For a lot of people, matching the color temperature of your bulb to the rooms in your home can seem like a ‘not-worth-the-time-and-effort’ kind of task. Often, the difference will go unnoticed, as most people have more pressing concerns to deal with throughout the course of their day. However, when the dust settles, and you find yourself sitting silently in an awkwardly lit room with nothing to do, you may think to yourself, “What am I doing with my life?”
Joking, of course — but also, not exactly. Canadian-born journalist Graydon Carter once said: “Life is all about seating and lighting.” We tend to agree with Mr. Carter. Proper lighting is fundamental.
As for all things in life, it’s important to understand each end of the spectrum. For this, having an understanding of the range of colors (or temperature) is a great place to start. We begin with a single letter. “K.” What does “K” signify? “K” only stands for Kelvin, as in Kelvin temperature (go figure). Concerning color temperature, however, the Kelvin rating of a light source refers to the light’s distinct hue.
50 Shades of White
The range of the CCT (color temperature) scale for lighting begins around 2000–3000K. Color temperatures on this side of the spectrum have a “warm white” appearance. These warm whites, depending on the degree of its ‘warmness’, will have an orange-ish or yellowish tint to them.
By contrast, whites on the other side of the spectrum are known as “cool white.” Around this cooler area (~6000K to ~10000K), whites will have an unmistakable bluish tint. Hence, a “cloudy sky” and a “clear blue sky” describe a more moderate and a more extreme “coolness” in color temperature, respectively.
In sum, the lower the Kelvin rating, the warmer the light and vice versa. As ‘pure’ white represents the center of the spectrum, nuanced are the variations of ‘clean’ whites which meddle around it.
Practical Color Temperatures
In a search to find some popular opinions on this subject, we took to Reddit. One user suggests you’d “absolutely want a warmer CCT (color temperature) in spaces you want to feel at home in or naturally comfortable.” Regarding the kitchen and dining rooms, he states “the warmer[,] the better.”
This sort of color-temperature philosophy is arguably an extension of a larger, cultural already at work around the world. Our homes and restaurants are saturated in the yellowish-white tints of ‘soft white’, as warm color temperatures have become associated with feelings of relaxation and comfort. Conversely, institutions, major retail stores, white-collar office places and the like have adopted a taste for daylight temperatures (often coupled with excessive brightness), as cool white lighting has become associated with alertness, productivity, and perhaps even formality.
Indeed, much of these associations draw from our daily encounters with natural light (cooler whites by day, warmer at night). But imitating this color temperature cycle in interior lighting is not necessarily the most practical, nor is it always the most comforting. The situation gets all the more complicated when we consider particulars: the color scheme of the room itself — without the lights turned on.
The amount of white in a room will directly affect how ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ it will appear. If you choose soft white lighting for a kitchen which has a predominately white color scheme (i.e. its walls, cabinets, and major appliances are white), it will look significantly ‘warmer’ than if your kitchen had a darker color scheme. Similarly, when you turn the lights on in a standard, all-white bathroom, the room itself will assume the color temperature of the light source.
A moderate CCT, in the end, might be the best bet for most people. I tend to agree with the idea that “4000–4500[K] is the [G]oldilocks CCT” (well put, diasfordays). And if ultimately it all boils down to preference, the smartest choice is to have as many choices as possible. In a formula: dimmability + color temperature control + light-diffusing lenses/covers = the ability to satisfy all preferences.