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Work Hard, Play Light

Lighting Your Workspace Effectively

Every part of your home deserves to be well lit. Your kitchen needs ample lighting for cooking, your living room should enjoy a combination of general and accent lighting, and even the exterior of your home must have the right lighting for safety and security. Regardless if you're at home working as a freelance artist, a student burning the midnight oil before exams, or if you simply need a place to pay bills and catch up on emails — having the correct task lighting is important.

"Office tasks (whether computer-based, paper-based or a combination) require different lighting than most other areas of the home," remarks Eric Strandberg, Lighting Certified (LC). Light needs to travel around the room and effective lighting design is done in layers. The home office should be lit in three parts: ambient lighting, task lighting and accent lighting. Ambient lighting adds a general sense of illumination in the room and can be applied with a ceiling fixture or a floor lamp, for example. Task lighting, the most important layer of light in the workspace, concentrates light in the area where the majority of work is done. Desk lamps and pendants are both great examples used for this particular layer. Lastly, accent lighting can be used in the home office for wall decorations, such as artwork or awards.

"Office tasks require different lighting than most other areas of the home."

The American Lighting Association (ALA) advises that task lighting should be free of distracting glare and shadows. Avoid intense beams of light and consider recessed lighting to soften the light but still add some direct illumination for the task at hand. On your work space, place your lamp on the opposite side of your dominant hand. This can eliminate any cast shadows when you are writing or flipping pages in a book. Similarly, avoid placing a lamp at the front of your desk, as light placed in that area may cause glare on a computer screen. Also take into account the amount of ambient light that enters your work area and plan fixtures accordingly. For example, natural light from a window may be a source of light for you during the day but will not be available during nighttime hours.

Lamps for reading, writing or studying are versatile and often come with adjustable features or space-saving designs. Fixtures with rotating or extendable arms offer the personal freedom to position light in the most effective areas. Clip-on or wall-mounted lamps give adequate task lighting while freeing up valuable space on the work table. Unless your goal is to add accent light, avoid table lamps for task lighting, as these fixtures set off a warm, soft glow and are meant to be purely decorative. If you want to match the decor of a formal study or playful college room, desk lamps are available in a number of styles, colors and sizes to fit any workspace's theme and add some functionality too.

Similarly, bulbs are of equal importance when deciding on task lighting. For reading, experts suggest halogen bulbs, as they offer crisp, white light. To mimic daylight after the sun goes down, try full spectrum light bulbs which not only produce even lighting but alleviate sore eyes and lift up spirits too. Fluorescent bulbs are also a great choice for task lighting. Says Mark Raissen, American Lighting Association certified lighting designer, "Today's fluorescent bulbs are available in a wide range of colors, plus they use up to 80% less energy and last 20 times longer."

Good lighting design is not only an effective and aesthetically pleasing feature for your home, but especially in the office -- it reaps physical and mental benefits as well. Good lighting can lessen eyestrain, prevent mental fatigue and increase productivity. Alleviating stress on your eyes can be avoided if properly lit reading material is held between 14 inches and 18 inches away from your face; any nearer or farther will tire the eyes. Correct workspace lighting allows people to concentrate on their work and not struggle to read, get headaches or complain about eyestrain. Studies have shown that people tend to work more efficiently when workspaces follow a balanced and adequate lighting plan.

For product suggestions to effectively light desks and other work areas, check out our Bright Ideas section.