Full-Spectrum Floor Lamps: Integrating White Light
Full spectrum floor lamps provide quality task light.
Full spectrum floor lamps can serve a number of different purposes within the home. Their most common use is as task lights, especially as reading lights. Because the light is white, it brings out the colors in an object more truly than standard “warm” light sources. They can also be used from a design perspective, as they more closely mimic daylight, capturing colors in the cool end of the spectrum that warm light sources tend to miss. This is especially attractive for a white or cool-colored room or for plants, all of whose colors tend to be obscured with warmer lights.
Some Color Theory
Sometimes people say that we don’t see objects, but we see light. This isn’t quite true. What it would be better to say is that we see objects using light. Each object has the ability to reflect certain rays of light. Whichever rays of light are reflected are the color we see the object as. So, for instance, a white object under red light appears red because only the red light is reflected. The other colors are never reflected because they don’t exist in the red light to begin with. Here is another resource on interior design color (note: opens in a new window).
The white light shone by full spectrum lamps includes all of the other colors. Since a red object can only reflect red light, a red object under white light will also appear red because it only reflects the red light in the white light source. For this reason, white light is said to provide the “truest” light (I will explain the scare quotes in a minute). No matter what colors an object under that light can reflect, it is reflected by the white light.
This makes full spectrum floor lamps (or any other white light) especially good as task light for most tasks that requires attention to color. For example, reading art books, painting, graphic design or preparing food are all done more easily under full-spectrum lights because the lights come out more true. Full spectrum floor lamps are most commonly used as reading lamps, and they bring out all of the colors on the page.
Integrating Full Spectrum Floor Lamps
Full spectrum floor lamps can actually provide something of a dilemma in lighting. For the last century, most lamps have been warm, accentuating the redder aspect of the spectrum. Much of our interior design has adapted to this reality, with warmer colors becoming more prominent than other forms of color in most cases. Introducing a full-spectrum floor lamp, without integrating it, can create some odd effects.
Specifically, if your floor lamp is your only full spectrum lamp in a room, you risk creating a bluish pool of light. Only the floor lamp will cause the cooler colors to pop, which can create an overall imbalance in your lighting design. Fortunately, there are two solutions to this dilemma:
- Use Warmer Colored Decor: So long as there aren’t a lot of blues and greens within the beams of your full spectrum lamp, the difference in light quality between your white lamp and the rest of the room won’t really stand out. So, if you use a wooden desk, a reddish chair or cream walls, for example, the blue pool effect won’t occur.
- Use Entirely Full-Spectrum Bulbs: The other option is to switch all of your lighting over to full spectrum in the room. By using only white light, you will create a much more modern-looking space, one in which cooler colors like blue, green and even pure white stand out more clearly than they otherwise would. Using entirely full-spectrum bulbs in warmer rooms looks fine as well, but may not be necessary. If you wish to use entirely full-spectrum bulbs, look for bulbs that are “true white”.
Flesh and Foliage
Human skin is not actually complimented by full spectrum floor lamps. Warmer, redder light makes people’s faces look a little redder and healthier and brings out skin tones. If you want to test the effect, go outside on a sunny day and compare that to how you look indoors in a closed room (like an interior bathroom). You’ll notice that your skin actually looks quite different and healthier indoors.
This is the source of one of the main criticisms of modern decor. The decor tends to stand out, but the people don’t look quite as good. Part of this is the result of color. If you use a full spectrum lamp, people sitting under it simply won’t look as healthy as if they were under warmer lighting. For your own office, this isn’t such a problem, but for common rooms, it can be an issue.
There really isn’t any perfect fix for this. If you increase the amount of warm light shining on things, it tends to distort the color. In each case, you should consider what the purpose of the full spectrum floor lamp is and how social the area is. If you are in an area with a great deal of interaction, consider supplementing the white light with some other, warmer sources. If you need pure light for tasks, then just leave the white light the way it is.
Foliage, on the other hand, looks great under full spectrum floor lamps. Usually, the green of plants is washed out under warmer light, and plants look a little sickly. After a while, we actually stop noticing. Placing full spectrum floor lamps near indoor plants can create a marvelous effect, so much so that the first time you try it, you will really notice the difference right away.
One of the common attractions of full spectrum floor lamps is that it can help with light therapy, also known as “heliotherapy”. With so many people suffering from seasonal affective disorder of varying degrees, finding lighting solutions for this should always be a priority. Full spectrum light of all kinds is often recommended for this purpose.
Does it work? Unfortunately, I am not a health professional. However, I can tell you that the theory seems correct. Daylight, the kind of light that people with seasonal affective disorder need, is a far whiter light than the light normally used in homes (in fact, it is a little bluish). If what is causing seasonal affective disorder is a lack of sunlight, full spectrum lighting more closely resembles what people with seasonal affective disorder need.
Putting It All Together
Full spectrum floor lamps can provide wonderful task lighting, provided they are integrated correctly:
- White light is excellent for any tasks that require careful distinction between colors.
- White light can also bring out the distinctive features of more contemporary decor.
- Full spectrum lamps can create pools of blue unless the decor is warm or all other lighting is white.
- Full spectrum lighting looks mediocre on faces, but great on plants.
- In theory, full spectrum floor lamps should be able to help with light therapy.
Full spectrum floor lamps, therefore, can be an excellent addition to your task and mood lighting.