Lighting design is a fairly simple concept. Tiny homes create a few design challenges, but the lighting principles remain the same. Let’s explore those principles so that you have the best experience living in your tiny dwelling.
Layers of Light
There are three layers of light. In a tiny home, some of this can be combined, but we need to understand them first. The layers are ambient light, task lighting, and accent lighting.
Ambient lighting would be considered general lighting by most people. These are the overhead lights you turn on in most homes. They can be can lights in the ceiling, lamps on a table in the living room or bedroom, chandeliers, or any other fixture that is tasked with lighting the space without necessarily making a job easier. Bathroom lighting is usually ambient lighting, but the vanity lights over your sink are meant for the tasks you’re doing while looking in the mirror such as shaving or applying makeup.
Task lighting is for working under. There’s usually a bright light over the kitchen table because people work at the kitchen table in addition to eating there. It can be a food prep station, as well.
The kitchen sink has task lighting that is often part of the ambient lighting scheme but rarely put on a dimmer switch. This is so that you can wash dishes and do food prep. Get the brightest light you can for your stove top because, again, you need it to see your food while cooking.
The picture, above, is an exaggerated example of the benefit of under cabinet task lighting.
Accent lighting is decorative lighting. These can be lit signs on the wall, colored light accents or battery operated decorative pieces. Candles are also considered accent lighting.
Applying It To Your Tiny Home
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Tiny homes offer challenges because space and electricity are at a premium. It’s best if our lighting is as unobtrusive as possible and, for this reason. many tiny home dwellers use LED rope lighting as their ambient light. This or ceiling cans will work perfectly, stay out of the way of house functions, and can be dimmed down to accent lighting at night.
Until recently, dimming posed a problem with LED lighting but smart light bulbs such as Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance lights have changed all of that. Now, you can use these or the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus along with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple HomeKit. They can also be paired with Nest or Samsung SmartThings automated home systems.
With smart lights you can use voice commands to dim your lights or change the colors, making most of your lights ambient and accent at the same time.
Smart bulbs aren’t bright enough for task lighting in a single bulb; although the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus does boast 1600 lumens, the equivalent of a 100 watt bulb. Task lighting should be a 100 watt bulb equivalent, 80 watts if you have access to a lot of natural light. Most of the Philips Hue bulbs are 60 watt. The solution is to make sure your task lighting uses multiple bulbs. In most tiny homes this is only going to apply in your reading/nook area, the bathroom vanity, and the kitchen sink. One easy solution for these spaces is a space saving under cabinet LED. The other solution would be a more decorative multi-bulb fixture that matches your decor. If you use the Hue light bulbs in the multi-bulb fixture, it can still be dimmed for ambient lighting and accent lighting later on.
A quick note on lumens: Watts tells you how much energy a bulb uses. Incandescent light bulbs are a thing of the past, but we’re all used to buying based on watts and our light fixtures tell us what type of bulb to use and what the wattage limit is. It’s written on the metal inside of fixtures or on the socket for a lamp. When we’re purchasing LED or fluorescent bulbs, we’re getting a 40 watt or 60 watt equivalent. Lumens indicate the brightness of the bulb. A 40 watt bulb in one brand might have a higher lumen, or brightness level, than another brand, so be sure you’re checking for lumens when you buy. This may also be reflected in the color spectrum of the bulb. Daylight bulbs, which are more full spectrum, tend to have a higher lumen value. Warm whites can be very bright, but their yellow tone makes them feel dimmer while a cool white light can be very harsh, but makes better task lighting.
If you’re living off-grid, Amazon offers a number of indoor solar lighting solutions. Oil lamps are another solution. They can be hung on walls and they don’t have to look as old-fashioned as they once did. But, if your house is rustic, the more traditional-looking lamps work, too. I love decorating with oil lamps. They make nice accent lighting when you want it and ensure that you will never be without lights when the power goes out!
Got a favorite lighting solution that wasn’t mentioned? Put it in the comments down below! Everyone wins when information is freely shared!