There are a few basic rules to lighting: Make sure each room has three or more sources of light, place light at various heights, and ensure that all tasks are well lit. These rules exist to make sure rooms have enough light to see in but also so that they cast enough of a warm glow that you want to be in them.
Breaking these rules can ruin a whole room's design, said Breeze Giannasio, a Malibu, Calif., designer who works in the Washington, D.C., area. "People will worry about furniture, finishes, flooring, throw pillows — going to town on everything — but if the lighting isn't right, you can't see all of the work you've done."
Floor lamps are a great way to create that warmth. They can fit in tight spaces in small rooms or brighten a dark corner of a large room. They can add color to a neutral space or pizazz to a dreary one. They can even make up for a lack of overhead lighting. We talked to Giannasio, as well as Washington interior designer Sally Steponkus, for ideas on using floor lamps to fix some common design dilemmas.
For a small space
Floor lamps are key for a small space — whether it's a studio apartment or a suburban house's sitting room — because they add light without the bulk of a table lamp and end table. They're even better when they articulate and telescope, so you can adjust the light to shine where you need it.
• Swing lamps are "no-nonsense, and would look great on either side of a couch in a traditional … rowhouse," Giannasio said. You can find them at almost any price point and in any finish, including the brushed steel of World Market's Chemist's Floor Lamp ($120, www.worldmarket.com). "Lighting is the jewelry of the room, and sometimes you put on your handsome studs instead of your amazing chandeliers," she said.
• Stretch out a classic task lamp, and you get the Industrial Task Floor Lamp, which swivels and bends at two joints to accommodate different tasks and room layouts ($199, www.westelm.com). "I like floor lamps that are adjustable because I like to use them for reading, over the arm of a chair," Steponkus said. "They're classic, they're classy, they work with everything."
• "Floor lamps in general are versatile because they can fit into narrow spaces," Giannasio said. We're not sure you'll find a slimmer profile for a tight space than the Brazo LED Floor Lamp's ($490, www.roomandboard.com). It would practically disappear in a room, yet still provide ample (and dimmable) light where you need it.
For a large space
"Usually, floor lamps are more of a space saver," Steponkus said. "But a lot of them are more sculptural. And you need all kinds." A big lamp can add a focal point if the room is visually disjointed. "If you have space for a bigger floor lamp, you can have ones that have a shade," she added.
• "Tripods take up a lot of floor space," Giannasio said, "but if you have floor room to give, they provide a nice, graphic, architectural quality. I happen to like the ones that have thinner legs, with a weightlessness." For extra-thin legs (and a pretty trim price, too), try the Orbit Trio Floor Lamp ($65, www.target.com).
• For a big statement, the handmade Salvaged Driftwood Floor Lamp is tops ($995, www.restorationhardware.com). The driftwood is from Indonesian beaches, and the lamp stands at 72 inches tall. The shade is sold separately; as Steponkus suggested, it's often best to focus on finding the right lamp and then worry about finding the right shade later.
The overhead replacement
The right floor lamp can take the place of overhead lighting if the room isn't wired for it or has cold, unattractive fluorescents. "Often, what feels cozy and homey is that incandescent glow that floor lamps and table lamps give off," Giannasio said.
• Giannasio likes the lines of CB2's Grove Floor Lamp ($299, www.cb2.com), which, at 7 feet tall, can arc over a sofa or seating arrangement. "If you like that look, it can be a substitute for overhead lighting," she said.
• For a lot of light, "two bulbs are always better than one bulb," Steponkus said. The Globe Floor Lamp, part of Kate Spade Saturday's new line for West Elm ($349, www.westelm.com), trumps with three, and does it in a fixture that attracts some well-deserved attention. Steponkus advises that all lighting, even lamps, be on a dimmer switch "because you don't always want it as bright as possible."
For the room that needs a jolt
A lamp with some moxie can take a room from scattered to cohesive, boring to lively. "It's refreshing to find lights that break the mold," Giannasio said.
• Giannasio picks the splurge-worthy Cliff Sol for an elegant addition to any interior, traditional or modern ($973, www.lambertetfils.squarespace.com). "I love the delicacy of it, the brass and the black," she said. "To me, it looks like visual poetry."
The Novara Floor Lamp, with a black, gold or green shade, would give a seating arrangement some personality ($398, www.anthropologie.com). "Brass tends to be a little more traditional, but in a more modern shape it can look cool," Steponkus said. Don't worry too much about matching finishes with other fixtures, she added; it's one rule that should be thrown out the window.
• Sometimes, color is the best pick-me-up for a room. And Schoolhouse Electric's mid-century-style Studio Floor Lamp has plenty, with a bold yellow base and shade ($275, www.schoolhouselectric.com).