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Confession: I have no formal training in the world of design, decor and style. Which is precisely why I was dumbfounded when my electrician asked for a lighting plan a few weeks ago. What? A lighting plan? Yes, I’d like light, please. Is that what you mean?

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Sadly, no. He meant for Husband and me to spend the next 48 hours agonizing over the placement of switch plates, dimmers and pendants. And you guys, I have never wanted to sell this house more than I did those horrid two days.

I’m what you call an indecisive, yet opinionated decision maker. It’s the worst kind. When asked where we want to eat for lunch, we’ll answer, “I don’t care,” but then nix every option you think of until you throw your hands up in the air with one last suggestion — the very suggestion we were hoping you’d make. It’s a vicious cycle of mind games, and I’m soooo trying to get over it. Yet a lighting plan is not a conducive environment to begin making personality changes. You heard it here first.

design_for_mankind 2010-08-31 at 7.37.51 AM

Lighting plans are insanity. But they can be easier. I’ve got a few tips up my sleeve for anyone crazy enough to embark on the chaos that is re-lighting your entire home:

1. Watch this video. Seriously, if you’ve never heard of a lighting plan, this video will explain the hell you’re about to embark on. Kidding. (Perhaps not.)

2. Talk about your functions for each room. This requires having a function for each room, which requires making decisions. This is where my frustration begins, because, as I said before, decisions aren’t my forte and I like to keep my options open at all times. If this is you, too, I’d suggest hiring this phase out and getting a pedicure. Or, push through it with a super-quality husband that doesn’t at all hate you.

3. Decide what type of lighting you’d like in each space: (1) general/ambient, (2) task and (3) accent. Get to know the different types in this handy lighting article, and then decide which will fit in each particular space. (And find more tips in the lighting guide.)

4. Figure out the location of your lighting fixtures. This is much easier if you’ve got a rough idea of the furniture placement of each room, because a great general rule is that each working surface (i.e. desks, countertops) should have task lighting. Yet what to do when you don’t have your furniture plan set (because you can’t make decisions)? Improvise. Make sure each room has ample amounts of general lighting (and some pretty accents for good measure), then plan to task light with lamps and the like.

5. Think about light distribution. Multiple sources of light (also called light layering) are key in each room, so you’ll want to check out any nooks and crannies that may have a hard time being lit by general lighting. This is where under-cabinet lighting, rope lighting and floor lamps come in handy.

6. Place your outlets and switch plates accordingly. Do you like to turn a room’s overhead light prior to entering, or as you enter? Would you prefer to turn off one light for multiple rooms, or flip off each room’s light one by one? This is where personal preference comes in and you need to hunker down on each space’s function. Again, this is also where my head explodes.

As you go, it’s helpful to label a basic blueprint with your thoughts so you and your electrician are on the same page. We came up with the below outline, but you can also make lists, charts or visuals depending on how you think:


Plan an entire weekend to sit and think about lighting alone, and when you’re finished? Go get ice cream. You deserve it.


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5 Responses

  1. Melissa de la Fuente says:

    ugh. ack. meh. ( my head hurts) I feel your pain darlin, and I haven't even done what you are talkin about! BUT, I LOVE, love, LOVE the options you have picked out up above! Can't WAIT to see it all play out!

  2. brookelykins says:

    I had to do this a few months back. Since my husband did the electrical himself I am still getting blamed for the pendant position not being perfectly centered over where I ultimately want the dining table to go…and so on. It is a laborious task, and one you will rethink the rest of the time your live in your home…Is that light switch really in the right spot, or should it have gone on that wall? Or, oh, I wish I had put an outlet right there, why is it 2 feet too far? The lights themselves are easy to change out if you hate them, Its all about the plan.

  3. erin / dfm says:

    Ohhhh my head hurts, too (STILL)! Thanks for your support, ladies!

  4. [...] per usual, are pasted all over the Internet:-A Vertical Garden Round-Up at ReadyMade Magazine -Let There Be Light! at HGTV.com -A Guide to Non-Serious Decor at FLOR -A Pop-Proof Balloon Dog at ReadyMade Magazine [...]

  5. CplusE says:

    Here's something else to consider — when planning the position of light switches, consider the width of trim you will be using around doors. In our current house, the electrician put the switches a standard distance from door openings, and then the owners decided to use wide trim around the doors. Result — a lot of cut-down switchplates to fit the too-short spaces! Not an attractive sight, and so easily prevented with good planning!

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