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Remodeling 101: Bedside Lighting

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Remodeling 101: Bedside Lighting

October 18, 2018

Even Arianna Huffington reads in bed. Today, we’re zeroing in on a crucial bedroom detail with a lot of options: bedside lamps.

Mix-and-match bedside table lamps do the trick. See Steal This Look: An Artful Attic Bedroom in London for more.
Above: Mix-and-match bedside table lamps do the trick. See Steal This Look: An Artful Attic Bedroom in London for more.

Why have bedside lighting?

Recently we wrote about the importance of being able to achieve total darkness in the bedroom (insomniacs, that post is for you). Dark bedrooms are great for sleeping, but too little light hinders other activities, such as reading, dressing, and getting ready for bed. Since no single fixture can effectively serve all bedroom lighting needs–it would be a blinding light– what’s needed is a combination: controlled task lighting and gentle ambient light. This use of multiple sources is known as light layering.

Dual wall-mounted pendants in a Brooklyn apartment; see In Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, a Renovated Brownstone with Inspired Solutions for more. Photograph by Jonathan Hökklo.
Above: Dual wall-mounted pendants in a Brooklyn apartment; see In Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, a Renovated Brownstone with Inspired Solutions for more. Photograph by Jonathan Hökklo.

What’s the best height for bedside lamps?

Bedside lights have a specific task: to illuminate the pages of your book (or book-like device) without requiring you to contort–and without bothering your bedmate. To prevent shadows, the bottom of the lampshade should be positioned between your head and the page. Factors to consider are the height of the bed, the height of the bedside table, and the position of the reader: You don’t want the lights so high that they create glare; on the other hand, you want to be comfortable.

Randall Whitehead, author of Residential Lighting: A Practical Guide, advises that “the best way to find the correct height is to get into bed and hunker down against the pillows in your normal reading position. Then measure from the floor to just above your shoulder height.” The base of the shade should be at that height.

Mismatched ceramic lamps (for a small/large couple?) flank a bed in a 17th-century Italian farmhouse renovated by Alexander Waterworth Interiors, a member of the Remodelista Architect and Designer Directory. Take the full House Tour. Photograph by Emily Andrews.
Above: Mismatched ceramic lamps (for a small/large couple?) flank a bed in a 17th-century Italian farmhouse renovated by Alexander Waterworth Interiors, a member of the Remodelista Architect and Designer Directory. Take the full House Tour. Photograph by Emily Andrews.

What are the most popular types of bedside lighting?

The most common options are table lamps, wall-mounted lights, pendants, and adjustable task lamps. They’re typically placed on either side of the bed and are usually matching. (Note that lighting experts say to avoid installing ceiling down lights directly over beds–soft light at face level is more effective and saves you from staring up at a bulb.) Here’s what to know about each of the recommended lighting types.

1. Table Lamps

From a decorative standpoint, table lamps offer the widest range of options. A general rule of thumb when selecting bedside table lamps: the bottom of the lampshade should be about 20 inches above the mattress.

 A bedside table lamp in the home of Danish brand designer Caroline Feiffer; see Danish Heritage: A Copenhagen Townhouse Renovated by Hand.
Above: A bedside table lamp in the home of Danish brand designer Caroline Feiffer; see Danish Heritage: A Copenhagen Townhouse Renovated by Hand.

2. Wall-Mounted Lamps

Wall-mounted fixtures free up bedside table space–or eliminate the need for bedside tables altogether. Many wall-mounted designs are moveable, making them a choice with built-in flexibility.

Architect Jerome Buttrick carved out vertical shelving, complete with easy-to-access light switches for the wall-mounted reading lights on either side of Julie’s bed. Photograph by Maria del Rio for Refinery29.
Above: Architect Jerome Buttrick carved out vertical shelving, complete with easy-to-access light switches for the wall-mounted reading lights on either side of Julie’s bed. Photograph by Maria del Rio for Refinery29.

Tip: Swing-arm, wall-mounted lights that move both horizontally and vertically offer a solution for people who share a bed but rest at different heights. The lamps can be mounted at matching heights and adjusted for the different reading positions.

Bedside wall-mounted reading lights—Arne Jacobsen AJ9 Bellevue Wall Lamps by &Tradition—in a young family’s London maisonette. Photograph by Richard Round-Turner from A Star Is Born: A Rehabbed London Maisonette from a Newly Minted Designer, High/Low Secrets Included.
Above: Bedside wall-mounted reading lights—Arne Jacobsen AJ9 Bellevue Wall Lamps by &Tradition—in a young family’s London maisonette. Photograph by Richard Round-Turner from A Star Is Born: A Rehabbed London Maisonette from a Newly Minted Designer, High/Low Secrets Included.

3. Pendant Lights 

Pendant lights become bedside illumination when hung at table-lamp height. Avoid spotlights that will only point light to objects directly below. Instead choose pendants that provide diffuse light whether via a wide shade, opaque shade, or no shade at all.

In Sarah’s Refined Rental in St. Helena, the master bedroom is small. Side table lamps would make it feel cramped, and drilling holes in the wall was not an option, so she sourced some hanging bulbs and used metal prongs intended for telephone wire to attach the lamp cord to the ceiling. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.
Above: In Sarah’s Refined Rental in St. Helena, the master bedroom is small. Side table lamps would make it feel cramped, and drilling holes in the wall was not an option, so she sourced some hanging bulbs and used metal prongs intended for telephone wire to attach the lamp cord to the ceiling. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.
In A Cobble Hill Transformation, architect Oliver Freundlich used pendant lights for bedside illumination. “The idea was to keep the bedroom spare and the furnishings low, and allow the wood ceiling to soar,” says Freundlich. “The pendants dropping from the ceiling add some drama to the height.” (There are dimmer switches next to each side for easy on and off.) The lights are Barn Light Electric’s Ivanhoe Dino Porcelain Cord Pendant Light. Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Above: In A Cobble Hill Transformation, architect Oliver Freundlich used pendant lights for bedside illumination. “The idea was to keep the bedroom spare and the furnishings low, and allow the wood ceiling to soar,” says Freundlich. “The pendants dropping from the ceiling add some drama to the height.” (There are dimmer switches next to each side for easy on and off.) The lights are Barn Light Electric’s Ivanhoe Dino Porcelain Cord Pendant Light. Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Simple twin pendant lights with exposed bulbs hang together in a bedroom designed by Claudia Zinzan of Father Rabbit. For more, see The White Album: 27 Sleep-Inducing Bedrooms in Shades of Pale.
Above: Simple twin pendant lights with exposed bulbs hang together in a bedroom designed by Claudia Zinzan of Father Rabbit. For more, see The White Album: 27 Sleep-Inducing Bedrooms in Shades of Pale.

4. Task Lamps

The adjustability of task lamps has fostered their migration from lab and office to bedside table. Choose task lights with a well-shielded bulb, so you can read without bothering your bedmate.

Black Jielde reading lamps flank the bed in London’s High Road House; see High Road House in London Gets a Revamp.
Above: Black Jielde reading lamps flank the bed in London’s High Road House; see High Road House in London Gets a Revamp.
Clip-on task lights are an easy-to-install solution. Photograph from A Summery Flat in Stockholm, with Affordable Small-Space Ideas to Steal. (See also: 10 Favorite Clip-On Lights.)
Above: Clip-on task lights are an easy-to-install solution. Photograph from A Summery Flat in Stockholm, with Affordable Small-Space Ideas to Steal. (See also: 10 Favorite Clip-On Lights.)

5. Floor Lamps

Another option we’ve been noting lately: floor lamps as statement-making bedside reading lamps.

Vintage floor lamps flank the bed in a bedroom by designer C.S. Valentin; see Steal This Look: An Idiosyncratic French Mod Bedroom in Bellport, NY. Photograph by Jonathan Hökklo for Remodelista.
Above: Vintage floor lamps flank the bed in a bedroom by designer C.S. Valentin; see Steal This Look: An Idiosyncratic French Mod Bedroom in Bellport, NY. Photograph by Jonathan Hökklo for Remodelista.
An extra tall standing lamp illuminates beyond the bed. Photograph from Living Above the Shop: Ceramic Artist Paula Greif in Hudson, NY.
Above: An extra tall standing lamp illuminates beyond the bed. Photograph from Living Above the Shop: Ceramic Artist Paula Greif in Hudson, NY.

Tips for bedside lighting selection and placement:

  • Consider furniture and electrical power outlet placement when planning your bedside lighting. It may be worth adding outlets or hardwired fixtures.
  • Pay attention to how the lamp turns on and off to ensure it’s easy to operate when you’re in bed.
  • Opaque shades are a good choice for reading lamps because they cut glare.
  • Each bedside lamp should operate on its own on/off switch.
  • If the fixtures are hardwired, consider wiring them to two switches, one accessible from your bed and the other near the bedroom door.
  • Switches can be placed close to the middle of the headboard, enabling you to easily turn off a snoozing partner’s reading light.
  • Avoid use of CFL bulbs that emit blue light, which has been shown to suppress sleep-inducing melatonin production. Consider using low-wattage incandescent lamps at your bedside (and turn off overhead lights as you get ready for bed). For reading, 40- to 60-watt bulbs are best.

Looking for lighting in other rooms? Read our Remodeling 101 primers:

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