Mood Lighting

The pink light bulb ambience

Photography by Robert Clark

Dorothy Draper, the first celebrity decorator and woman to “professionalize” interior design, shares this lighting tip in her 1941 book, Entertaining is Fun: “The time-honored trick for softening light is the pink light bulb!”

It has been said that Mrs. Draper, a wealthy socialite and premier entertainer, was to decorating what Chanel was to fashion. In her highly regarded book, she suggests swapping out regular white light for pink bulbs when guests are over — crowning her advice by saying, “If it looks right, it is right.”

The fixation with rosy pink lighting has a long history from long nights without electricity to candlelight and the invention of the light bulb. To unwind the history of the rose-colored bulb, think about the art of love lights. Comparing a harsh overhead light to the warm sensual glow caused by a sheer scarf randomly thrown upon a bedroom lamp, it is obvious that lower level lighting soothes our soul. “Pink” light invites romance and intimacy. The effect of soft light, such as candlelight, is flattering, creating a subtle, soft romantic glow that gives a flush of beauty. Warm light in a room is appealing and gives permission to relax, have uninhibited conversation, and exhale.

In many cultures and languages, pink is associated with sensitivity, tenderness, sweetness, softness, and romanticism. The golden age of the color pink was the Rococo Period (1720 until 1777), when pastels flirted with high fashion in all European courts. Artwork was sensuous, floral, playful, decorative, and idyllic with erotic imagery and fervor. Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV of France, put the color pink into all aspects of life — actually having the Sevres porcelain factory make her a set of china with a tint of pink.

As 20th century America approached, pinks became bolder and brighter as with chemical dyes, colors did not fade. And, by 1953, many historians feel that Mamie Eisenhower made the turning point for pink, choosing a pink gown for the U.S. presidential inauguration.

To create a mood for relaxed entertaining, lights should be layered: natural, overhead, sconces, low light, candles, spotlights, ambient, and hidden sources. Think about the feeling you are trying to achieve. Lighting is paramount. For example, four lamps with low level lighting will illuminate a room more attractively than one single 100 watt bulb. Dimmers on lights are wonderful as they allow the brightness of the light to be manipulated.

Another kind of light source is achieved with spotlighting, which highlights a specific object, such as artwork or architectural details, through a direct light source. In addition, since overall room lighting can be successful or ineffective, ambient and background illumination is also important. This is achieved by a comfortable level of brightness without a glare. Think of lighting as temperature, and bask in this revelation: yellow is warm and blue is cool.

Another angle to consider is how natural light infuses the space. The angle, altitude, and orientation of your home and room arrangement will affect your natural light. What is your room’s exposure? Rooms facing north are the darkest and often need artificial light, and south facing rooms are usually the brightest. Rooms facing the west have their strongest light in the afternoon because of the setting sun, and rooms facing the east are brightest in the morning because of the sunrise.

Adding windows to increase exposure to natural light and then decorating with mirrors to bounce light can instantly change a room. If you are building a home, definitely research the footprint before orienting the building on the property in order to get the best exposure.

As light is one of the key components to create mood, the proper or improper use of light can make or break a pleasing atmosphere. It affects how you feel about your space. Harsh light is not inviting, and soft lighting creates smooth transitions. Warm tones are flattering, and lower level lamps with shades all the same color can create an expectant ambiance.

Give entertaining a twist and re-socket your party with pink light bulbs. Take a cue from Greta Garbo, considered the queen of pink lampshades, velvet, and the first modern woman in so many ways — pink promotes prettiness!