It’s winter. And, while the days are getting longer, it still feels dark and gross at times, because we’re in the middle of the worst stretch of winter (cold, gloomy, gross, etc.). Every year, I tell myself that I need to figure out a way to make my apartment a little less gloomy during the winter months, and every year I forget until after I’m convinced that my apartment is gross and depressing (it’s not! I have 4 giant windows! it’s just dark in Edmonton). This year, I’m finally making some changes.

The way I see it, I need to do two things:

  • Consider my spaces and adjust the lighting to match what the space is used for (where possible, because I do have some limitations as a renter)
  • Add a few decorative lights for those evenings when I don’t need a million lights on, but want something cheerful in those gloomy corners.

It looks like random scratches, but this is a fairly comprehensive review of lighting in my apartment. Conclusion: I'm missing some and a lot of what I have needs to change.

It’s been really interesting thinking about spaces and lighting needs. I’ve read a lot of lighting tips and tricks over the years, and it seems like everyone either lives down south (“forget lamps, just open your blinds!”) or has no regard for wasting energy and money (“use all kinds of lamps with super bright light bulbs, then add more lamps!”).


I think the best thing to do is to look at how you use the space and how you want the space to feel. Then, dissect it down into individual areas and think about what you really need in those areas.

For me, I want my space to be a balance of useful lighting (so I can see what I’m doing) and cozy lighting (so my space feels comfortable, even on the bleakest days of winter). Because I live in an apartment, almost all of my lighting has to be portable. That limits me to lamps, but also gives me a great deal of freedom in terms of how I organize my space and my lighting. For example, I can have one lamp with a bright daylight bulb in my living room for when I’m stitching and that lamp can be moved to whatever part of the room/apartment I’m working in. So, instead of having to have bright, glaring lights in every corner, I just need one.

Most of the lights that came with my apartment

My apartment comes with 5 built in fixtures (only 3 are shown in the picture) and one outlet attached to a light switch:

  1. An overhead light in the front hall
  2. An overhead light in the main hall
  3. An overhead light/fan in my kitchen
  4. A light in the bathroom
  5. A light in the storage room
  6. An outlet is in my bedroom

I also have the previously mentioned giant windows (4 feet high, 5 feet wide – no, I’m not kidding). These are awesome. I never have lights on during the summer or during the day on winter weekends.

OK, I lie: my front hall, bathroom, and storage closet are quite dark, so sometimes I need to turn those lights on. But, only briefly.

The lighting I'm working on adding

Here’s what I want/need:

I want to use warm white lights as much as possible, because they make the space feel warm and cozy. I like cozy. It’s a great way to trick my brain into thinking that it’s not depressingly cold outside (turning the heat up might help, too, but I prefer to keep the apartment cool and crawl into warm layers and under wool blankets).

Unless I’m doing things that require good lighting, I don’t need bright lights. It would be great if I could see what I was doing in the kitchen, but the overhead light is behind me no matter what I’m doing. Dishes, sitting at the dining table, and prepping meals are all done in my own shadow. The previous tenants left super bright bulbs, probably because they were trying to create enough light to see things. I switched them out to what I had, which were also fairly bright, but not as bad. Now, I want to find a better option. There’s no shortage of plug-in under cabinet lights (and most of them are LEDs, which are cool to the touch and fairly energy efficient). Once I get some installed, I won’t need much light from the overhead, so I’ll switch them too dimmer bulbs.

I do need one utilitarian light for crafts. As mentioned above, I’ll put a daylight bulb in a lamp that can be moved around as needed. I’ll probably use an extension cord so I can just drag it over to my table, sofa, desk, .. wherever. It will be perfect for sewing, stitching, drawing, everything!

I like to wake up to light. It’s great. I hate waking up to dark. It just feels cold and gross and makes me want to crawl back under my blankets. I used to have a bright daylight style bulb on a timer. It was an OK solution, but going from pitch black to bright light is yucky, so sometimes it felt like my brain was being unpleasantly shocked awake. I solved this problem a few months ago when I bought a sunrise alarm clock. It’s so awesome! I wake up slowly and gradually, which is bliss. On the few days when that won’t wake me, the built in radio helps. You can see how it works in this video (skip to the 30 second mark to see the sunrise simulation … ignore the cheesy guy).

Sometimes I don’t need anything more then a gentle glow of light to make the space less depressingly dark. Like right now. I’m sitting at my computer. The screen is giant, so I have enough light to see my keyboard. I don’t need to see anything else. But, I don’t really want to be sitting in the dark, either. So, I have my Christmas lights that I never took down (and probably never will). They provide just enough light to keep me happy.



I want a few decorative elements in case I’m in the mood for … I don’t know … just not being in the dark. I’ve got some candles in one corner of my living room and some more Christmas lights in another. The Christmas lights were a timer for December and January, the two months with the shortest days. It meant that I came home to some light (yes, it was dark before I got home from work). It’s not enough to see anything, really, but it helped me feel less blah.  Now, I just plug them in as needed.

I want an herb garden, but it wouldn’t survive the winter. Especially not as the space I have available is the dark side of my bedroom, which tends to also be dark in the summer as I leave the curtains shut to keep out the heat. Right now, I have a small grow light aimed at a few small seedlings. I would like to eventually get a mini green house, like this little beauty, so they don’t freeze to death. And, then I’d like to replace the existing lamp with something a little prettier.

So, I still need a acquire a few lights and replace a few bulbs, but I’m going to work on it over the year. I think if I start with swapping light bulbs and getting the kitchen lighting I need, I can at least eliminate some of my biggest annoyances.

I want to buy a really nice lamp as my second light source in the living room and I may replace the existing lamp because it’s cheap looking and kind of annoying (the shade blocks the light if I pull the adjustable arm down). I also have a table lamp for my desk. It’s mostly for show (it’s beautiful Indian lamp my mother had), but sometimes  it’s nice to have some light at the desk.

Hopefully, by the time December rolls back around, I’ll have everything worked out so I can feel cozy all winter long.

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