Courtesy of Sherry Scott Design
Good lighting is particularly important in a bathroom, where people are applying makeup and grooming themselves.

As the daylight hours grow shorter and we spend more time indoors, several requests have come in for help with rooms that feel a bit dark. Below I’ll offer some potential solutions, as well as answer a perennial question about accessory dwelling units.

Q: We’re looking to make our home brighter and more inviting. What are some ways to improve the lighting?

A: Whenever the conversation pivots to lighting improvement, we are mostly talking about man-made lighting, or “artificial” lighting, as opposed to “natural” lighting (sunlight).

When the sun sets, unless we want low mood lighting, fireplaces and their equivalents don’t provide much brightness. We need general illumination to see well enough to walk around a space, and task lighting to carry out our routines, such as food prep, reading, shaving and many other daily activities. A third type of lighting, accent lighting, is for artwork, highlighting stone textures and other similar features.

A good lighting plan for a room is to employ all three types of lighting. They make a room feel more comfortable. This does not mean the illumination must be even throughout – on the contrary, it should be modulated and layered, depending on the specific needs and elements in a space.

It is becoming less common to have a room with a center light fixture installed on the ceiling, mostly because it can create a glare and doesn’t provide enough illumination to see details clearly. A preferred option is one or more wall sconces. These are best hard-wired into a junction box. The ceiling light fixture outlet could be capped and the wires pulled over to the wall for a wall sconce light fixture location. Floor and/or table lamps provide the layer of lighting for reading, and are inviting.

Another area of concern is bathrooms – especially those where people are applying makeup and grooming themselves. A single center vanity light fixture over the mirror creates shadows on the face. A better approach is to provide cross-illumination by a vertical light fixture on either side of a person’s face when looking into the mirror. Adding a full wall-to-wall-to-ceiling mirror will carry the light around the room and help brighten and open up the area.

One direct benefit of using light fixtures with LED diodes and LED light bulb replacements is the excellent energy savings over previous lighting technologies. In a 2019 New York Times article, Nadja Popovich wrote that due to the quick adaptation to using LED sources in light fixtures starting around 2010, energy use in U.S. households has dropped dramatically and will continue to do so. This is mostly due to the LED light bulb lasting upward of 25 years – versus one year for an incandescent bulb. Plus, the energy costs to run the LED is 80-85% less for the equivalent amount of light from an incandescent light bulb.

Q: Accessory dwelling units have been in the news lately. We are thinking of adding one but don’t want it to be a single open space, shaped like a box. Are there ways to design ADUs so they are both cost effective and attractive, all while still being functional?

A: A separate dwelling unit – attached or detached – is a very flexible type of housing when outfitted properly to accommodate various uses over time. It can start out as housing for a recent college grad, house relatives for an extended stay, be a perfect spot to recuperate from an illness or be a downsizing option while still remaining on the same property.

The key ingredients for both comfort and flexibility are taller ceilings, well-placed windows and lots of storage and horizontal surfaces. Integrated built-in storage in the kitchen, bath, laundry and sleeping areas allows a small-footprint home to provide spaces for life’s necessities without the appearance of clutter.

An unused 2-foot-deep-by-3-foot-wide alcove becomes a desk space with the installation of a floating worktop. Drawers as wide as the space between the bed and the wall can double as both clothing storage and nightstands. Narrow bathrooms should contain a few shelves for necessities, as well as decorative objects.

While a single main open space may be unavoidable in a smaller ADU, an area rug and a console table behind the sofa can create the illusion of separated areas within the larger whole. Kitchen islands, even small ones, are the go-to way of sectioning off a kitchen, while keeping it visible. Be bold with color – or plan for a serene retreat. ADUs in any flavor are a good idea.

Sherry Scott is a Certified Interior Designer in California, professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers and proprietor of Sherry Scott Design at 169 Main St., Los Altos. To submit a question, email