Schools, offices, and hospitals use very bright lights for a reason – to keep people alert and focused. Restaurants, bars, and nightclubs use softer lights, so people relax, lose their inhibitions, and enjoy themselves (and spend more money!).
Have you ever wondered what it is about light that can change the way a room looks and feels?
Light is more than just about picking a bulb – there is hard science based on physics that measures the strength of light called color temperature.
Color temperature is a powerful tool that can be used to alter the mood and feel of a room, and even change the behavior and energy of the people in it. Warmer temperatures create more relaxed environments, while cooler temperatures turn up the intensity.
The key to making this work for you is to understand how color temperature works, and I’m going to make it easy for you to choose the best level for each room in your house.
Color Temperatures, Explained
The color temperature of light is a measure of the coolness or warmth of color, expressed by units called kelvins using the symbol “K.”
A light that measures under 5000 K is considered to be “warm,” while higher values over 5000 K are considered to be “cool.”
Here is a chart that shows the range, along with some examples to illustrate this concept:
As you can see from the above illustration, “bluer” light has a higher temperature than the “redder” light. This may seem confusing because flames are higher in the “temperature” we feel (expressed in degrees Celcius or Fahrenheit) when compared to the temperature we see (expressed in kelvins).
Scientifically speaking, the spectral peak of warm-colored light is closer to infrared light – the electromagnetic radiation that is given off with wavelengths longer than those of visible light.
Since most natural warm-colored light sources emit significant infrared radiation, this results in a lower temperature.
While this subject can be very complex and confusing, it’s something that is used on us all the time, whether we realize it or not.
When interior decorators and room planners pick lighting, they pay very close attention to the color temperature. Because it can really affect the feeling of a room, and even how the people behave in it.
Why Light Temperature Is Important
Light temperature, or “hue,” can have a huge impact on how a room looks and feels. Think about candlelight compared to fluorescent bulbs.
One is clearly better for the office while the other is more suitable for a romantic dinner. Once you imagine a restaurant with fluorescent strip lighting or an office using candles, you will see exactly why this is important!
Harsher, brighter lights create more “energy,” as measured by their overall temperature.
That is why the screen emanating from your display has a “blue” hue, and it’s why super-bright lights are used in offices. They literally make us pay closer attention to what we are doing.
High-temperature lights have their place in more places than just offices. Think about workshops, hospitals & grocery stores.
All these environments require the people within them to be focused and able to see details, and the energy from these lights literally “energize” us.
On the other hand, lower temperature lights like the kind emanating from antique lamps or candles create a romantic atmosphere.
They even make our skin look smoother and blur out details, which can make us look more beautiful.
That, along with a large wine selection, is the time-tested formula that works so well for restaurants and bars.
But what about dual-purpose rooms?
Many rooms have different activities. Think about an evening with friends, drinking wine in an open-concept kitchen with soft, warm light. Along with great conversation, low-temperature lighting creates a relaxed and fun mood.
But what about the attention to detail required in making complex dishes? Frying onions or garlic in “romantic” lighting may not bring the best result!
This is where dual-lighting concepts come in, and it’s not nearly as complex as most people think. Let’s break down the process in three easy steps.
How To Pick a Right Color TemperatureSo far I explained the importance of color temperature on the way a room feels, and I hope I convinced you on how important that is!
I never thought this was so important, and I wish I knew about all this before planning the lights in my apartment (and spending hundreds on an electrician!).
These steps are useful for anyone planning their lighting before a renovation, and it’s a straightforward process.
1. Determine the use of the room
Make a list of all the rooms in your house, and possible activities that will take place in every room. Let your imagination go with this step, and consider any special occasions or holidays.
For the purpose of this exercise, we’re going to use the living room as an example. Most people think of it as a place to relax, unwind, and watch a movie. But it might also be a place where we pull out a DIY project or play with kids.
Here is a list of some possible activities:
- Watching television
- Reading books
- Doing DIY projects
- Playing with kids
Some of these activities require bright lights, others require medium-temperature lights, and a few require dim lighting.
It might seem a bit intimidating to have to deal with all this type of lighting, but the next step will bring the picture into clearer focus.
2. Choose the lighting fixtures
Now that we have the uses outlined in the living room, the next step is determining the lighting fixtures we will need.
The central lighting fixture on the ceiling should be dedicated to the most common activity taking place.
While everyone has their own unique uses, let’s use the example above and choose exercising, playing with kids, and watching TV as the main activities.
These are served best with a medium-temperature ceiling light that gives a wide range and isn’t too harsh.
For the remaining uses, we can use a floor lamp with a high-temperature directable spotlight for reading or DIY (like sewing), and a soft antique lamp with a low-temperature low-watt bulb for meditation.
Everyone is going to have a different recipe for perfect lighting, so there is no right or wrong with this. Just use your imagination to create what you want to experience, and let the process perfect itself over time.
3. Pick your light bulbs
Now that we have chosen our room uses and lighting fixtures, the next step is to pick our bulbs with the right color temperature.
Here is a quick guide on picking temperatures with specific ranges you can consider:
Extra warm: <2700 K
Color temperatures below 2700 K create candle-like atmospheres that are ideal for creating warm, relaxed, and cozy moments.
Using the examples from the previous section, one of these bulbs with a small lamp is ideal for meditation and late-night gatherings with friends.
Warm: 2700 – 3300 K
Warm color temperatures in the 2700-3300 K range are ideal for main ceiling light fixtures, and suitable for activities like playing with kids and watching TV, as mentioned in the previous example.
Neutral: 3300 – 5300 K
Neutral white color temperature is ideal for places that require a great deal of concentration and attention to detail. These generally include office areas, kitchens, and above the mirror in a bathroom.
Daylight: >5300 K
High-temperature lighting is required for specific tasks requiring high concentration and performance, like making jewelry or surgery.
These bulbs are ideal for small lamps that can be placed close to the working area that provide intense light required to see small details.
Some LED bulbs change the overall color temperature as they get dimmed.
At full power, the light bulb has a maximum brightness of 2700 K (warm white) and gets warmer as the light gets dimmer. At it’s lowest point, the color temperature of 2200 K is similar to candlelight.
These kinds of bulbs are ideal for rooms where there isn’t much space for different fixtures, offering a single solution that gives a wide range of temperatures.
Ideal Color Temperature Example For Kitchen
The three-step process works for every room in the house, and the kitchen is no exception.
As a first step, we can clarify that most people use their kitchen for cooking (of course!), eating (if it’s big enough), and just “hanging out” drinking coffee or wine with friends.
The next step requires choosing the right fixtures. For starters, we need higher-temperature lights around the cooking area. Strip lights around the oven and work areas are great for this purpose.
Next, we can use medium-temperature lights above the table to create the perfect mood for eating: not too bright and not too dim.
A small lamp or two on the countertop with low-temperature light for more intimate gatherings round out our lighting arrangement.
Like smartphones, fitness trackers, and sea-salt chocolate, the light temperature is one of those things we didn’t know we needed until we learned about it!
Now that we know about the power of how to use color temperature, we can use it as another tool to create the perfect environment in our homes. Not only does it change the way a room feels, but it can also be used to alter the moods of the people in it!
So now I leave it to you and would love to know…