Can the Right Lighting Make or Break a Party?

Get lit.

By Jenn Rose Smith

“I’m sorry, but I just can’t have a good time in harsh overhead lighting,” this was (like all of my best jokes) not a joke at all when I said it in our Monday morning meeting. Lately we’ve been talking about why certain parties are so much fun, and others just… aren’t. That’s why we’ve decided to kick off a new mini series on the makings of a fun party where we’ll be breaking down exactly what makes a party fun, from the guest list to the playlist. Chanel tackled the guest list last week, and today I’m focusing on our second topic: lighting.

All great hosts and restauranteurs know that lighting is one of the most consequential elements of atmosphere — you set the mood instantly when you light a candle or turn a dimmer. It’s when lighting is a mere afterthought (or not even considered at all) that a meal or get-together feels entirely unspecial. Fortunately, designing the perfect lighting arrangement for your next party is super easy and doesn’t have to cost much, either.

Read on my pro tips on how to light your space for optimum FUN!

featured image via arquitetura-pessoal

photo by lucas janin

1. Start by turning all the lights off.

It may seem counterintuitive, but over-lighting a space is probably the most common mistake people make with event lighting. Start with whatever natural light is available, even if it’s just moonlight, and then add light from there as needed.

photo by the new york times

2. Add diffused light at eye level.

Lamps with shades are a great starting place. Try and avoid bright overhead lighting as much as possible. If you have more than one overhead switch, use the soft light from a pendant shade or chandelier and leave the harsher recessed lights off.

photo by brian topiano

3. Always involve a live flame when you can.

Personally, I think a live flame (be it from a votive candle, tiki torch, or a fully lit fireplace) adds an important symbolic energy to any party. The flame has been lit, the celebration has begun.

Never underestimate the power of a few inexpensive votives scattered along a mantle, shelf, or table where people will be gathering. A single flame can go a long way with lighting a space! Experiment with different types of votives (we love mercury glass here at Camille Styles).

It goes without saying that safety comes first, and you should always use care when positioning candles and torches and never leave them unattended.

artwork by olivia steele

4. Experiment with unexpected light sources.

This is where you can really have fun and get creative. Try filling your entire fireplace with votives, or stringing Christmas lights in a pattern across a blank wall. Invest in some artwork that plugs in, or place soft wired chandeliers on the floor.

image by virginie faucher

5. Don’t add too much light.

Again, the most common mistake I see in event design is over-lighting. People are actually quite comfortable in low lit spaces. Just think of your favorite vibey restaurant. You might actually have to hold the menu next to the votive to read it, right? Keep the lighting low for groovy, celebratory vibes.

image via pinterest

6. Plan ahead for sunset.

Maybe your guests will sit down to dinner while the sun is still high, but desert won’t be served until after sundown. Be prepared by having candles and string lights already in place. You can light them ahead of time, or wait until the sunsets to fire them up. Either way, your guests will enjoy a beautiful transition from day to night.

photo by the new york times

5. Invest in dimmer switches. 

Another one of my silly quotes is this: “I don’t even know why they make light switches that aren’t dimmers.” Again, this was said without a hint of irony, and I truly DON’T know the answer. The truth is, upgrading a standard switch to a dimmer is an upgrade that cost mere dollars and will pay you back forever in atmospheric options. Just make sure you consult a licensed electrician before swapping the switch yourself.

image via the lane

6. Consider spending on incandescent bulbs for special occasions.

I know, I know. LEDs are better for the environment. But when it comes to warm, flattering light… there’s just nothing quite like the old familiar glow of an incandescent bulb. If you have a chandelier with exposed bulbs, consider spending a few extra bucks on incandescents — or you can get really fancy and go all the way with some old school Edison bulbs. Just make sure they’re dimmable!

Party on.