Check out the previous posts in this Setting up Shop Series:

1. Part 1 –  A Writer’s Space

2. Part 2 – A Writer’s Desk

3. Part 3 – A Writer’s Chair

4. Part 4 – A Writer’s Computer


Now that you’ve chosen your desk, chair and computer, it’s time to consider another important element of your writing space: lighting.

Here are some things to consider when choosing the perfect lighting for your writing space.

Three Basic Types of Lighting

According to the American Lighting Association, there are three basic types of lighting that work together in your home:

1. Ambient or General Lighting provides overall illumination, allowing you to move about your room safely. You can achieve ambient lighting through ceiling or wall-mounted light fixtures, recessed lighting or even track lights.

2. Task Lighting is lighting for specific tasks like reading, writing, working on hobbies and so on.

This is probably the type of lighting we writers use the most often. Portable floor lamps, desk lamps pendant lighting, recessed and track lighting all provide task lighting.

3. Accent Lighting creates visual interest and adds drama to the room. We can use wall-mounted picture lights, recessed and track lighting to highlight a favorite sculpture, painting, or display.

If we have a favorite photograph, trophy, or trinket that we like to look at while we’re writing, or that inspires us, we can use accent lighting to make them the focal point of our writing space.

Steampunk lamp by Frank Buchwald, image from

Types of Lighting

1. Incandescent – Incandescent light bulbs are the most common type of lighting in homes, probably because they’re the cheapest. They light up instantly and with their yellow glow, can instantly warm up a room. However, this type of lighting is the least energy-efficient.

2. Fluorescent – Fluorescent lights are the second most commonly used home lighting. They are more energy efficient compared, and their low brightness and bluish tone creates less direct glare than standard incandescent bulbs.

3. Outdoor Solar – Used for backyards and gardens, outdoor solar lights use solar cells that convert sunlight to electricity. We can’t really use this for the office, but we can use it for outdoor writing areas.

4. Light-emitting diode (LED)

LED’s are apparently the size of a fleck of pepper, and emit very little heat compared to incandescent bulbs or CFL’s. A mix of red, green and blue LED’s is used to make white light. LED’s are primarily used for recessed downlights and task lighting, because they emit light in a specific direction, and reduces the need for reflectors and diffusers that can trap light.

Toby Fraley’s Robot Sculpture Lamp, image from

Tips for a Balanced Office Lighting

Lux Lighting Design Consultant Doreen LeMay Madden says that working in a space with one type of lighting will cause us eye fatigue and strain. Our eyes are naturally attracted to the brightest area in the room, so if everything is lit uniformly, it’ll spend much time constantly shifting and looking for the brightest spot.

So whether your writing space is small or large, it should contain a mix of ambient, task and accent lighting to achieve balance.

1. Use Natural Light

Ideally, our writing space would have large windows, or at least some windows that let in some natural light. Natural light is easiest on our eyes and can easily be controlled using blinds or curtains.

2. Layer Your Lighting

We can use incandescent lights to create ambient or general lighting, and to cast our writing space in a warm, relaxing glow. For task lighting, we could use a fluorescent/ halogen/LED desk lamp.

The brightest light should be focused on whatever task you’re doing. When writing, your desk lamps should be aimed at your hands.

3. Choose the proper location for your desk.

Contrary to popular belief, placing your desk directly in front of a window or with a  window behind your back might not be the best location. It would be more optimal to place your desk, so that the windows are beside it.

But if you’re like me, and looking outside eases your sanity when you’re writing, you can still place your desk in front of a window—as long as you have shutters, blinds or shades to control the amount of light coming in.

Also, avoid direct overhead lighting.

4. Your computer screen has to be well lit.

As a writer, you’re bound to spend an awful lot of time staring at your computer. Staring in your monitors, while sitting in the dark is particularly damaging to your eyes. Use a desk lamp or add a light fixture behind the monitor to avoid eye strain.

 Steampunk lamp by Frank Buchwald, image from

Choosing a Desk Lamp

The most important element of our writing space is our desk, as this is where we do most of our reading, writing, and editing.

Lighting expert Doreen LeMay Madden says, “if you don’t feel good in a space, you won’t work as productively.” When choosing a desk lamp, function and style are the key elements. Your desk lamp must not only provide you with ample lighting, it must also work aesthetically with the space around you.


What size of lamp will provide you with the best lighting for your desk? Stand up lamps work well in a corner of the room to produce ambient lighting, but won’t give you the appropriate amount of light for your tasks. Desk lamps are still the best for task lighting.  Consider the amount of desk space you have when choosing the size of a desk lamp.


The style of your desk lamp must go well with the style of your writing space. Look around your office and figure out what your style is based on your furniture and décor. Are you going for a more contemporary/modern feel? Is your writing space more whimsical or colorful?


Flying saucer lamp, image from


Lava lamps may look fun, but they’re not bright enough to provide you with all the light you’ll need for writing. Find a desk lamp that won’t strain your eyes.


An adjustable light source is a big bonus. Find one that will allow you to adjust the intensity and angle of light for your activities. Madden says, “A fixture that reflects off of the ceiling back down into the space is the least glaring and the most comforting angle to the eyes. You want to create layers of light — different intensities of light at different angles.”


Banker Desk Lamp, image from

Types of Desk Lamp has a useful desk lamp guide that lists down the different types of desk lamps and the pros and cons for each.

Here’s a handy table I made based on their desk lamp guide:


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12 Responses to “Setting Up Shop Part 5: A Writer’s Office Lighting”

  1. Excellent and informative post. I think I need a new desk lamp :)

    Happy Weekend!

  2. Marta Szemik says:

    Wow! That’s a lot of options. I’ve never thought about lighting in such detail :)

  3. Julie says:

    Proper lighting is so important. I really like your photos. My favorite is the robot sculpture lamp! Thanks for all of the great tips for setting up a bright workspace.

  4. Laura Eno says:

    When I came over yesterday the comments were closed. :)

    My lighting situation is sad – one floor lamp for the whole room. I don’t have a desk lamp at all. Love the steampunk ones you show!

  5. spacerguy says:

    All I’ve got is my bedside lamp but I really need an overhead light. My eyes get sore after reading

  6. Cherie Reich says:

    I just have fluorescent lights when I’m at the day job–where I do most of my writing. Those lamps are cool, especially the steampunk ones and the flying saucer taking the cow.

  7. I used to use a bankers lamp – it was my Hubby’s 18th birthday present from his grandfather. And I love, love, love the UFO lamp. That’s going on my list for Santa :-)

  8. Very informative! Currently, my writing space is my laptop and an Ikea Poang chair in the living room facing the sliding doors onto the balcony. So…natural/ambiant light.

  9. tara tyler says:

    the spaceship lamp is my fave! so much info! thanks!
    i have an actual writing desk with a small lamp…cozy! (makes me think of mad hatter’s riddle, what’s the difference between a raven and a writing desk? whats the answer!?)

  10. tara tyler says:

    sorry, “how is a raven like a writing desk?” and there is no answer =(
    silly hatter!

  11. Nas says:

    What a wonderful post! My writing place is just a corner of the sofa with netbook on my lap. And the normal lounge light. After a bout of being sick, I’m re-thinking my sitting place!

    Thanks for these series of wonderful posts as we need to think about these for health reasons.

  12. Southpaw says:

    Great post. Coincidentally I just got a new light for just above my work area.

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