How to create a great first date mood with lighting

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by Louise Reynolds

Most of my working life has been spent as a lighting designer and I learned long ago that one of the lynchpins of a romantic evening is good lighting. A successful lighting scheme is a bit like personal dressing. The trick is to layer elements that complement each other yet know their place:

Ambience. Every room needs a general light that can be controlled by dimmer to provide variable levels of ambient light. Up for cleaning, down for love!

Accent. Pick something worth highlighting. It needn’t be a picture; an interesting object on a console or table works just as well. You don’t even need to have a spotlight, there are many lamps with adjustable arms on the market that will do the job.

Glimmer/Shine/Sparkle. Every lighting scheme needs just a touch of glimmer or sparkle, whether it’s the soft gleam of a tea light candle, or the sparkle of a crystal.

But, if you’re in a rental, with one lonely oyster fitting on the ceiling and a hot date on the weekend, what do you do?

Light only where you need it. You don’t need, or want, light levels to be the same across the entire room. Turn off that overhead light and switch on a couple of lamps. A floor mounted up light with a dimmer is perfect for washing the ceiling and providing soft ambient light.

For table lamps, keep the bulb wattage low. If your walls are white, which can seem stark at night, use warm white globes for a soft glow. Finally, a cluster of candles on a mantelpiece or side table provides a romantic touch.

Unless you’re a total greenie, use low wattage incandescent lamps. Because you’re only using them where needed, it’s not as bad as people believe. They have a different spectrum that provides more attractive lighting than energy-saving compact fluorescents. You can always swap them back to fluorescents the next day if you wish.

And finally, don’t restrict soft lighting to the living room and the bedroom. There’s nothing more unsettling than moving between a softly lit living room and a harshly lit kitchen. A small lamp on the kitchen bench is one of my favourite lighting effects. It throws enough light onto the bench to illuminate the space and creates an intimacy most kitchens lack.


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