Warm and Cool

Principles of Light and Color Design

When making lighting design choices and shopping for light fixtures and bulbs, two important concepts to learn about are color temperature and color rendering index. A thoughtful application of these ideas in your home lighting design plan can have a real impact on the overall feel and mood of a room. What are these concepts and how do Tiffany (and other) lamps, as well as light bulb choices, fit into them?

Color temperature: Color temperature describes the way light feels, usually described in terms of warm and cool. Warm light is more yellow in color and cool light has more of a bluish tone. Color temperature is generally measured in degrees kelvin (the primary measuring unit in the physical sciences). The color temperature of a traditional incandescent light bulb is warm, around 2700 degrees kelvin. Xenon lights (often used in under cabinet lighting) are considered to be cool, and can be as high as 6000 degrees kelvin. Each type of common home light source has its own place on the temperature scale. Incandescent bulbs are most similar in warmth to natural candlelight. Many people prefer the warmth of incandescent lights. Cooler light is said to be closer to the feel of natural daylight. Newer light bulb choices can vary greatly in color temperature. For example, a compact fluorescent light ranges from 2500-6000, a halogen light is in the 2800-3000 range, and LED lights range from 2700-4200. Remember that lower numbers indicate warm lights and higher numbers indicate cool lights. Look for color temperature on the package when shopping for light bulbs.

Color Rendering Index: This term describes how different types of light sources impact the look of colors in the home. The color rendering index is measured on a scale from 0 (very poor) to 100 (excellent). The effect of light on color is important in making the right interior design choices. How will furniture and paint colors look in different types of light? Color rendering index is also important in making skin tones look good, and is especially critical in areas where art is made or displayed. The lights with the best color rendering index are incandescent and halogen, both in the 97-100 range. Xenon closely follows at 95. Next are LED and compact fluorescent at 70-90 and 70-82 respectively. Traditional fluorescent lights are lowest on the index at 52-90, not surprising given their reputation for generally harsh and unflattering light. Look for the color rendering index on light bulb packages before purchasing.

Warm and Cool in Lamps and Home Décor: An understanding of color temperatures and the color rendering index is essential when choosing the right lamp and home décor styles. Interior designers note that certain styles, such as traditional and Arts and Crafts, are warm in nature. More modern and contemporary décor may look best in cooler light. Tiffany lamps, with their lighted glass shades and patinated bronze bases, are considered to be more warm than cool. The first purelamps Tiffany lamps were created for fuel oil and the earliest incandescent light bulbs in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were also designed to fit into the more traditional home décor of the time. They are an ideal match for warmer, traditional décor and color choices. As more and more people are moving away from traditional incandescent light bulbs, test out some of the newer types of bulbs in your Tiffany lamp to find a replacement bulb that suits the style and colors of your lamp and the room where it’s placed.

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