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Kelly Wearstler’s Tips for Lighting a Room

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Apr 21, 2020 • 5 min read

“Lighting is everything,” says world-class interior designer Kelly Wearstler. “It can change and alter architecture. It can make art look more important. It can raise the ceiling of a room. It can create a mood.” There are so many different lighting options and lighting fixtures available today, from ceiling fixtures to table lamps to string lights to crystal chandeliers—if you’re ready to start working on your home’s new lighting plan, here are some of Kelly’s design tips.

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Kelly Wearstler Teaches Interior DesignKelly Wearstler Teaches Interior Design

Award-winning designer Kelly Wearstler teaches you interior design techniques to make any space more beautiful, creative, and inspiring.

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Who Is Kelly Wearstler?

Kelly Wearstler is one of the world’s top interior designers, and her design work has been featured in publications the world over, from Architectural Digest and Elle Decor to Vogue and The New Yorker. Born in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, she moved to Los Angeles in her early twenties and rose to fame redefining the look of West Coast design. She has designed everything from Hollywood homes to boutique hotels (like the Viceroy in Malibu and the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills); has created collections of everything from home accessories to fine china to wall coverings; and also runs her own firm, Kelly Wearstler Interior Design (KWID), and eponymous luxury lifestyle brand.

Kelly Wearstler’s 7 Tips for Lighting a Room

Whether you’re looking to update your kitchen lighting or find just the right fixtures for your kitchen island, here are some lighting tips from Kelly to help you get your home ambience just right:

  1. Bring in natural light. In Kelly’s words, natural light “is the most beautiful light. I encourage everyone to bring in as much natural light as they can. Because it not only makes us look good, it makes us feel good.” Try to allow natural light into your designs where possible—whether it’s through adding more windows in your living room, putting in a skylight in your dining room, or making a windowed entryway. In one project, Kelly removed a huge section of a building’s second floor to make way for a large skylight.
  2. Enhance your space with architectural lighting. “Architectural lighting is really anything that is attached to the architecture,” Kelly says. It could be an overhead fixture or ceiling light, a hanging light, a floor lamp (torchiere), or a mini pendant light that hangs over a dining table. It can even be a simple ceiling fan with bulbs attached. “Architectural lighting is important … because it provides wayfinding”—for example, two wall sconces at the front door tell you where the entrance is. Inside, it’s important to have different layers of light to create depth and functionality—for instance, both ambient light like wall lights and can lights to give the room a glow, plus task lighting like desk lamps and spot lights to read or work on projects. “To create successful architectural lighting, it’s also important that your eye travels around. So having light at something low, having something at a medium level, and also having something high. It creates visual interest.”
  3. Find creative solutions to limitations. In any interior design project, you’ll run into limitations. Rather than let them get in the way, use them as opportunities for some creative problem-solving. For instance, Kelly once had to design sufficient lighting for a hallway that had only one junction box for electricity. She came up with the idea to use a light fixture that had two light sources—a double-duty sconce that hangs on the wall and wraps up to the ceiling. “It not only is a statement, but it also provides double light,” Kelly says. “If you’re living in an apartment and you can’t do anything with the electrical, there’s so many different types of solutions.”
  4. Create a mood with a dimmer. Dimmability is an important factor in interior lighting because it enhances both function and mood, giving you the right lighting for a variety of different situations. While Kelly’s favorite options are brass and black metal boxes with buttons, there are many types of dimming solutions on the market, like toggle switches and dimmer switches. In terms of what strength of lightbulb to use, Kelly says: “I recommend getting a light bulb that has a wattage of about 100. … If you have the dimmability function on your light, then you might as well go as high. Because then you can go as low as you want.”
  5. Treat light as an artistic focal point. If you’re looking to make more of a statement with your lighting choices, consider making an interesting light fixture the focal point of your room design. For example, Kelly put two massive sconces in the entrance of a hotel she designed. Looking like oversized twin hand fans, the sconces look like pieces of art just as much as they light the room. “They provide a beautiful, sexy light … and they’re art,” Kelly says. “They make a statement that represents the hotel and its location.”
  6. Choose the best light bulb. There are many different types of light bulbs on the market and different things to consider. Three common glass bulb types are clear glass, etched glass, and frosted glass. “They each have their own glow,” Kelly says. The clear glass is much more diffused, while the frosted glass is brighter “because the light reflects the white” of the frosting. Another consideration is incandescent versus LED lighting. Kelly likes to use incandescent for general lighting like overhead lighting, and LED strips as accent lights in places like under cabinets in kitchens and along closets.
  7. No detail is too small. Whether it’s figuring out complex wall lighting or picking out lampshades, Kelly pays attention to every detail of her designs, even down to the power strips. Power strips and cords are often the downfall of good lighting design, because they’re unattractive and distract from the lighting itself. Kelly’s solution is to find (or design) elegant brass power strips with cotton and silk cords. “I have these in all the rooms in my home,” she says. “Everyone needs cord management. This is the perfect thing. And it looks so good.”
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Learn interior design from award-winning designer Kelly Wearstler. Make any space feel larger, cultivate your own distinct style, and create spaces that tell a story with the MasterClass All-Access Pass.

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