There are a few basic rules to lighting: Make sure each room has three or more sources of light, place light at various heights and ensure that the work areas for all tasks are well lit.
These rules exist to make sure rooms have enough light but also so that they cast enough of a warm glow that you want to be in them.
Breaking these rules can ruin a room’s design, says designer Breeze Giannasio. “People will worry about furniture, finishes, flooring, throw pillows – going to town on everything – but if the lighting isn’t right, you can’t see all of the work you’ve done,” she says.
Floor lamps are a great way to create that warmth. They can fit in tight spaces in small rooms or brighten a dark corner of a large room. They can add color to a neutral space or pizazz to a dreary one. They can even make up for a lack of overhead lighting. We talked to Giannasio, as well as Washington’s Sally Steponkus, for ideas on using floor lamps to fix some common design dilemmas.
For a small space
Floor lamps are key for a small space – whether it’s a studio apartment or a suburban house’s sitting room – because they add light without the bulk of a table lamp and end table. They’re even better when they articulate and telescope, so you can adjust the light to shine where you need it.
▪ Swing lamps are “no-nonsense, and would look great on either side of a couch in a traditional ... rowhouse,” Giannasio says. You can find them at almost any price point and in any finish, including the brushed steel of World Market’s Chemist’s Floor Lamp ($120, www.worldmarket.com). As Giannasio says, “Lighting is the jewelry of the room, and sometimes you put on your handsome studs instead of your amazing chandeliers.”
▪ Stretch out a classic task lamp and you get the Industrial Task Floor Lamp, which swivels and bends at two joints to accommodate different tasks and room layouts ($199, www.westelm.com). “I like floor lamps that are adjustable because I like to use them for reading, over the arm of a chair,” Steponkus says. “They’re classic, they’re classy, they work with everything.”
▪ “Floor lamps in general are versatile because they can fit into narrow spaces,” Giannasio says, and we’re not sure you’ll find a slimmer profile for a tight space than the Brazo LED Floor Lamp’s ($490, www.roomandboard.com). It would practically disappear in a room, yet still provide ample (and dimmable) light where you need it.
For a large space
“Usually, floor lamps are more of a space saver,” Steponkus says. “But a lot of them are more sculptural. And you need all kinds.” A big lamp can add a focal point if the room is visually disjointed. “If you have space for a bigger floor lamp, you can have ones that have a shade,” Steponkus says.
▪ “Tripods take up a lot of floor space,” Giannasio says, “but if you have floor room to give, they provide a nice, graphic, architectural quality. I happen to like the ones that have thinner legs, with a weightlessness.” For extra-thin legs (and a pretty trim price, too), try the Orbit Trio Floor Lamp ($65, www.target.com).
▪ For a big statement, the handmade Salvaged Driftwood Floor Lamp is tops ($995, www.restorationhardware.com). The driftwood is from Indonesian beaches and the lamp stands at 72 inches tall. The shade is sold separately; as Steponkus suggests, it’s often best to focus on finding the right lamp and then worry about finding the right shade later.
The right floor lamp can take the place of overhead lighting if the room isn’t wired for it or has cold, unattractive fluorescents. “Often, what feels cozy and homey is that incandescent glow that floor lamps and table lamps give off,” Giannasio says.
▪ Giannasio likes the lines of CB2’s Grove Floor Lamp ($299, www.cb2.com), which, at 7 feet tall, can easily arc over a sofa or seating arrangement. “If you like that look, it can be a substitute for overhead lighting,” she says.
▪ For a lot of light, “two bulbs are always better than one bulb,” Steponkus says. The Globe Floor Lamp, part of Kate Spade Saturday’s new line for West Elm ($349, www.west elm.com), trumps with three, and does it in a fixture that attracts some well-deserved attention. Steponkus advises that all lighting, even lamps, be on a dimmer switch “because you don’t always want it as bright as possible.”
Give a room a jolt
A lamp with some moxie can take a room from scattered to cohesive, boring to lively. “It’s refreshing to find lights that break the mold,” Giannasio says.
▪ Giannasio picks the splurge-worthy Cliff Sol for an elegant addition to any interior, traditional or modern ($973, www.lambertetfils.com). “I love the delicacy of it, the brass and the black,” she says. “To me, it looks like visual poetry.” The Novara Floor Lamp, with a black, gold or green shade, would give a seating arrangement some personality ($398, www.anthropologie.com). “Brass tends to be a little more traditional, but in a more modern shape it can look cool,” Steponkus says. Don’t worry too much about matching finishes with other fixtures in the room, Steponkus says. It’s one rule that should be thrown out the window.
▪ Sometimes, color is the best pick-me-up for a room. And Schoolhouse Electric’s midcentury-style Studio Floor Lamp has plenty, with a bold yellow base and shade ($275, www.schoolhouseelectric.com).