There's nothing more unflattering than harsh, clinical lighting, particularly in a room with overhead fixtures casting shadows from above. Bright light might be the solution when it comes to reading, working, and creating, but an intimate atmosphere calls for a softer glow. Here's how to achieve a romantic ambience with a few quick moves.
According to Randall Whitehead, author of Residential Lighting: A Practical Guide, a balanced, well-lit room includes a mix of ambient, task, and accent lighting. We're focusing on ambient lighting here; read on for 10 solutions:
1. Incorporate glamorous bulbs for instant romance. UK designer Lee Broom's Crystal Bulbs (above), are hand blown from English full lead crystal with 24-karat gold-plated brass fittings; £109 each directly through Lee Broom. In the US, the Lee Broom Crystal Pendant Lamp is $398 from Anthropologie. Also consider Eric Therner's Diamond Lights (see more at High/Low: Cut-Crystal Light Bulbs).
2. Soften the room with a rosy glow. In a mostly white space, soft pink incandescent bulbs tucked into opaque glass shades or in table lamps can bring warmth into a room. The bulb's pink hue is pale, but it's wise to test the light in a room and against skin tone before fully committing. Sylvania Soft Pink 60 Watt Bulbs are $10.03 for a pack of two from Amazon.
3. Turn down the wattage. Reserve 75 and 100 watt bulbs for reading lamps and reduce the strength of principal lights in settings where a more romantic ambience is desired. Alternatively, fixtures on a dimmer easily alter the mood, extend the life of light bulbs, and conserve energy.
4. Avoid direct, overhead light. A pivoting wall lamp can function as either a task or ambient light depending on its location. Take Maison Martin Margiela's use of the Prouvé Potence Lamp at La Maison des Centraliens in Paris (above). Low hanging pendant lights in the bedroom, floor lamps, and recessed lighting all cast flattering light evenly into a room.
5. Go incandescent—if you can. If you're willing to compromise energy efficiency in a particular room, the full spectrum light offered by incandescent bulbs is preferred by some, including lighting designer Howard Brandston, who has been a longtime advocate of incandescent over halogen and fluorescent bulbs (read more of Brandston's views on lighting at the New York Times). As of this past January, however, incandescent bulbs are no longer being manufactured in the US; read about other soft lighting solutions in our recent post, The Great Light Bulb Debate.
6. Or stick with CFLs and LEDs. These bulbs are designed with soft light in mind and are comparable to 40 to 60W incandescents; the Philips 12.5W AmbientLED A19 Bulb gives off a bright but warm glow while maintaining its energy-efficient properties.
7. Consider luxe lighting; the smaller, evenly spaced bulbs of a chandelier disperse light softly through a room. See our post 10 Easy Pieces: Modern Chandeliers and Glass Globe Chandeliers for a total of 20 different options. Photograph from Living Above the Shop: Marche St. George in Vancouver.
8. Reduce the glare. The reflective coating of silver tip bulbs refract and redirect light to reduce glare and work well in base-up lighting fixtures or as a simple bare bulb. The A19 Silver Tip Bulb is $5 from Schoolhouse Electric and Bulbrite's Inside Frost Half Chrome 60W Bulb is $6.49 from Amazon.
9. Set the mood. Some bulbs, like Purely Products' Healthy CFLs, claim to boost happiness by generating negative ions that increase serotonin levels ($8 each); the Blues Buster Light Bulb emits light that mimics natural sunshine ($9.39 for a single 60W frosted bulb from Amazon.
10. Go elemental. In the end, nothing is more flattering than the flickering glow of candlelight. Consider sculptural Slowlight Candles from Belgium, Cire Trudon, or Astier de Villate candles. Photograph of The Apollo restaurant from Where the Divine Dine in Sydney.
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on February 12, 2013 as part of our L'Amour issue.
For more ideas, browse our hundreds of Lighting posts, including World's Most Stylish Light Bulb, Version 002 and Remodeling 101: How to Choose an Overhead Light Fixture.