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Lighting, even over colour, is what makes or breaks a room. Avoid making this mistake in your new build or renovation.

This post is written by my sister Anita Junttila who recently started working with me as my Creative Assistant. We’ve come a long way baby! I just did an Instagram live on Sunday where I shared about our relationship here and how far it’s come. 

Anita’s been helping me with my new Colour Rescue® series on Youtube. It was her idea to include the homeowners which has been super fun! If you’re local and would like to be featured in an episode coming soon, you can apply here.

Anita Junttila and Maria Killam (photo by Macy Yap Photography)

Don’t take this post too seriously, unless you want to. 

And you should, it is lamp season.

Because it’s about to get dark a lot earlier in the day, which means the fastest way to add some joy to your interiors, is with lamps.

This is no joke by the way. Even though this post is funny it’s still true.

And, Terreeia loves to turn on the overhead lights when she’s cooking in the kitchen and she requested that I added one in the shower (and she’s the only one who turns it on 🙂

Here’s three of mine:

Maria calls overhead lights ‘Cheese Lights’ . Cheese lights: Big bright holes in a ceiling that resemble Swiss cheese.

recessed swiss cheese lighting

More on my thoughts on recessed “swiss cheese” lights here.

I’m here to give you some more shocking advice: skip the cheese lights altogether.

The only place to keep them possibly, is in a kitchen, although here’s another way to handle kitchen lighting.

Read more: Ask Maria: Help me Choose Lighting for my Kitchen

Let me count the ways I don’t love cheese lights

A cheese light is a spot light and it shines too bright on everything: your uncle’s bald spot is a shiny reflective dome under cheese lights.

Have you ever been into a cheese light change room? Bright lights that shine down and put shadows on every nook and cranny of your body. Is that a bruise on your thigh or a shadow? We’ll never know.

Doing your makeup under bright cheese lights? No. All shadows. You might as well hold a flashlight under your chin and start contouring your cheekbones. Good luck.

Bright overhead lighting create shadows and shine. It’s not pretty and should only be used when looking for contact lenses or when questioning your teenager, as they try to slip through the door at 3:00 AM. 

But isn’t overhead lighting practical?

But Maria, be practical you say, I need bright lights when I’m …

I can’t think of anything, can you? Here’s a lamp so you can do your fine needlework. Oh, and a pair of readers, don’t worry I won’t tell anyone.

Reading? Here have a little light that attaches to your book.

Big party? People need to see what they’re eating, drinking and who they’re talking to. 

Nightclubs turn on bright overhead lights to chase their patrons out at the end of the night. You don’t want to chase your guests away with bright overhead lighting.

No one wants to stay long under the ‘ugly lights’. “Closin’ time, ugly lights, everybody’s inspected . . .” (Prince) 

Prince Gifs For Every Mood

Here, have a lamp.

the floor lamp everyone should have

Get it here

Here’s another. A short little light like this one can happily sit on a powder room counter or underneath your kitchen countertops as well.

a small lamp for every corner

Get it here

Put one in every dark corner of your home. I have a nice list of lamps here.

Gourd lamps are beautiful. Get two gourd lamps in a colour that matches your carpet and throw pillows.

essential pair of gourd lamps

Get it here

Why lamps are better

Lamps create a glow. Think: youthful glow, happy glow, the glow that creates a mood. That’s because they are warm and illuminate faces on eye level with filtered light. Perfectly soft and beautiful. 

Bright cheese lights? Unflattering shadows and shine. We don’t want that. Stop buying replacement lightbulbs for your bright, overhead cheese lights. Let the lightbulbs burn out.

Buy another lamp instead.

Chandeliers over recessed lights

Still think you need overhead lights? Try a chandelier. A beautiful chandelier with small shades on each little lightbulb.

chandeliers look best with shades

Get it here

If you haven’t put shades on your chandelier light. I’m talking to all of you that have this light (below) order some pretty shades here.

Linked here

This chandelier would look amazing with some mini lampshades on it too:

linked here

Recently, I included a photo of the new chandelier in my kitchen (with shades) and that inspired a few of you to buy chandelier shades for your bare bulbs. Here is a photo from a follower whose lampshades just arrived:

Light is Love

Peace. Warmth. Now you’re nicer to your spouse. Your kids. Your dog. I’m sure there is a study somewhere that says bright lights are bad for you. The only bright light you’ll ever need is sunshine.

So please, turn off your overhead lights. Make a list of all the dark corners in your rooms. Furniture that needs a lamp beside or behind it. Pretty lights for your reading nook. A good light for your scrapbook table.

Pick up a pumpkin spice latte and head to your local shops and buy some lamps. You will become a much more peaceful person.Pumpkin-latte GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Disclosure: affiliate links are used in this post

Learn more about creating atmosphere and get all my best decorating tips on top of the best colour education in the world next month in Dallas. Hurry! There are only a few spots left!

Related Posts

5 Lamps Everyone Should Have in Their Home

Two Magical Lighting Ideas for Creating Atmosphere in a Kitchen Dining Area

My Closet & Dressing Room Reveal: Before & After


  • Penny says:

    Anita! What a wonderful, witty writer you are and a great addition to the Team. Great piece. Will be ordering my shades soon.

  • Kelly K says:

    Cute post and amusing. But also over the top and stuck thinking it’s still 1990.

    Overhead lights can cast a fun and great glow as well, IF you update your lights to a programmable LED. Your can change the color temperature, the brightness level (to avoid glare on that bald head), even the actual color. No more do you have to do the all or nothing of either off dark black holes or blindingly bright!

    Yes, also have some lamps so you can get the layered, softer lighting, of course. But cheese lights don’t have to be cheesy anymore. During the Christmas holidays, I love creating the Christmas light glow by turning my can lights to (the rather obvious setting) of Christmas and they will slowly change back and forth between red and green (varied, not every light the same) and it’s like I’ve added more Christmas lights inside, even in my kitchen! I love it! There’s also a great “sunset” mode that will use a blend of warm colors to create that sunset glow in your room to add ambience with your lamps.

    Welcome to the new millennium of light bulbs so you all enhance all of your lighting and day goodbye to “the club is closed” harsh garishness!

  • Rebekah says:

    After living in a house that had only 3 overhead can lights I am putting them in the remodel. It was a nightmare in the kitchen and I just wanted some bright lights on occasion. Maybe we had all the wrong fixtures? Of course we won’t have to use them all the time and they will have their own switch. I can’t wait to have some bright lights shining! (The house we are living in also has no bright lights and it is awful!)

    • Maria Killam says:

      I promise you didn’t have enough lamps. They truly are only needed in kitchens and bathrooms. Just my opinion however. Maria

  • Giuditta says:

    I just had the electrician install overhead lights in my sewing room, and it’s made a remarkable difference to the work space. I have direct lighting over my sewing machine and cutting table, but the new lighting above makes for a brighter and more effective workspace.

  • Loryn says:

    Good timing! I just finished taking your advice and put three lamps in my dining room. The difference it’s already made is amazing! The room was cold and harsh (with just an overhead fixture), and the table was just a repository of junk.

    Once I put the lamps in, even my immune-to-decorating husband was wowed by the difference. I then rearranged the furniture and changed the hard antique chairs for upholstered ones, and now I have a room we voluntarily sit in!

    • Maria Killam says:

      There’s the comment I was waiting for, thanks Loryn. The world needs more evidence that lamps are where it’s at, haha. Maria

  • Karen Welch says:

    I agree that there is nothing more striking than beautiful well placed lamps. I like to think of them as jewelry for a room. As a decorator I would be interested to see how you treat large rooms with rugs, floor outlets/wall outlets and floating furniture. Extension cords are frowned upon by the fire marshals. Please don’t say battery operated lamps. (Maybe this is why so many fabulous rooms in photos have NO lamps. Have you noticed that?

    • Maria Killam says:

      I believe the reason why there are so many fabulous rooms without lamps even in magazines because there are a lot of decorators that don’t realize how amazing they are. Not everyone has a living room in the middle of the room making it hard to add lamps and if you don’t have outlets in the floors and don’t want extensions then yes this can be challenging. I would keep battery (or USB) operated lamps on all the time which would also make using them hard. Maria

  • Bette says:

    I like a mix of overhead lighting (for specific tasks) and lamps (for ambiance and focused light). However, I think the chandelier shades are horrible. They collect dust and are never, ever all straight. The shades are like a gallery wall, where one frame is always slightly crooked — it drives me crazy.

  • Darnel A Aucoin says:

    Your new mantle arrangement for the fall looks great. Of course, that beautiful mantle sets the scene – is it made out of marble or porcelain?

  • Brenda says:

    What are your thoughts on using a “spot light”? Specifically, a light that you could place on the floor behind a sofa or a chair, that casts a light up towards the ceiling. So not necessarily a lamp you would see, but a soft light that comes up from below? Too much? Better to just use a lamp?

  • Joanna says:

    I think you might be taking this lamp thing too far. We need overhead lights in kitchens and bathrooms. A light, bright kitchen is a welcoming place to cook and same with your bathroom to shower. Yes, use lamps while you take your relaxing bath to get that soft glow.
    A living room should have both ambient lighting and task lights, leaving the chandelier to mostly look pretty. All corners should be lit so there are not shadows. In total agreement there.
    As to shades on your chandelier, you’ve just taken a modern, beautiful, statement piece and dated it. It’s a big No!

    • Maria Killam says:

      I did mention overhead lights for kitchens and bathrooms in this post! And I still stand by shades on chandeliers. There is nothing soft and pleasant about looking at a clear lightbulb I don’t care where it is. Just my opinion, doesn’t make it right, thanks for your comment! Maria

  • Susan J says:

    I’d love to see more photos of ways to incorporate lamps in kitchens and bathrooms. Where do you place them to avoid them taking up precious counter space and how do you deal with the mess of cords? Pictures of different kitchen and bath layouts and sizes with lamps placed effectively would be super helpful!

    The overhead lighting in my basement rec room is terrible for shadows. We set up our Christmas tree down there every year and pictures taken around it are unflattering at best.

  • Julie S says:

    We have mostly not had can lights in our various homes – I can only think of some in a bedroom’s perimeter years back. In our current remodel, I cautiously chose ONE of the new disc style “can” lights for a space that was near feature lighting which I didn’t want to distract from. Made my hubby promise we could replace it if I didn’t like it. Well I sure don’t like it! It is harsh and glares in the corner of my eye from the LR. It’s getting switched out for a tiny plain flush mount with a white shade. Glad I could try one before planning my kitchen!! I sure won’t be putting them in.

    • Julie S says:

      PS and this is still my opinion with the new Halo canless lights having color temperature selector and the brightness way down on a dimmer!

  • Ambyr says:

    Oh no, now I may have to go back and look at all the chandeliers I ruled out for my new build because they had exposed bulbs. Why didn’t I know you could just buy them separately?? Thank you for enlightening me!

  • Cait says:

    Cream-colored LED real-wax candles are on our mantle. My husband is excited to turn them on every night (I think because they’re remote controlled!). We have dimmable lights inside bookcases and a beautiful lamp near the couch. It makes the room so cozy that we never turn on the weird ceiling light we inherited unless we lose something under the couch.

  • Susan S says:

    Love your writing style, Anita! A perfect blend of why(“ Now you’re nicer to your spouse. Your kids. Your dog. . . .The only bright light you’ll ever need is sunshine”)where, and how (“pick up a pumpkin spice latte . . . .” ).

  • Lorri says:

    Instead of overhead lights, they can design kitchens with wall sconces above the counters.

  • Shannon says:

    Thank you! This was timely. Just ordered a few of your recommendations so we can keep our “Swiss cheese” lights off more often.

  • Liz in Oregon says:

    Anita, you’re hilarious! Great post. And I LOVE your blue shoes!!

    We have Swiss cheese lights throughout our apartment and lots of lamps. I only use the overhead lights in the kitchen and bathroom or if I need to find something. They all have dimmers, so even in the kitchen and bathrooms they don’t have to glare. Our chandelier and wall sconces all have fabric shades, which I don’t love, but they do keep the glare out of my eyes. We rent, so it is what it is.

  • Karen Manougian says:

    And please if you have overhead ceiling lights put them on dimmers.

  • H says:

    As someone who bought a beautiful home with some seriously conflicting design choices (think dated and undertone no-noes) as well as cheese lights galore, I quite enjoyed this post. Rest assured we will be righting the wrongs with the help of your wisdom (as the budget allows over time).

  • Pam Jones says:

    Could not agree more! Putting sconces everywhere in our new build! I’m all about layered light!

  • Lynsey says:

    I love your kitchen chandelier. However my kitchen has a very low ceiling so I think a chandelier over the island would not work well and would be in the way. What alternatives are there?

  • Seattle Sue says:

    I have always disagreed with this advice, because as you age, there are times when you need really good lighting in order to function. And it’s not just the kitchen or the bathrooms. We have four can lights in our guest bedroom, studies, dining room and master bedroom. They also have at least two if not more lamps in all of them. And the lamps are mostly what is used. But when we need good lighting for cleaning, or other tasks, we can flip the can lights on. You are about 20 years younger than we are, as you age you may come around to appreciating some overhead lights. Other than that I have used your advice over the years and appreciate the difference it makes in our home and making confident decisions.

  • Mariele says:

    I struggle with SAD and no bright overheads sinks me into deeper depression. At night time, before bed, I turn off the overheads to make me sleepy. But otherwise, all lamps are on – all lamps (and I have a lot!), all wall lights, all string lights, all fake candles, all overheads. I cannot have enough light!!!

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