to have it function as a combination living room and dining room.
There is no overhead lighting in most of the main living spaces, which presented a unique challenge. While I was grateful for the ceiling height, I had to make lighting decisions quickly to finish the renovation on time. I decided that for hardwired lighting, I would have two sconces over the couch and a pendant over the dining room table.
However, when the day came to place the lighting not only was there no furniture in the apartment, it was still a complete demo site. The electrician had a sharpie and limited time and said—where do you want the lights? I froze. This felt so permanent! What if I made a mistake?! Luckily, since I had moved so quickly on a lot of my apartment decisions I had already ordered my couch and dining table. I was able to approximate placement based on those measurements.
I was ultimately happy with the sconces I purchased from Restoration Hardware, but the light over the dining table never quite worked. Also, the first time my electrician tried to hang it, the light was dropped and smashed into pieces (ahhhhh the joys of renovating).
The first light in the space was a single glass pendant sourced from Amazon. Try as I might to keep it clean, the pendant always seemed to be dusty and as a single bulb it did not give off the light I really needed in the apartment.
I then tried two fixtures from West Elm. The first I loved, but was far too big for the space and didn't even get hung. When I returned that fixture, I was told they had the smaller version on super duper clearance for $40, so I took a chance and got that one. That light was too small for the space and the white painted metal didn’t work as you can see below.
Finally, I recently settled on a light from All Modern that I love and works well with the space. I learned that while not all lighting in your room needs to match, there should be something that ties them all together for a cohesive look. In my case, oil-rubbed bronze with either glass shades and/or gold accents is a common theme in my lighting choices for this room.
This process taught me a few things.
- First, allow yourself (if possible) plenty of time to come up with a thoughtful lighting plan and do not expect that contractors/electricians will be able or willing to offer advice on lighting placement.
- Second, ideally you should live in your space before making major lighting decisions. If you do have to make choices before living in the space, make sure that all of your hardwired lighting choices have a common element that ties them together.
- Finally, allow yourself to make mistakes. I could have simply lived with my original choice, but instead chose to go through the time and hassle of trying options out until I found the right thing. If you buy something that doesn't work, that's what Craigslist is for--just sell it. This process ultimately taught me about my aesthetics and helped me continue to develop my design voice.
Thanks for reading and I'd love to hear about your experiences with choosing lighting!