Like millions of people in this country, I live in a small apartment and am constantly on the hunt for ways to trick my brain into believing it’s bigger than it is. In my search, I’ve found one of the best ways to do this is by manipulating the lighting. Unfortunately, most residential apartments come with unappealing built-in lighting that will allow you to navigate the space without bumping into things, but serve no aesthetic benefit. Luckily, fixing it doesn’t require smart bulbs or specialized equipment, just an understanding of a few basic principles.
Contrasts between light and dark over a distance, no matter how short, increase perception of depth. This phenomenon is an optical illusion, one that’s well illustrated in this study, where the addition of a contrasting light source partway down one of two otherwise identical hallways caused participants to perceive objects in the unevenly lit space as being farther away.
Uniform, even light makes you feel constrained. The most common example of flattening light in residential contexts is the ubiquitous “boob light,” usually placed in the middle of the ceiling and equipped with a strong bulb. This fixture casts a relatively even glow on the floor, walls, and ceiling, minimizing contrast between them. While this is great for finding smudges on the paint, it’s terrible for emphasizing the distance between the walls.