In this article, I will discuss some tricks for using your lighting to change the shape of your room. Of course, you can’t literally change the shape of your room with lighting (well, I guess you could smash a wall with a really heavy floor lamp, but I don’t recommend it). Instead, you can alter the perception of your room’s size by using a collection of tricks that draw the eyes in ways that change how the room looks and feels.
First, let’s say you want to make your room look bigger than it actually is. In this case, the way to do this is to paradoxically shine direct light on your walls. This is because the eye actually sees things as smaller when they are darker, which is where such figures of speech such as “the dark closed in” come from. Therefore, when you shine light on your walls, they seem further away. The easiest way to do this is to use wall lighting that has an open shade on the back. That way, the light entering the rest of the room is diffuse, preventing glare, but direct light shines on the walls, making them look bigger.
Second, let’s say you want to make your room look smaller than it actually is. In this case, what you should do is to use your lighting to highlight spots in your room. Of course, in contrast to the above, you should not put any direct light on the walls, but that’s not the whole trick. Instead, pick a few areas, like a reading area or a few pieces or artwork, and light them well. Then, lower the ratio of ambient to accent lighting from the usual 1/3 to 1/4. This has the effect of making your room look smaller than it actually is, creating an almost theatrical feel.
Finally, you can make narrow spaces look wider as well. Again, the method is paradoxical. Narrow spaces have longer walls and shorter walls (indeed, this is what makes them narrow). Place your accent lighting on the shorter of the walls. I say this is paradoxical, because one would expect that the shorter walls highlight the narrowness, but this isn’t the case. It’s the long walls that highlight how narrow a room is. By accenting the narrow walls, you trick the eye into thinking the room is less narrow than it actually is.
Lighting, therefore, can change the entire shape of the room just by tricking the eye.