The Number One Lighting Mistake Folks Make

Hi Everyone,

I know you’re busy right now. Well, me too!

My party is Thursday night, and I still have a lot to do.

But, guess what I’m doing tomorrow morning in the midst of all of this?

Yes, I’m meeting with the contractor I’d like to hire to discuss the next steps.

Why am I meeting him the day before my party?


Well, clearly, I’m a masochist. lol


No, really; here’s why it’s tomorrow. I contacted him 12 days ago, and then after seven days, not hearing anything, reached out again, and this time he got back to me right away and said that he had time the morning of the 15th.

Groovy. I wasn’t about to say no, so at least we can talk about next steps.

However, today, I need to deal with a prescient issue.

It’s about my kitchen lighting; what’s going on in there. And, that will lead to what I believe is the biggest lighting mistake people make.

Some of you may recall that the day after I moved in, the FIRST thing I did was locate all of my lamps. They weren’t difficult to find because the boxes were tagged. Plus, they were in the larger boxes.


Moving is terrifying as it is.


Moving alone adds another level of horror. However, moving into a place with a lighting mistake that feels like a prison interrogation room made me nauseous. The only saving grace was the fantastic guys from Schleppers, who couldn’t have been nicer, more professional, and efficient. They had me moved in, in 90 minutes!

So, the next day, when I had my five living room lamps installed and could dim the track lighting waaay down, the room immediately felt like home, instead of a colossal mistake.


holiday greetings 2020 - living room - beautiful lighting - Back Bay, Boston
The night after I moved into my apartment, December 22, 2020.


Okay, okay!!! I know you want to see WHAT it looked like before I brought out the lamps. This is very painful, but since I love you all so much, I’ll suffer for a few minutes.


You might want to grab a pair of sunglasses first.


Bad living room lighting mistake-do not pin to pinterest

What’s difficult to photograph with this lighting mistake is the glare. It’s not a comfortable, cozy feeling. It’s not even Edward Hopper cool.

Please do NOT pin the image above and directly below to Pinterest. Thanks so much!


vignette - Bad living room lighting mistake-do not pin to pinterest
Now, this may seem normal to you. And, if so, then you’re in good company because this is how the majority light their rooms. It’s with overhead and way too bright lights. You can read more about this lighting misconception in this post.

Let’s look at the room with my lamps and the track lighting turned down by about three/fourths.


my living room holiday 2021-warm lighting

Many of you are designers and already know what I’m talking about. But, for those of you who are not, which version of the same room do you prefer? The glary image with scary, DARK shadows or the version with the warm, sophisticated, light?


I can’t stress enough the importance of great lighting.


In fact, I feel that it’s the most crucial element in decorating. The reason is a gorgeous design; poorly lit will look terrible.


But, spelling it out, this is the most common mistake folks make when it comes to lighting.


They OVERLIGHT. And, often, the overlighting is from one source.

This is the case with the overhead lighting mistake in my kitchen.


number one lighting mistake - overlighting

My kitchen, which will get demolished this year (God willing), came equipped with one seriously wrong-for-this-place-Home-Depot chandelier. Plus, there’s the under cabinet light over the range, and then, there’s this thing over the sink:


hideous lighting mistake

I never turn it on.


number one lighting mistake-hideous light over sink

Never. I would rather wash dishes in the dark than be blinded by this disgusting piece of shit.

Please forgive me if you find that word offensive. That is not a gratuitous use of the word “shit.” For, not only does the hideous fluorescent light blind and turn everything ashen, including skin tones, there is a wire weirdly coming out of the back and creating an irregular hole in the wall.


Would you like to see it?


Pretty, ain’t it?

Now that I have stuck my camera up there, I can see that it’s even worse than I thought. Oh, dear. That looks unsafe. I better have the contractor take a look when he comes over tomorrow.


This sort of thing makes a mockery out of the stringent Boston building codes.


It can be dangerous as all get out for decades. That’s okay, but if you go to fix it, you can’t just make it a lot better; it has to be “up to code.” And, it’s often next to impossible to do so. And, just so you know, when I say a lot better, I mean yes, taking care of ALL safety hazards.

But, let’s stay focused on this lighting mistake because my party is coming up, and even though I have a lamp sitting on top of the fridge and another on the counter, in the back, the kitchen needs more light.


Ummmm… Laurel. YES, you need A LOT MORE LIGHT. You NEED a brightly lit kitchen. You need to see what you’re doing, particularly as you age, as the eyesight isn’t what it once was.


By the way, that’s an example of the kind of snarky, insulting comment that drives me up a wall. Please don’t. I know you probably mean well, but the presentation comes across as condescending. It’s okay to disagree, but please try to say “I” instead of “you.” Fortunately, they’re rare, but whenever I show my home and plans for decorating, I get at least one or two snarkers.


Incidentally, I agree with you. However, there’s well-lit and ridiculously, blindingly brightly lit. Did they have a kitchen bright enough to perform open-heart surgery in the Downton Abbey kitchen? No, they did not. And I don’t think too many fingers ended up in the hollandaise.

Or, what about that gorgeous chef with 18 perfectly behaved children. ;] What’s her name?

Oh yeah… Mimi Thorisson! 

Her kitchen doesn’t look like a runway at a busy airport.

Sure, the lighting should be sufficient to thread a very tiny needle.


However, I prefer if everything is on dimmer switches. There are times when I need to turn on the overhead lighting for a minute. But, that maybe happens once or twice a month.

So, my first thought a few days ago was to see if maybe I could at least change that hideous fluorescent bulb? I tried to remove the covering of the ugly fixture.


Haha. No can do.


I even went on Youtube and found a video with a couple of burly guys who showed how easy it is NOT to remove the cover. However, I learned that the technical term for the cover is a lens.

That’s a misnomer if ever there was one. A lens should help one see better, not render blindness!


The other day, out of desperation, I did this with the tissue paper from the Anthropologie candles.


number one lighting mistake-this works!


haha! Well, form DOES follow function. And, at least I now had some softer light over the sink. However, the light is a little too pink. Plus, there is no way I will have the ability to put paper over that thing and get it not to look like a 4-year-old did it.


But, what if I could fix this lighting mistake by painting it with translucent paint in a warm color to match closer to the existing incandescent lights?


Therefore, I got on Amazon. This was Sunday, and I needed to have the paint by today. Plus, it needed to have stellar reviews. After an hour of looking, I found these fantastic acrylic paints from Arteza.


Box of Arteza craft paint

Arteza craft acrylic paintThousands of 5-star reviews! AND, they can get it to me in one day! Hooray!

paint brushes

And, I also got some inexpensive artist brushes in different sizes.

I love Amazon. I ordered the paint and brushes Sunday afternoon and, as promised, they did arrive the next day.


So, please join me in my laboratory.  I’m going to experiment on some parchment paper, and hopefully, this will work to fix the over-sink lighting mistake.


Here’s how it went.


Arteza acrylic paints

I started messing around experimenting a little on the parchment paper but then realized that I just had to put a sample up on the light fixture. Of course, I would then quickly wipe it off. These paints dry fast!

Fortunately, I did have the presence of mind to tape off the parts not being painted.


number one lighting mistake-paint that overly bright baby

First, I thought I would try titanium white with a DAB of sunflower yellow. I mean a dab. And then I thinned it down slightly with a little water. That’s a conservative place to start.


Sunflower yellow - oh no!
Yikes!!! And, believe me, it was greener than it looks in the photo. I quickly grabbed the camera before I wiped it all away.

Well, what happens if I use just plain white?


titanium white


This isn’t going so well. However, I’m determined to do a temporary fix for this lighting mistake.


Titanium white with violet
I tried a dab of violet, I believe. Well, it’s worse, as you can see.

Okay, I’m going to need more color, so I grabbed the terracotta and put a speck of it in the titanium. I knew a little would go a long way.


Arteza - camel
No kidding. You will see, shortly; It is a very pale shade of pink with the light off.

I did thin layers of the paint, which ended up looking a bit like photos of Jupiter with the light on. But, anything is better than that hideously blinding fluorescent light.


Light fixture after painting-cure for thenumber one lighting mistake

I couldn’t get a good image with the light on, but here, you can see how it looks with the light off.


Okay, let’s first review the kitchen image with the overly bright overhead lighting mistake.


number one lighting mistake - overlighting

We went from this above.


Warmly lit-homey kitchen - cured number one lighting mistake

To this.


I am not saying this lighting is the end-all.


It’s not. But, in my opinion, it’s a helluva lot better than the one with the overhead LED nightmare, coupled with the over-the-sink seriously bad fortune.

Well, I went on a little longer than intended.

What else is new? haha.

Have any of you done something similar to get your place looking better in a hurry?

Please also check out:

22 Living Room Lighting Rules You Need To Know

and Why is Kitchen Lighting So Difficult To Get Right?




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52 Responses

  1. Finally after two bouts of Covid and Christmas behind me I have time to write a suggestion….may not work but worth it is a possibility. I had some under cabinet ambient lighting and the lighting contractor use a very pretty black mesh decorative screen for a cover – no lighting or under cabinet paneling is noticeable.

  2. I am looking forward to laurel’s advice regarding CK’s question about “cousin” chandeliers in the same room. As an identical twin I know all about symmetry.

  3. As a former decorator I’ve seen a ton of bad lighting too! Sometimes enough to give me nightmares! Haha!

    When we purchased and renovated a home two years ago, one of the first things we did was remove the infamous, contractor style “boob lights”. And if I had a dollar for every time I wanted to say to a contractor “WHY do you just position the light box in the mathematical center of the room when it often makes more sense to move it on the lighting diagram to where it would give better lighting and make more sense!?!?!?, I’d be rich! (Ex: ceiling lights that are too far from center over the dining table because the blueprint doesn’t take into account placing a sideboard in the room, moves the “center” over.) At any rate…..

    OMG! My father’s eyesight was failing and one of my siblings thought putting in THE brightest possible LED lights into their dining room chandelier (a VERY ugly 1970’s thing that my mom had some affinity for!) dang near blinded me when it was on…and they wouldn’t even think about installing a dimmer!

    But I have a question for you: I have a vintage crystal chandelier in my LR (I do a French-inspired look)—yes on a dimmer. There is room to put another chandy up but I know I won’t find an exact match. Question: Is it really gauche to have two non-exact chandys in one room as long as the finish is the same and they’re more like “cousins” than twins? (Maybe this question could be an entire other lighting blog post. 🤔😉)

  4. A few years ago, we rented a house with a million light fixtures and almost all of them needed replacing.

    I bought Cree Soft White Full-Spectrum LEDs from Home Depot and they were great. Some fixtures called for the equivalent of 40 watt and some called for the equivalent of 60 watt. I had to experiment.

    The regular LEDs that weren’t full-spectrum didn’t look as good – they made colors look flat. It was a big difference.

    I don’t think Home Depot sells Cree anymore, so I don’t know what I would use now.

  5. Painting it = Genius.

    The light in my entire house is pretty awful. I mean every room. I don’t know how to fix it. I once threw out a dark red Persian rug because I thought it was making me depressed but now I am realizing the real problem is the lack of good light.

    Are there people one can hire to solve this? I feel like it’s either dark or there is “man light” ha ha! I mean, my husband thinks the LEDs up full blast looks good! And he has put smart lights everywhere…. This isn’t a dentist office…. Help!

  6. When we added on, I found overhead lights with a cool, sort of sculpted shape in cobalt blue. They were on sale (the store was going out of business because of Lowes I imagine). I bought a bunch for the living room, kitchen and the new bedroom and a bunch of the replacement bulbs in case we couldn’t find them later. They do look pretty; people often mention it. I never, ever turn them on unless we just walked in the house in the dark, and then I switch them off as soon as I can turn a lamp on. The light is horrid! Very harsh shadows as you mentioned. I haven’t had to replace a bulb yet and it’s been around 20 years. I’m not planning on replacing them, because they serve their purpose and I still like how they look. Also, if I were going to spend money on replacing something, trust me, there’s a lot before I would do that!

  7. I would like to urge everyone – never put overhead lighting over mirrors. Even in the some of the most beautiful powder rooms, and the most expensive 5 star hotels, I have noticed overhead vanity lighting. The shadows it causes will ruin the effects of the most beautifully applied make-up, or just your natural beauty.

  8. “I would rather wash dishes in the dark than be blinded by this disgusting piece of shit.” And this (and your excellent advice) is why I follow you, Laurel. Merry Chrismtas!

  9. I second the comment on Wave Form Lighting bulbs. I tried dozens for a dressing room light fixture and they were by far the best. So many LED fixtures today won’t even let you change the bulb. You throw away the whole fixture when the light goes out–and LED lights do go out. Crazy.

  10. Hi Laurel – I always enjoy your blog! I had a similar issue with an LED fixture. It was very cool looking from a style standpoint, but horrible, blaring, bright light. After a lot of searching for what to do, I decided to try taping white electrical tape (which is available in different widths) over the cover/casing (whatever it is called)! It worked beautifully and has held up for several years now! Since it’s opaque, it way toned down the brightness and softened the whole look! Might be something to try, and since it’s made for electrical applications, would presumably be safe…

    Hope your party is a huge success!!

  11. You are smart to be alarmed at the wiring of that light. I follow a Boston home inspector on Instagram just to see his posts. His shocking pictures alone, are worth setting up an account. I really hope you don’t find any more surprises in your kitchen renovation. Seems the older the home the crazier it gets. Janet

  12. Hi. In addition to putting your downlights on a dimmer, you might try narrow beam spots or pin light bulbs. They will narrow the focus of the light so, instead of a wide wash of glaring white, you get a small pool of light directly on your task. Also, depending on the fixture, you may have a choice of a warmer colored light.

  13. Ah, the horrors of LED lighting! I won’t waste your time on my problems with older (expensive) lighting which isn’t compatible with the darn things…
    Just wanted to wish you a happy carefree party tonight!

  14. Laurel, I just moved to a house with 6 recessed lights over the kitchen island, which is nuts to start with. The seller put in 5000k migraine-inducing bulbs. He said, “My wife hates these bulbs; what do you think?” We just politely smiled but I’m immediately replacing them with 3000k bulbs on dimmers. I’m thinking of installing blank covers over four of them. Blank covers are ugly but not as bad as an operating room kitchen.

    Your paint idea is brilliant. Thanks for always keeping it real. Have a wonderful party!!!

  15. Laurel, I’ve painted a lot of things, but never a light…very clever! Now I want to try it for fun! I call florescent lights ” the scourge of the devil,” and refuse to turn them on, even if it’s dark out! I remember teaching violin in a very dim classroom, but as Suzuki trained students, they all played by ear, and sometimes with our eyes shut, to concentrate on tone!

    I hope you have a wonderful party!!

  16. Another thought, wouldn’t work in your situation but may in others, such at potlights. Theatre light gels. It’s like a piece of transparent plastic (but not plastic) that can be cut with scissors to any size/shape and taped over/on lights, it is heat resistant, made to fit over very hot lights and it comes in hundreds of colors. I found using a peachy tone over bluish lights corrects the problem and gives them a nice warm glow.

  17. LED’s have issues with CRI (color rendering index) and flickering that we often perceive as “jittery” when our eyes are moving fast (like when we’re reading words on paper). LED’s give me a migraine after about 30 minutes, if there’s no supplemental natural daylight.

    Wave Form Lighting is a company that has tried to address these issues, and they’re the only LED’s I can live with in my home or office. They’re actually pretty nice with color rendering, and they have steady illumination. Almost as nice as modern incandescent halogens (which are being phased out in many states). I’ve been able to go back to reading paper books and magazines thanks to them. Their website has a ton of technical specs and detail about different aspects of lighting.

    Eye Comfort LED’s by Philips brand are also steady (no jittery look) but the color rendering is bleh. I use them in my storage areas like closets.

    Someone at MIT developed a super energy efficient incandescent bulb as a proof of concept. Hopefully some company starts manufacturing them.

    ** I am not affiliated with any of the brands I mentioned.

  18. Hi Laurel, I can relate to everything you said. Is there ever a situation where LED’s work? No matter what the tone, I feel like LED’s make everything look eerie and they exaggerate my vision defects.

  19. Hi Laurel. I’ve been design stalking you for a long time! I cannot resist your blog posts, and you have saved me from expensive disasters! Thank you. 🥰. You also feel like a friend , and the moment you wrote the word, sh%#t, I knew I had to support you! I finally got the 333, +Etsy deal; the shops are still gorgeous and fun. Thank you again!

  20. Loved this post, as I just had a similar experience. I asked an electrician to install two recessed halogen lights in my powder bath ceiling. I came home to two wafer LED lights that I likened to airport lights or operating room lights – just as you described! I have another electrician coming soon to correct the work. Agree a thousand percent that lighting is probably the most important element in a room. I think your kitchen lighting looks MUCH better now.

  21. I am impressed with your ingenuity. I am curious if you have explored smart lighting such as Philips Hue as an alternative to painting the lens (glass fixture)?

    Smart lighting doesn’t require the hard hardwiring of a dimmer. In August 2020 I moved to a circa 1929 house in Winchester, MA. The bedrooms did not have dimmers so my husband replaced the light bulbs with Philips Hue LEDs and we can use our tablets and phones as well as voice to turn the lights on and also dim them. The Philips Smart LED bulbs contain software that connects to an app, smart home assistant, or other smart accessory so you can automate your lights or control them remotely, eliminating the need for traditional wall switches. What I like most is that the Philips Hue has so many warm (or if you prefer cool) color choices. Philips smart LEDs also works with Amazon Alexa.

    Laurel you are so talented. I am just curious if decided not use smart technology to address your lighting issues for some reason?


  22. I don’t know that anything is as easy to make a mistake with as lighting. I’ve never actually seen a lighting scheme, but I know they’re terribly complex and hard to do. I’m happy to help pick out fabrics and leave lighting to the experts.

    My brother caught a bad mistake of mine the other day. I have been working on the basement stairs–they are truly hideous and nasty looking–and I thought, hey, why not replace that ugly light fixture at the top of the basement stairs? I started looking at light fixtures, picked out a few and consulted with hubby. I don’t let him pick, but I will let him veto. Well, Craig, my brother, looked over my shoulder and said, “Mookey,” he calls me Mookey, “you can’t have a light with a clear glass shade at the top of stairs. If you look directly at it, you’ll be blinded for a few moments, and that’s a bad idea when you’re headed downstairs.” He was so right, and it’s something people who can do what you can do would never get wrong, but I almost put up something pretty that would have been a hazard. This is one of the problems of not hiring a designer to work with. I was only thinking about what would look good, not what would work well.

  23. Ooof I’m an anomaly. My kitchen and bathroom are lit up so you can land a 737 in there. Not the other rooms! Everything is on a dimmer but I have them on 5000k in kitchen for sure.

  24. What a timely post! My husband installed four undercounter lights without telling me beforehand. I will never use them unless absolutely necessary. No three position switch to control the brightness. I am absolutely going to try your paint idea. Since they are recessed, exact paint matching is not essential, so I will use spray paint. As suggested by another reader, I think painting inside the lens would be much easier to keep clean, but in a closed lighting situation, I don’t know if that would be safe. Anyway, THANK YOU!!

    1. Hi Christy,

      I’m not sure, but they’re probably LEDs which don’t get as hot as incandescent bulbs. Also, I don’t believe heat escapes differently with paint or without paint. These sound like puck lights and if so, they do make color filters for them. I’m not sure if that’s what you need, however.

  25. Good save, Laurel! As you know we have lamps in our kitchen and the only time we turn the overhead light on is when we play Scrabble. The light over the stove when we are cooking. Every light in our house is on a dimmer.
    Have a wonderful time tomorrow night!!! XOXO

  26. Well I never! (to quote my granny) I wouldn’t have thought that could be done with a light that probably gets hot. But I really would never have thought to try it!! You really are very clever. I hate all overhead lighting and I have “operating room” canned lights in my kitchen that my husband keeps turning on. I come right behind him and turn them off and turn on the under counter lights which I LOVE! Great post and Merry Christmas!

  27. Laurel – I agree, lighting from above makes a woman’s skin look horrible. I have a combined dining room and living room and I have 7 lamps in a small place. No blue light, only warm.
    Thank you for all you do to help us as we all need it.
    Wishing you well at your party. Take pictures.

  28. What a great fix for your over sink light! I have used spray paint in metallic gold on the INSIDE of glass shades, like your overhead kitchen fixture has, in order to soften the glare…. maybe give it a try until you get your gorgeous remodeled kitchen done. LOVE your work!

    1. Hi Amy,

      Yes, I considered painting those babies, as well. But, I couldn’t unscrew even the lowest one. Since the ceiling is 10′-3″, they are pretty high up, so painting in place isn’t an option. But, I love your idea. That would also help to warm up the light. Plus light focused towards the ceiling is always a good thing.

  29. Hi,

    Love the new and improved kitchen lighting! I’ve read all you posts and Rules on lighting and was detailing to my Electricain all the sconce placements (no recessed except in the kitchen) in my new “half house addition” and he said “don’t buy cheap sconces , plan to spend 200-300 a piece because the cheap ones don’t sit well/firmly on the wall.” Well needless to say my lighting budget exploded when I went to SchoolHouse (280-350/light) vs cheaper alternatives (~$75). Don’t get wrong it’s worth it and beautiful but what are you thoughts on using “cheaper ” sconce? I’m thinking that they are easily replaceable over time if they look bad but say the tile or countertops (also exploded budgets) are not. Thanks Delila

  30. I can almost feel the glow! As another reader w sensitive eyes and migraines plus a husband who seeks maximum brightness, I’m always looking for ways to cope. The switch to LED lights has come at some cost. Throw in both of us working from home, me in the dining room with vintage crystal chandelier and sconces supplemented with my mother’s living room lamps – all of it not quite cutting it on Zoom. A light ring nearly blinded me on a call while I worried that I’d be seeing the dreaded visual aura any minute. Of course sound proofing is also an issue too without proper doors. Never a dull moment here. Sending you wishes for good cheer and good lighting!

    1. Hi Paula,

      Yes, sound is another issue. If you can imagine, there were times in our home when I was married and raising the boys that there were three completely separate musical situations happening at the same time!

  31. Hi Laurel,
    Aren’t you clever! Paint to the rescue. Who knew?
    One of the first things I told my contractor was to remove all the pot lights in the living room. There were 8 of them! Can you even imagine? He was surprised because he thought they were great & asked how I was planning on lighting the room. I said by lamps & sconces. He acted like he had never heard of such a thing.
    Have a good time at your party. I can’t wait to hear all about it Sunday.

  32. I’m like you with the dimmers. In every home I’ve lived in, all overhead lights, and pot lights, in EVERY ROOM are on dimmers. Every single one! Bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchen, even hallways, and especially dining rooms. How many times have you eaten in someone’s home under an interrogation dining room light situation?? It’s so lovely to be invited to someone’s home for a meal, but the bright lights don’t make for a relaxing vibe.

  33. I really enjoyed this! LAughed a lot at little turns of phrase like your light called Bad Fortune:). And am saluting the laboratory spirit – your acrylic quick fix worked a treat IMO! xxx happy christmas. I do enjoy the posts! From Dublin: )

  34. Yes! Have painted many white/blue lightbulbs with glass paint to great effect, always with some shade of peach. Laurel, in addition to a dimmer, an overhead like yours can sometimes be improved with screw-in “directed spots” which would reflect light down from ceiling. 50 Watt or even 25 watt if you can find them. Alternatively, if the fixture is attractive, the white glass bulb covers can be replaced with peach or pinkish ones.

  35. Light is sooo important! Love to see the ‘before and after’ of the living room and kitchen. Remarkably how the colours change too. Glad to see that you have the tree up. Merry Christmas!

  36. Nice job saving your kitchen lighting and making do. As someone who gets migraines and eye strain from bad lighting, I can’t thank you enough for stressing the importance of pleasant illumination.

    I have used clip-on utility lights, and holiday string lights attached to the underside of kitchen cabinets, just to have decent light on food prep surfaces (and a more pleasant look for the kitchen overall). I’ve also used decorative/privacy window films, in faux stained glass or frosted white, to correct harsh fixtures where I can’t just change out the bulb or the shroud/lens.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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