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Design Guide for Sustainable Modern Lighting Ideas

Our list of top sustainable lighting options.

Light attracts. In fact, lighting is integral when it comes to creating a comfortable, safe, and uniquely styled home. This post is dedicated to helping you light up your life with modern lighting ideas and sustainable lighting options that will adding some “amazingness” to your everyday living space.

modern lighting ideas

What are the best modern lighting ideas?

Lighting is in our DNA. For thousands of years, we’ve been using the same styles of lighting... Sconces used to be torches that were used to illuminate dark hallways, and chandeliers that hung over a home's entry had lights in the form of small candles.

Kerosene lit lamps were used on writing desks and next to the bed. Thankfully, modern lighting carries on the same homage to style and functionality, but with a much safer and efficient electric light bulb today.

There are four types of lighting:

  • Ambient lighting is intended for exactly what it sounds like -- to illuminate a space

  • Task lighting offers brighter more concentrated light to carry out tasks such as cooking, applying makeup or working at a desk

  • Decorative lighting can come in many forms such as wall light sconces, pendants and chandeliers

  • Accent lighting is meant to accentuate a space, such as up lights that shine on the side of a wall

modern lighting ideas

Which type of modern lights are best for the space?

First consider how you will be using your rooms. Perhaps the dining room table will serve a dual purpose as an area to do weekly homeschooling with your kids or for scrapbooking during the weekend. Or if you work from home, the dining room may be a great place to host client meetings during the day.

With plenty of natural light, daytime meetings around the table likely won't require a lot of additional light. However, you'll want ambient light in the evenings and task lighting during for dinner time at the table and late night card games.

And when it comes to decorative lighting, a beautiful modern lighting fixture over the dining table can dress up the space and serve as a fabulous focal point. Knowing the four types of lighting will help you to assess your own lighting needs for each space in your house. So let's take a look at the different rooms in your home.

What is the best modern kitchen lighting?

When it comes to modern home lighting, no room is more critical for good lighting than the kitchen. Yet so many homeowners and builders tend to overlook this space when it comes to shedding some light.

modern kitchen lighting

The best modern kitchen lighting is a mix of decorative accent lighting with plenty of ambient and task lighting for cooking, cleaning and food prep.

The most important lights in a modern kitchen are:

  1. Ceiling Lights: These are for ambient lighting to illuminate the space. To deliver enough light, ceiling lights must be placed directly above the counters about eight to 12 inches out from upper cabinet faces. If they are placed farther out, the cook will block the light. PRO TIP: If you're wondering how far apart should recessed lights be, a good rule of thumb is to space out ceiling lights half the height of the ceiling apart. A ten foot ceiling means can lighting should be roughly 5 feet apart. (Keep in mind if you're using smaller modern lights, like 4" wide recessed lighting, they will likely need to be closer together.)

  2. Under Cabinet Lighting: If your kitchen countertops aren't bright enough, a quick and effective remedy is to install under cabinet lighting. Look for new generation, energy saving LED strips or halogen fixtures that put out more than 500 lumens per foot. The cool thing about LED light strips is they are super easy to install, too. The best color temps are 2700k and 3k, with 2700k looking closest to the warm incandescent light color.

  3. Pendant Lights: A lot goes on at the kitchen island! It's a gathering spot for laptops, card games, dinner prep, and more, so having plenty of lighting over the kitchen island is a must. Decorative pendant lights can be combined with well-placed recessed cans to provide ample lighting for this multi-use space.

FUN FACT: The International Residential Code (IRC) says that one overhead light is enough. As healthy home builders, we know adding more light to a kitchen than a single can is critical, for safety and functionality reasons alike. (Unless you’re the brave soul who feels comfortable slicing your stir fry in the dark.)

large charcuterie board with prepped food

How bright should my kitchen be?

Like we mentioned, poorly lit kitchens are usually due to a misunderstanding of where recessed can lights need to be placed and also how many lights are necessary for the task at hand. Most kitchen countertops (where we do all our food prep) measure only 10 to 15 foot candles (fc) with all lights blazing, which is far less than what is ideal for a safe and functional kitchen.

The National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) and the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) both recommend a minimum light level on countertops of 50 fc.

What's a foot candle? A sunny day produces about 1,000 foot candles (fc) of light, while an overcast day is typically around 100 foot-candles of light.

What are our thoughts? A simple rule of thumb is to make the brightness of your kitchen workspace the same or brighter than what you'd see on an overcast day. There's a number of free light meter apps available on your smartphone to make sure your kitchen brightness is up to snuff.

Modern Organic Kitchen Lighting

What about sustainable lighting options for the kitchen?

The amount of light needed also depends on what's going on in the kitchen.

The team at JS2 Partners designs kitchens with several series of overhead ambient lights on different switches. An inner set of ceiling lights is focused around the island and central areas of the kitchen, while the outer ring of can lights illuminates the traffic areas and countertops.

Then the pendants over the island are on their own switch, as well as undercabinet lighting. Use the lights you need and save energy by turning off the ones you don't.

It's not uncommon for larger kitchens with taller ceilings to have 15 or 20 separate fixtures of different types, including wall sconces for accent lighting, chandeliers as a decorative statement piece, and of course pendant lights. Thankfully most lights now are LED, which saves on energy bills and doesn't require switching out bulbs often. However, we still like the traditional soft lighting of incandescent bulbs in certain decorative fixtures like clear glass pendants.

sustainable lighting handmade from natural rattan

How far apart should kitchen island pendant lights be?

For kitchen islands with three pendant lights, space the lights 30" - 32" apart and 30" - 32" from the countertop to the bottom of the pendant. The key here is to make sure the outer pendants are at least 6" from the edge of the island.

In order to look good visually and also provide enough light, a good rule of thumb is to space two pendant lights at least 30" apart from the center of the island, and 30" to 32" from the countertop to the bottom of the pendant.

how high to hand kitchen island pendants

Modern Living Room Lighting Ideas

Living rooms are meant for playtime, cuddle time, and lots of rest and relaxation. Getting the lighting right in your living room is important for creating an inviting and relaxing living room space.

midcentury modern lighting ideas floor lamp

Functional Floor Lamps

There are many stylish modern lighting options, and the most versatile of all is definitely the lamp. And we’re not talking about your grandma’s old lamp. Just like in the bedroom, floor lamps and table lamps are a great way to take stylish task lighting into your living room.

A reading nook or sofa end table are great places to consider using organic modern floor lamps or table lamps made from eco friendly, natural materials. And while floor plugs are a major plus in living areas and home offices for easy power access for lamps, a large area rug is also a great way to hide long cords if outlets aren’t close by.

Decorative String Lights

If you're looking to add some wow factor, consider using globe string lights at the top of drapery valances, or installing accent lighting. (also known as indirect lighting) A couple of fun ideas include lights on top of exposed beams in a vaulted ceiling or lights on top of built-in shelving. Indirect lighting that bounces off the ceiling and walls is a fantastic way to light up a room without creating a harsh glare. It's easy on the eyes and visually interesting.

Since we congregate to relax and unwind in the living room during the evenings, ambient lighting (such as overhead ceiling lights) should be minimal, chill and subtle.

Modern Lighting Ideas for Open Floor Plan Living Rooms

Many modern homes are open concept, which means the living room and dining room likely share the same space. Dining tables are where we congregate for mealtime, game time, and even worktime. As such, proper lighting such as chandeliers or pendants in your dining room is important for functionality -- and of course to make it look pretty.

In order to frame the space (and also see your plate), it's important to incorporate adequate lighting over your dining room table. For many homes, this is the place to showcase an amazing modern light fixture.

Sustainable Lighting Options for the Dining Room

The key to sustainable lighting is to look for fixtures that are handmade using natural materials. Natural materials are not only compostable at the end of their useful life but most are also fabulous for a healthy home environment.

For a chic and modern look, we love incorporating a variety of colors, shapes and textures, from sustainable and natural materials from nature -- like recycled glass, shells, naturally finished hardwoods, woven grasses, reeds, and metallic elements -- all of which are timeless and top our list of healthier home lighting favs.

Chandeliers vs Pendants for a Modern Living Room

Next, let's compare chandeliers vs pendants for the dining room and living room... Chandeliers are beautiful and classic additions to a large space, offering an abundance of light with so many sparkly bulbs. If you're looking for modern living room lighting ideas, they're especially fitting for vaulted or high ceilings. These fixtures are larger in stature and incorporate multiple light bulbs vs smaller pendant lights.

If you have a long dining table that calls for a grander size chandelier but don't want to spend a lot of money, another cool and unique modern lighting idea is to use two or three smaller pendant lights to achieve an equally grand effect.

Lighting design tip: Hang a pendant light in an unexpected place, like in the laundry or pantry to spice up the space.

dining room chandelier hanging height

How far should a light be above a dining table?

Figuring out how high to hang a chandelier or pendant over your dining room table depends on your ceiling height. For an eight foot ceiling, the bottom of the chandelier should be 33" - 34" from the tabletop. Then for each additional foot of ceiling height, add an extra 3" of height for the pendant.

So for a ten foot ceiling, you'll want to shoot for 39" - 40" from the bottom of the chandelier to the top of the table, and so on... Whether you're going with one larger chandelier or several smaller pendants, keep the edges of your lighting 6" away from the edge of the table.


Top 3 best modern lighting ideas for the bathroom

A mixture of overhead ambient light and task lighting is important for a beautiful and functional bathroom. The best modern lighting option for a bathroom include sconces, backlit LED mirrors and ceiling can lights.

sustainable lighting materials include iron, leather and linen
  1. Wall Sconces: Sconce lights on either side of the bathroom mirror are a beautiful way to make a statement and provide ample light for your morning readiness routine. Wall lights allow for cross-lighting, which ensures there are no shadows, much like an actor's makeup mirrors. We love the dramatic look and feel of sconce lights! For modern powder bath lighting, you can definitely get away with just wall sconces and no ceiling lights, which makes for a moody and dramatic effect.

  2. LED Mirrors: Backlit LED mirrors are another great way to provide ample lighting for makeup and morning care routines. These backlit mirrors are super stylish sustainable lighting options crafted without MDF or particle board backing, which both emit harmful formaldehyde. (Most decorative bathroom mirrors have MDF backing.) And while overhead lights alone cast shadows that aren’t helpful for grooming, ceiling can lights are fine if used in addition to a wall sconce or LED mirror.

  3. Table Lamps: Lamps are great modern lighting options. In fact, bathrooms are often overlooked opportunities for incorporating decorative accent lights, such as table lamps. A sleek and skinny table lamp, (or even a fun pendant light), can add to the ambiance factor and make a powder room or primary bath vanity pop. Plus the subtle light from a lamp can serve as a nightlight, too.

organic modern lighting ideas

Modern lighting ideas for the bedroom

Adding table lamps on a bedside table, or small hanging pendants over end tables next to the bed, are great for task lighting (i.e. reading). Plus, this decorative lighting technique can really up the design factor! Keep in mind that a bigger bed requires larger table lamps. For a king size bed, a 30+" tall table lamp is ideal. Whereas smaller desk lamps work great next to a twin bed.

If you're struggling with a dark corner in your bedroom or looking for a light next to an accent chair, floor lamp is to the rescue. A floor lamp is an excellent remedy to lighten up dark areas and helps to balance the overall design of a modern bedroom. Tripod floor lamps are a favorite among Feng Shui enthusiasts.

Fun trending bedroom lighting ideas...

modern lighting string lights

  • String lights in a bedroom offer a fun way to add subtle drama and playfulness. Plus, the ambient light is super soft and perfect for creating a relaxing and tranquil space.

  • Wall sconces are trending and are a fun modern lighting idea for bedroom designs. Sconce lights can be used instead of bedside table lamps and cast a beautiful glowing dramatic effect on the wall. Wall lights are excellent for highlighting wallpaper or wall treatments on the wall behind the bed.

  • Flush mount ceiling lights are often overlooked but actually a fantastic way to dress up a bedroom, hallway, or even add some modern organic vibes to a walk in closet. Way more interesting than a standard ceiling can light. In fact, sustainable lighting options such as flush mount lights made of natural sustainable materials like glass, metal or natural linen can add chic ambiance to a space.


organic modern lighting materials

Wellness Benefits of Eco Friendly, Natural Sustainable Lighting

When it comes to sustainable lighting options, the one light we tend to forget about is nature's free source of lighting -- natural light!

Natural light is critical to keeping our circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycle) in sync. Studies show that exposure to ample natural light in the morning light is important for balanced mental health. Not only does lots of natural light cut back on energy consumption and electricity bills, but daylight also helps to set the body’s circadian rhythm, which gives your energy in the morning.

The more natural light in your home, the better for physical and mental health.

Overhead lighting is optional in great rooms or living rooms that have lots of natural light during the day. Done right, a mix of modern lighting and natural light can enhance the functionality of your home's lighting and the design aesthetic of these important spaces.

white ceramic vase with natural light

Incorporating large windows and/or glass patio doors in different areas of your home provides a connection to the outdoors with beautiful ambient daylight. We try to ensure each room, even closets, have natural light.

Since people tend to congregate in the kitchen, don't forget to incorporate natural light in your culinary kingdom. The more beams powered by eco-friendly mother nature, the better for your healthier home!

Your Sustainable Lighting Materials Matter

Choosing lighting fixtures made with natural, non toxic materials is also key to creating a healthier home living environment.

Look for modern organic decorative lights that are handmade by skilled artisans. Make it a point to source modern home lighting made from recyclable and natural materials like wood, stone, metal, rattan, glass and plant based textiles.

For more natural, non toxic and handmade lighting inspiration, check out the curated lighting collection here.


What's your biggest lighting challenge?

Have lighting tips you’d like to share?

We'd love to hear in the comments section below.