Tips on Bedside Reading Lights

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Four Halo recessed lighting fixtures, two square-shaped and two circle-shaped, from Eaton
Bedside recessed lighting (like these Halos from Eaton) takes thought and calculation.

Our lighting expert, Randall Whitehead, the Lighting Doctor, tells a cozy bedtime story about perfectly positioning reading lights. Inspired by airplane lighting, he recommends installing recessed fixtures to provide overhead focused reading lights for maximum comfort for all bed occupants.

Q: You once said you used a recessed pinpoint halogen in lieu of bedside lamps. How do you calculate where to put them in the ceiling?

A.: A good alternative to bedside reading lights is to install a pair of recessed adjustable low voltage luminaires in the ceiling above the bed. This is what I like to call the “airline approach” to providing focused light for reading. You may have noticed that the reading lights in an airplane are not located directly over your seat, but actually over the seat of the person sitting next to you.

That is because the airline designers knew that your head makes a better door than a window when it comes to light transmission. Two individually dimmed recessed adjustable fixtures provide pinpoint reading light from above. The same principle applies in the bedroom. The person on the right controls the recessed adjustable luminaire over his or her partner’s side of the bed, and vice versa.

By using a lamp with a tight beam spread, such as the MR16 ESX (20W spot), the light is confined to a circle of illumination about the size of a magazine. If all your clients read are paperbacks, you can use an MR16 EZX, which projects a very narrow spot.

Regarding where to install the reading lights, I recommend having them 18 inches to 24 inches out from the wall and 2 feet from the centerline of the bed, putting them 4 feet from each other. Make sure that the light over your loved one’s side is the one controlled by the dimmer next to your pillow. This way the light is directed away from the person trying to sleep. If more than two people are in the bed, reading is probably not on the agenda.

 

Related Question

Q.: Randall, what is the correct mounting height for swing-arm lamps?

A.: Swing-arm lamps can be a very flexible source of illumination that does not take up space on bedside tables. Mounting them at the correct height is critical, however. If they are too high, they will be a source of glare. If they are too low, the client may have to slump into an uncomfortable position to read.

The best way to find the correct mounting height is to have your clients get into bed and hunker down against the pillows in their normal reading position. Then measure from the floor to just above their shoulder height because the optimum spot to position task lighting is between head and work surface. People sharing a bed may nest in at different heights. Some compromise should be made on both sides, so the reading lights can be mounted at matching heights. I prefer a reading light that adjusts both vertically and horizontally.

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead is an educator and author on the subject of lighting design. His work has been featured in many magazines, including Architectural Digest, Home & Garden and Esquire. He has appeared as a guest expert on HGTV, Discovery, CNN and Martha Stewart Living Radio.

His Latest book Beautiful Light outlines how to create successful and subtly beautiful LED lighting designs for homes and gardens. It is due out August 2021.

You can see his entertaining 1-minute instructional videos at furniturelightingdecor.com. And you can follow him on Instagram:  @randall.whitehead

 

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