- Chase off the winter blues: Turn your home into an oasis of light
- Firelight keeps your body warm -- and your thoughts, too, researchers say
- Blue light helps your body feel wide awake; in the evening, try amber
Are those long, dark, wintry days ahead making you daydream of a tropical vacation? Well, there's a much quicker (and cheaper) way to beat those winter blues: By turning your home into an oasis of light. Here are three ways to creatively light your way through the gloom.
Good: Get all fired up
Ever notice how the flickering flames of a fireplace or candle seem to coax you into wistful, far-off thoughts? Turns out it's a hard-wired gut reaction that goes back thousands of years. Scientists believe firelight sparked the evolution of the human mind; our ancient ancestors would socialize in front of a roaring fire and connect ideas while building a sense of community.
Nowadays, firelight serves a similar dual wintry purpose of bringing literal warmth into your home and stirring those feelings of coziness and togetherness. Joe Rey-Barreau, an architect and lighting professor at the University of Kentucky's School of Interior Design and CEO of Lighting Knowledge, suggests using a variety of candles as clever light accents in a room, on any flat surface where you want to draw people in.
Try grouping candles of varying heights together to create an uneven effect. Place them on unexpected parts of surfaces, such as on the corners of tables, instead of in the center. Or make your fireplace even more of a focal point by combining candlelight with firelight, setting candles around the fireplace recess for extra visual warmth. (There's only one rule: Remember to blow out the candles when you're done with them. Nothing cozy about setting your curtains on fire!)
Better: Trip the full-spectrum-light fantastic
Winter's dearth of sunlight can really play havoc with your biological clock; too little natural light in the day and too much artificial light at night can have negative effects on your health if you're not careful. Luckily there are some easy fixes to make sure you're getting the right colored light at the right time of day. "Blue light is really the key," says color- and light-therapy scientist and artist Leanne Venier. "It tells your body when to be wide awake. When you get blue light, you stop producing melatonin for an hour-and-a-half. You need a blast of it in the morning to wake you up, but in the evening, switch to more amber-based light -- something warmer that has a relaxing effect on the body."
Venier suggests switching as many lights in your home as possible to full-spectrum bulbs, which are closer to the color-range of natural sunlight. LEDs offer the best overall quality of light (though they tend to be a bit pricier), but there are also plenty of fluorescent lights that offer full-spectrum options.
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Best: Go theatrical
Create a layered-light trifecta in your home by mixing up ambient, task and accent lights for a more interesting and subtle ambience, says Rey-Barreau. Highlight some areas and keep others darker for some serious mood lighting, just like on a theater stage. Start with the ambient light, aka the overall light in the room (which usually comes from the overhead light source). Depending on the room's function, you can make it really bright for an open feel, or more muted for an intimate setting. When it comes to ambient light, dimmer switches are every lighting designer's secret weapon. "They give you an infinite range of options," notes Rey-Barreau.
For a boost of extra illumination where you need it most (like for reading, eating, brushing your teeth or cooking), add task lighting. "Under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen is really great," says Rey-Barreau. "Often you don't need the full overhead light... [This] gives a more interesting, softer feel."
Accents lights are purely for dramatic effect, focusing attention on specific points in the room (e.g., putting a spotlight on a painting). "For the best layers, light should come from as many places as possible," says Rey-Barreau. "A chandelier, the fireplace, table lamps, floor lamps, recess lights -- use lots of portable lamps so you can move the light around in the space for more variety." Also, try using crystal, chrome and beaded accessories that bounce light back into the room in unexpected ways. Voilà: an extra-cozy winter haven.