So here is the current project: buying some lamps for the house. Stressful? No. Shouldn’t be, anyway. But a piece of cake? Not necessarily.

There is a common expression that is increasingly used to play down any potential difficulty: it’s not rocket science.

And yes – or should that be no – 99.9% of the time it’s not.

BUT. There is nothing wrong with getting things right. And usually that involves giving it some thought. It means doing some research. Arming yourself with some facts to augment your innate ability. After all, you don’t go shopping for lamps every day, do you?

Attention to detail is a close ally of artistic flair. It’s just that flair is a quicker thought process. Some people trust their instincts, while others may want to learn from an expert.

In the case of buying household lamps, it is most certainly not rocket science. But you can bet your bottom dollar rocket scientists and their spouses/partners/significant others don’t pick up the phone and order “Five interior lamps. Any kind. I don’t care. Enough with the questions, just send me five lamps.”

photo-1517991104123-1d56a6e81ed9 The science of household lamps: four key elements

There are specialist lighting stores just like there are specialist stores for everything else, and if you’ve never been in one, prepare to learn a thing or two.

A good sales person is going to ask questions, and you will have all the answers, you just might not have ever thought of them as important.

It is advisable to brush up on your knowledge before you start and, just as you might find various interpretations of a recipe when cooking something different, a basic explanation based on facts rather than personal perspective can be indispensable.

Here are four things to think about before you enter the hallowed portals of Let There Be Lyte, or whatever snappy name they have thought up for themselves.

1.  Practical or decorative?

NONAGON-style-n9s-bedside-lamps- The science of household lamps: four key elements

What is the purpose of this lamp? Is it to make a corner of the room look more attractive? In that case the lamp itself can help, as well as illuminating what is already there, so you’re looking for an attractive artefact in its own right.

Is it for the sake of safety? To make people aware of a step that could trip them up?

Is it to draw attention to a picture on the wall? That’s a specialized area and you’ll need to consider it carefully. See point 3.

2.  Up or down?

Built-in lights normally shine down, which exposes the bulb and gives the unit a fierce center. Uplighters create a softer effect. They bounce light off the ceiling so that it bathes the room.

3.  Floor or table? (Or wall or desk)

This is largely a question of height. If you’ve got a table in that place, you can put a lamp on it, but then that uses up space on the table. Maybe it would be better to have a tall lamp standing on the floor. And that could be anything from a simple pole in wood or metal to an ornate, turned wood effect with round sections, disc-shapes or flat ones with as many surfaces as the designer wanted. Or a Greek column-looking thing. Interesting to look at or distracting? It’s all a question of taste.

If the practical purpose is to let people see what’s on a table or other unit – maybe you’re putting a buffet on it, or a display of brochures, magazines etc. – you’re going to need a lamp that doesn’t get in the way, so a slim shade might be the answer.

A fixed wall lamp, added on long after the place was wired up, will need some care on the installer’s part, to avoid unsightly cables trailing like ugly plastic vines.

If you want a wall light to cast light further into the room, there are those with a concertina mechanism so they sit almost flush normally but can be drawn out as desired.

And then there are desk lights, which serve no purpose in the rest of the room but do their work exclusively on the desktop while you attend to some business or the fast-disappearing art of letter-writing.

In all these cases, height is an important factor. You don’t want to be staring at a bulb, so you may need to take some measurements – chair, table, desk and the angle created by the distance of the light from those things.

It’s still not rocket science, but there is a bit of working out to do.

As for the picture lights, it is best to get advice from an art shop. Will the heat or light from a close source damage the picture? Plain glass or non-reflective? Again, things to consider.

4. Adjustable or fixed?

You can move a floor lamp or a table lamp – physically shift it around the room – but in most cases you can’t really affect which way it’s shining. But there are such things as gooseneck lamps, where you can bend the neck and it will stay in that shape, so it can be aimed at something.

Similarly with desk lamps, the classic green glass and brass style doesn’t have a lot of flexibility, but swing-arm ones can be set high or low, extended or retracted, and can be swivelled at the base and the head.

The world is full of options, and just when you think you’ve seen it all you’re going to walk into a secondhand store, a fancy executive office or an Indian restaurant, see something and think, “Wow! That’s it.”

If you’re stuck with this blog post and it’s given you food for thought, you probably agree with me that, while there is no Nobel Prize for Choosing Lamps, there is more to it than meets the eye. The lighting in your home or business may not be the most obviously crucial factor, but it plays a part – in fact, it can make all the difference.

If you’ve got a story about an unexpected success or an expensive failure, why not tell us about it in a comment? We’d love to hear from you.