The Ins and Outs of Portable Lighting

There’s a good chance you’ve recently been in a situation within your home environment where you were trying to complete a task and the available lighting simply wasn’t adequate, let alone good enough. The fact is, no matter where you are in your home, there’s no reason not to have quality lighting where you need it. This is where portable lighting comes in handy. Portable lighting gives you the flexibility to easily move the fixture exactly where you want so you can have ambient, task and direct lighting when you need it. Let’s dive into some portable lighting information, tips and considerations, so you can select the best lighting for your needs.

What is Portable Lighting?

Portable lighting makes it simple for you to extend your functional living space from the most commonly well-lit areas of your home, like the kitchen or bath, to the furthest reaches. The right portable house lights make it a breeze to tuck into a quiet corner of your home with a book, enjoy an alfresco dinner with friends or take your laptop out onto the balcony. There are many types of portable lighting from which to choose. A table lamp is great for providing reading lighting and general nighttime luminescence. A desk lamp, which is easy to turn on and off, focuses lighting to a contained area and allows you to set up a well-lit, makeshift workspace within seconds. Floor lamps are great when you need to illuminate an area at eye level and balance out the brightness of wall-mounted and ceiling lights. Buffet lamps are like desk lamps, but with a typically sleeker, taller, and more slender profile that makes them ideal for areas like bedroom dressers and hall console tables. A stylish example of a buffet lamp is the Galey by StyleCraft, featuring a woven wicker texture on the body and intriguing dimensions. 

What Types of Light Does Portable Lighting Provide?

Trendy retro armchair next to two round wooden tables

The right portable lighting doesn’t just provide light, but rather provides the right type of light at the exact time and place you need it. For most situations, with one to two different types of portable lighting, you can beautifully and effectively light any space you desire. Portable lighting has the ability to provide all of the following types of lighting. Ambient lighting, which provides overall illumination for a room and is intended to create a uniform light level throughout a space, is easily achievable with a floor lamp.

Use a desk lamp for task lighting, which provides increased light for specific tasks in a room that may already have some ambient light. Both desk and buffet-style lamps are great for providing direct light when you need the light from a fixture or lamp to fall on a specific area or object. Portable lights, like floor lamps and table lamps, can also make for a great source of primary light within a space. One table lamp we love is the Sorita by EGLO, with its lush ceramic and rich wood-grain layer base, as well as a classically styled fabric shade.

Portable Lighting Purchase Considerations

Design: Tim Lam Design Maze. Photo: Stephani Buchman Photography

As you look for the ideal portable lighting options for your needs, there are several things you’ll want to consider. What purpose will your lighting serve? If it’s to get some work done on your laptop, then a desk lamp is ideal. If it’s to read in bed, then a table lamp will do the trick. What room of the house are you looking to illuminate? If you want more lighting in the living room, a floor lamp is a good idea. If you want to have some more light as you walk into your entry room, consider a buffet lamp.

Generally speaking, consider the full range of functionality you want to get from your portable light. How large or small do you want it to be? What type of on/off switch do you want and where on the fixture do you want to access it? Of course, you’ll also want to consider style. The good news is portable lights for the home come in contemporary, modern, industrial, Scandinavian, and many other styles. One stylish floor lamp you might consider is the Flare by Hudson Valley Lighting, with a sleek, disk-shaped base and balled feet.  

Portable Lighting Sizing Guidelines  

To ensure your portable lighting is delivering effective illumination to your space, it’s important to ensure you follow general sizing guidelines.

For table lamps, a height of 26” to 34” will put the bottom of the shade at your eye level when you’re seated, allowing you to get the maximum light benefit. On the other hand, a floor lamp should be about 58” to 64” tall and the bottom of the shade should be no lower, but preferably higher than your eye level.

As for desk lamps, position them about 15” above your desk’s surface to get the proper task lighting you need to work at your computer or write. While these guidelines are general, they should serve you quite well in most scenarios you’ll encounter. 

Common Shade Styles, Shapes, Materials  

Homeowner: Pete and Selena

One of the most enjoyable aspects of shopping for portable lighting for your home is choosing a fixture by the type of shade you want. You’ll have no problem finding modern, contemporary and transitional shade styles. If you’re looking to scratch an itch for something more specific, you’ll also have no trouble finding coastal, art deco, Asian Zen and other styles.

When it comes to shape, the empire with its classic cone shape and wide brim, and the bell shape, with its skirt-shaped cone and wide brim, are common. Drum, rectangular, and square options are also available. Common shade fabrics include cotton, linen, and silk. But if you’re looking for something unique, metal, parchment, glass, and ceramic are available, as well. One ceramic fixture that stands out is the Zen Table Lamp by Troy Lighting, with its minimalist fabric shade and earthy, primitive form.    

Portable Lamps by Room and Use

Design: Kresswell Interiors. Photo: Karin Pedersen

Choosing portable lamps based on both the type of room and, how they will be used, can make all of the difference in their effectiveness. In a bedroom, table lamps work great, as they give you an added source of light if you want to read or use a laptop. A floor lamp and a few table lamps are usually ideal for a living room, providing that ideal combination of primary, ambient and task lighting. For the entryway, a buffet lamp usually gets the job done, as it’s unobtrusive and provides just enough ambient light.

A dining room can benefit from multiple sources of ambient light, like table and buffet lamps, and even a floor lamp, to sufficiently light up a dining table and its surrounding area. For a home office, the key is to have a source of ambient light that provides general light, but also a task light, like a desk or table lamp, so you can see what you’re working on. The Zena Table Lamp by Mitzi by Hudson Valley is equal parts sculptural artwork and functional lighting, with its large glass sphere shade resembling an orbiting planet. 

You’re now a lot more familiar with portable lighting and its dynamic range of uses within your home environment. As you look to incorporate portable fixtures into your space, keep in mind all of the ways in which a light source can make your home more functional and pleasurable. Do so and your results will exceed your highest expectations.


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