Ask Athena: Advice for picking the perfect bedroom lighting

Athena Calderone is here to answer your questions, and this week looks at the ideal way to light a bedroom

Ask athena: bedroom lighting
Athena's bedroom in her Brooklyn home
(Image credit: Matthew Williams)

Dear Athena,

What are the best bedroom lighting ideas? Is it better to go with a ceiling light on either side of the bed, a wall light next to it, or a lamp on the table? And where should I go for good bedside lighting? My bedroom is basically my sanctuary and I just want to lie in it and read books in peace, so I am looking for soft lighting options. 

Thanks, Lea

Hi Lea,

This is such an amazing question because there is no area of the home that provides us with more coziness and gratification than the sacred space in which we sleep. The bedroom really does need to act as a calming oasis and I’d argue that it is the most important room when it comes to lighting to set the desired mood. So, let’s start with the essentials which is functional lighting, then we can move onto the fun stuff! 

The first step is to ask yourself, how do you use your bedroom? If you read in bed each night then consider bedside table lamps or wall sconces that are on dimmers. These lights produce high voltage or focused light but can also offer a beautiful glow when you just want your bedroom to look soft and pretty. In choosing between a table lamp or a sconce, it really depends on your wall, if you have artwork over your bed, how high your headboard is, and even the height of the overall room. For example, in my Brooklyn home, I have a low headboard and very tall ceilings so I wanted to make a statement with oversized table lamps that offered the room some verticality. 

Now, let's move on to overhead. I would say the bedroom is never the place for in-the-ceiling high hats—it’s just too cold. And you also want overhead lighting to feel soft in both the design and the light that it emits. If your ceiling isn’t super high, perhaps it’s something sculptural that hugs the ceiling and offers a dream-like glow.  You don’t want something looming over your head that feels too dominant or heavy as you sleep.  

Finally, always think about varying the heights of your light sources, too. I think a petit table lamp or a floor lamp are both beautiful options for a bedroom and will force the eye to move about the space. You don’t want everything at one level or overhead, so play around. It is far more flattering to have light at multiple points within a room. 

For this more decorative light, look for something that feels atmospheric and inserts a golden hue—the shade you choose for the lamp will also assist in that glow. Consider a natural linen, pleated shade, or even rattan so that the light bounces beautifully and offers those pretty dappled shadows. 

All that said, the best advice, no matter the light, is to add dimmers. I mean, you also want to control the sexy vibes in the bedroom, hehe!

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Athena Calderone

Athena Calderone is an award winning author, interiors writer, stylist, designer and curator. She has had her home featured on the cover of Livingetc twice.