Remodeling 101: Closet Lighting

Heads up: Lighting the closet is unlike lighting anywhere else in the house. We turned to Remodelista guru Thomas Paterson, lighting designer and founder of London- and Mexico City–based Lux Populi, for guidance on how to handle the often confusing space. According to Paterson, closets call for flat, diffuse light, if you’re going to find what you’re looking for. Here, we address the essentials!

Remodeling 101 Closet Lighting

What is tricky about lighting a closet?

“The mission for lighting a closet is different from almost anywhere else in the home,” says Paterson. That’s because the goal here is not about achieving atmosphere but about adequately lighting everything inside, from top to bottom. In a packed closet, clothes are hard to find. And in a dark, packed closet, they’re almost impossible to locate. Paterson says that inadequately lighted closets can be especially frustrating for men because their clothes tend to look similar; it’s hard to distinguish navy wool pants from black ones, for instance. Women’s clothing tends to be more differentiated.

What’s the goal?

The goal is to eliminate shadows by getting a lot of diffuse light into the space. The variable factors are color (how warm or cool) and quantity (how much light).

What is diffuse light?

“A standard white globe pendant light gives off the embodiment of diffuse light,” says Paterson. The translucent glass ball filters the light source (the lightbulb) and throws light indiscriminately. In another setting, this would be a bad thing: indiscriminate light will flatten a space and make it look lifeless. But that’s exactly what you want in a closet, because flat, diffuse light is best for seeing clothes clearly. Light diffusion is all about the fixture.

What type of light do I want in my closet?

People like to see how they’ll look both in daylight and in glamorous evening light, so “the closets we light in higher-end homes will often have both cool and warm lights and the ability to switch between them,” says Paterson. For the rest of us, consider a 3,000 or 3,500 kelvin LED or compact fluorescent bulb. (The higher the kelvins, the cooler the quality of light: 4,000 to 6,000 kelvins is too cold for a closet, says Paterson.) Generally speaking, women prefer warmer light and men will find cooler light more helpful for spotting the subtleties among their darkest clothes.

Incandescents are not the best choice for closets because they produce a warm light, which is not ideal for knowing what your clothes will look like in daylight.

How much light will I need?

In a small closet—one in which you can touch all walls standing in the middle—you’ll need the equivalent of 150 watts or 2,000 lumens of light. (You can use multiple bulbs and fixtures to add up to this amount.) As the closet gets bigger, multiply the wattage accordingly.

credit: Remodelista