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In the bedroom: Comfort comes first in lighting

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'Lighting is an art form that creates interest': Designer Ami McKay

Second in a series of room-by-room lighting design stories.

Never underestimate the power of light, even in the bedroom where darkness resides most of the time.

For the price of a single nightstand lamp, the right lighting arrangement can define the space, help you tackle morning tasks in a hurry, and create a restful, more flattering environment. The wrong type can keep you bright-eyed after hitting the pillow, lead to a fashion faux pas while dressing, and drain both your own and the home's energy.

Bedroom basics

"Lighting is an art form that creates interest," says Vancouver interior designer Ami McKay. "The secret is to layer it — adding several different types at lower wattage rather than one higher-watt fixture — and to light all of the room's corners to reduce shadows and make the space look larger, more inviting and balanced."

McKay has been featured in Oprah, Home and Décor and Woman's Day magazines, and has co-hosted HGTV's Makeover Wish show. Below, she offers illuminating ideas for the bedroom.

How layered light works

Combine the three types of lighting: ambient (overhead lighting), task (targeting reading or dressing areas) and accent (highlighting corners and wall features).

McKay often layers an ENERGY STAR® ceiling fixture with wall sconces, bedside lamps and a floor lamp behind seating. Take into consideration the room's flow for traveling within it, and add a fixture that becomes the focal point when entering.

Layering creates mood and is practical, providing enough light to dress anywhere in the room.

"It's not just for matching socks from your dresser, but accessorizing with jewelry, and combining clothes from your closet," says McKay, who has an eye for coordinating colour.

Her company's colourful lines of PURE eco-furniture and sustainable bamboo bedding are blogged about internationally by interior designers and editors at magazines including Vanity Fair.

Centre stage: Use a dimmer

A centre ceiling fixture should have the highest wattage, but on a dimmer switch to enhance relaxation when needed, be more flattering and prevent glare.

And the fixture doesn't have to be mounted close to the ceiling.

"I like a clean linen shade with a bottom diffuser that diffuses light so it isn't glaring to look up at, or suspending a pendant lamp or contemporary chandelier," says McKay. "Whereas designers used to put recessed (pot) lights everywhere, trends now are to centre-mount one fixture that makes a statement, whether it's classic, relaxed, elegant or dramatic."

For accent, use sconces

McKay often flanks a window with wall sconces to reflect the light, or she uses sconces to light corners. Beautiful, removable wall sconces that plug into an outlet are available at décor stores.

"If you don't want to retrofit a wall with wiring, this is an easier option, since the cord runs along a baseboard to an outlet," she says.

McKay uses tiny recessed LED lights in a bedroom to wash light over a wall feature such as a stone fireplace or artwork. Directional LED lights may be placed flush to the floor to reflect upward, within the ceiling to reflect downward, or inset midway up the wall to subtly light a path to the bathroom.

Task lighting: get the height right

Bedrooms work hard for brief periods in morning and at night. Top priorities: reading light and dressing light.

For a bedside lamp to offer enough light without producing glare when reading in bed, the lampshade should sit no higher than your shoulder-line. Opaque lampshades with a narrow top focus light downward for reading.

McKay adds: "I may replace lamps with enclosed pendant lights hanging at either side of the bed for interest, and to free up space on nightstands."

To save costs, energy and your relationship (if you read in bed when your partner wants to sleep), consider a small LED reading light that attaches to the book to illuminate the page only. They're available at book stores.

If a child's room has bunk beds, put separate low-watt LED lights with switches at both bunks or use task lights that attach to beds.

Closet lighting: make it automatic

Closet lighting is important. A switch along the door frame should automatically activate as the door opens, with an LED light offering plenty of light to see all clothing.

When renovating or designing a new home, McKay installs an electric light-saving "lighting tube," a small and relatively inexpensive skylight that brings in natural light to walk-in closets and windowless ensuites. This 6- to 10-inch diameter tunnel runs to the outside, reflecting natural light with inside mirrors, traveling to the closet from the roof.

"Make closets beautiful; if they're organized and lit properly, their contents can look like art," she says.

Go au naturel in the bedroom

"Natural outdoor light is important to help you wake up naturally in the morning by signalling a reduction in your body's melatonin," says McKay. "It is also vital to be able to see what you really look like when you get dressed and put makeup on."

Making good use of the windows' light also saves energy and light-bulb life — open blinds instead of automatically reaching for the light switch.

Go ENERGY STAR® with lighting

Try ENERGY STAR LED lights, which reduce energy costs by using 75 per cent less energy than incandescent bulbs.

McKay says that although LED-specific fixtures can be costly, you don't necessarily need to buy an LED fixture. More and more suitable LEDs fit into regular fixtures.

New technology and demand are creating more styles, reducing costs, and offering LEDs of better quality.

Also, since LEDs can last 20 times longer than regular bulbs, for high-ceiling or difficult-to-reach lights, it's practical to use ENERGY STAR LEDs or CFLs that are rarely replaced.

LEDs come in three main colours, just like CFLs. McKay says that often people don't initially like the light they cast because they haven't purchased the appropriate colour: warm yellow-cast light, cool blue-cast light or white light.

One of the advantages of LEDs is that they last longer than CFLs, especially in areas where lights are turned on and off frequently.

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About Ami McKay and Ami McKay Design

Ami McKay has been creating interiors for clients in the U.S. and Canada for 12 years, and most recently was showcased in Chatelaine magazine's "Women Who Make Beautiful things" feature. She has also discussed favourite paint colours for Style at Home. She was nominated for a Leo Award as an HGTV Canada host, and received the Woman of Distinction award for business in 2009.

Her latest PURE home collection consists of embroidered duvet covers, bamboo sheets, cotton coverlets, cushions and throws, available at Bed Bath and Beyond stores across Canada.