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Warm Light vs. Cool Light For the Home

Have you ever walked into two similar spaces and noticed one felt welcoming and cozy while the other was stark and cold? The weather, paint colors, and natural light might all be the same, so what’s the deal? Well, it often comes down to lighting! With all the bulbs, numbers, and descriptions it can be overwhelming to choose. Well, let’s break it down here and go over warm light vs cool light for the home- plus the very clear winner in my book. 

warm light vs cool light for the home side by side comparison of a kitchen

Before we jump into the details though, let’s get a few things established. First, lighting is not just about right or wrong, it’s also about how it makes you feel in a space. 

Light is also one of the 7 Elements of Interior Design (check out my guide for a quick rundown) which help make for a balanced space )

Consider the difference between a coffee shop vs a doctor’s office. Or a romantic restaurant vs a big box store. The lighting in those spaces vary drastically and try as that doctor’s office might, it just doesn’t feel cozy. 

Next, before we add light bulbs, let’s make sure we’re embracing all the natural light. That means ditching heavy curtains when possible. Try light filtering woven wood shades and yes, you can even embrace naked windows! 

kitchen above the sink light and woven wood shades

Ok, so now back to warm light vs cool light

You might be wondering, what’s the difference between warm and cool lighting? Is it really that big of a deal? Well, yes. Yes, it is.  It can also be confusing so let’s go over the details and break it down.

Cool Lighting

Cool lighting by nature is just how it sounds, cold and direct. It helps you stay alert but in a harsh, caffeinated kind of way. It can feel clinical and jarring and often displays a bluish cast. 

Warm Lighting

Warm lighting, on the other hand, is soft and cozy. It’s like a warm hug and softens out all the edges. It casts a rosy, sun inspired glow

cool vs warm lighting in a bedroom - allisa jacobs designs

Warm Light vs Cool Light Details

Warm and cool lighting labels do NOT reflect how bright a light actually is, only the color it casts. A warm light can have high lumens (brightness).

Technically, there is a color spectrum called the Kelvin’s scale measuring warm to cool lighting.  Basically, lower kelvins means a warm light while higher kelvin’s indicate brighter, cooler light.  (That’s what the “K” means on the lightbulb package!) 

Curious to learn more, check out this helpful article on Understanding Kelvins and Lumens for all the technical details.

When to Use Cool Lighting

Ha, never?! No really, many people suggest using cooler light bulbs in more task oriented spaces like bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. 

While I appreciate direct lights in these spaces, I say no thank you to cool lights in general! Instead, I work on maximizing the natural light instead of using cool lights. I would just look for slightly less warm bulbs (see my recommendations below). 

Manufacturer names for cool lighting include Daylight, Bright White, and Cool White.

favorite light bulbs

Daylight White vs Soft White

Even knowing all this, shopping for light bulbs can be tricky. Many manufacturers use different names for their light bulb color temperatures. Two of the most common, Soft White and Daylight White, are dramatically different!

You might be wondering what’s the difference between daylight white vs soft white bulbs?

Daylight White bulbs are a very clear, harsh, white that has a bluish tint like middle of the day without clouds. Soft White, on the other hand, is on the warmer end of the color spectrum. Just like it sounds, it has a warmer, softer glow that feels more gentle.

Many people (thought not me), use daylight bulbs in project areas while soft white is commonly used in bedrooms, dens, and living rooms.

Is Lighting an Issue in Your Home?

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Eyes feel tired
  • It functions well and you enjoy the decor but something feels “off
  • Your guests put their sunglasses on when entering…

How light affects paint color?

Wondering how all this different light affects the paint colors? It can make a huge difference! Cooler bulbs like daylight, extra white, and cool white have a bluish tint so paints will take on that cooler, crisper tinge. Wondering why your white paint looks blue or the beige feels green? Cool bulbs might be why!

Warm light bulbs will have the opposite affect on paint color. It can add a rosy, yellow glow. It will make creams feel even creamier and gray might feel pink.

Ahem, speaking of neutrals. Embracing neutral paint will help create a blank slate. This doesn’t mean just any old white or black color – neutral means hues without strong cool or warm undertones. 

This, alone, is one reason I love Neutral Paint Colors – so much so, I have a whole post on them!

All these tips apply to outdoor and holiday lighting as well! Cool lights will feel like an office building while warm white bulbs will feel inviting.

Well, we could certainly go on about lighting but I hope this helps identify the difference between warm light and cool light for the home.