I distinctly remember bringing home a West Elm lamp for the Dining Room credenza in our old house and my husband joked that it was silly and not needed. It was a dark corner of our historical home and I felt like a lamp would bring some much needed ambient lighting. It did the trick! Fast forward, six years later, and he commonly flips on the Living Room sconce in our current house for more comfortable lighting. I’d say, he’s certainly come around to the idea of having lamps throughout the house.
Personally, I prefer the softer light that a decorative lamp provides over the harsh overhead, recessed can lights. Recessed cans are absolutely necessary for task lighting, but when given the choice, I prefer them on a dimmer. Even on a dimmer though, they can’t match the soothing, warm light of a lamp closer to face level.
My morning routine is to come downstairs after a workout, turn on our little kitchen lamp and pour myself a cup of coffee. For some reason, it’s just a good way to ease into my day. And if Kale leaves early and leaves all the downstairs lights on, I turn them all off so the kitchen lamp is the only source of light.
Even at night, after the kids go to sleep, I love turning off all the hardwired lighting and turning on some ambient lighting. It sort of transitions us into a wind-down phase. This is also important for entertaining too, but it’s been a minute since we’ve had friends over for dinner.
Obviously lamps provide more benefit than just being a mood enhancer. It can really anchor a space aesthetically. Flanking two on a Dining Room buffet is a beautiful way to draw attention to a piece of artwork on wall. I also like placing a textural lamp on an end table in a seating group, as it adds a ton of visual interest. It goes without saying lamps are also the perfect example of form and function (remember last week? form meeting function is the ultimate design goal). Reading lamps are the most obvious example of this.
In design school, we studied lighting pretty extensively. A simple take away is the difference between direct and indirect lighting. Direct lighting focuses the light in one specific direction. This creates drama and often, shadows. I prefer direct lighting to set a mood, like the sconce above our reading chair. For all-around, soft, flattering light, stick with indirect light sources. This means the light output is pretty even, which prevents harsh shadows.
Knowing the difference and learning how to make lamps work to your advantage can be a real game changer. Light can have a dramatic impact on a space. Poor lighting choices is honestly one of my biggest pet peeves.
I’ve slowly added decorative lamps in more and more rooms. I opted out of floor lamps because of the kids. The youngest was learning to walk, and I didn’t want anyone tripping over cords. Over the past year, I have scored a few solid vintage lamps which have a ton of character. The wicker one on our entry table is my favorite.
When sourcing vintage lamps, don’t forget that a fabric lamp shade is the easiest thing to switch out. Our vintage kitchen lamp was a $25 thrift store score. I kept the original square silk shade for a while, but it had a few stains and the trim was falling off. So, I sourced a $30 off-white linen shade and it immediately took on a new life. All in, $55 for a little lamp isn’t too shabby.
A lamp’s finish could also be an easy DIY project. I see loads of ceramic mid-century modern lamps in thrift stores. Usually for really good prices too! A little acrylic paint could go a long way if the existing finish isn’t quite right for your space.
I’ve rounded up some solid options to inspire you, and obviously included some vintage options too!