The Big Light Debate: Choosing Between Overhead Lighting and Lamps

May 23, 2024



Hannah Haber

Believe or not—the seemingly simple act of turning on a light can spark a surprisingly heated discussion on social media. Known as the “big light debate”, it’s the battle of overhead lights against lamp-based fixtures when it comes to illuminating a space. 

And with the growing interest in task and accent lighting, people now lean more towards eliminating those glaring ceiling fixtures altogether.  Let’s shed light on this topic and hopefully keep everyone out of the dark from a one-size-fits-all approach.

What Turned on the Debate?

A round dining table with four seats under a modern pendant lamp. There is wood paneling on the wall and white stand fan.
Photo by Lala Llanes

The big light is generally the main, larger central fixture in a space commonly installed on the ceiling. Often the brightest light source, it provides illumination for the entire room. You can typically see them in the form of chandeliers, flush-mounted ceiling lights, and pendant lights. 

The debate about them started on TikTok when social media creator @geeeofdeee claimed she “never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever uses the big light”. She continued defending her point by showing different kinds of lamps and cozy fixtures as alternatives. 

This then encouraged other designers and home decor enthusiasts to voice out their opposing sentiments about the big light. And this caused the unexpected web sensation it is today. You might have scrolled through various dramatic videos highlighting the room’s ambiance before and after turning on the big light. Although they might look like they are solely expressing dislike for overhead lighting, it also shows how people value a more curated indoor atmosphere. 

Arguments Against Big Light

The Big Light Debate: Choosing Between Overhead Lighting and Lamps.
Photo by Kyung Roh

One of the common reasons against big lighting is the harsh, unflattering light it casts. Since most overhead lighting uses cool white light bulbs, many argue it creates a sterile and clinical feel. Nearly every TikTok video made about this topic refers to a hospital vibe once they turn it on. 

Its cool light is also seen to be uncomplimentary for skin tones and facial features. As  big lights create short, sharp, and textureless shadows, everything it touches appears flat and dull, reducing depth and visual interest. 

In addition, a single big light can’t illuminate all areas of a room. So, it’s not ideal for specific tasks like reading or working at desks. But even if you fill the space with big lights, multiple, lower-wattage lamps can be more energy-efficient. 

Such limited mood lighting may result in eye strain, especially when used for extended periods. It may also affect the circadian rhythm since warmer and eye-level lights are proven to regulate the body’s internal body clock. 

Big lights can also clash with certain interior design styles, particularly those that naturally exude a cozy and relaxing ambiance. While they might work in modern and minimalist interiors, they might also detract the room’s overall aesthetic. 

Arguments in Favor of Big Light

The Big Light Debate: Choosing Between Overhead Lighting and Lamps.
Photo by Ed Simon

In defense of big light, they can provide even illumination, which is beneficial for spaces that require good visibility. Kitchens, bathrooms, stairs, and entryways are all the perfect places to put overhead lighting. You can also carry out tasks easily and minimize accidents and clutter since they cast a clearer glow. 

Along with their safety benefits, they can instantly and fully light up an entire room with a single switch. No need to fiddle with multiple lamps and dimmers to make your space well-lit. 

They additionally make a more cost-effective option for houses with open floor plans and high ceilings. Instead of purchasing and installing multiple lamps to reach these vast spaces, an overhead fixture can bathe the entire area. Even the shadowy corners can be lit if placed strategically.

In terms of maintenance, big overhead lights are way easier to clean. As they are typically simpler fixtures with fewer components, you can swiftly wipe off accumulated dust. Plus, you won’t have to deal with the complicated process of replacing light bulbs from multiple lamps. 

And while some argue that big lights clash with modern aesthetics, there are many sleek and stylish overhead fixtures available. These modern designs can even complement the space’s architecture and provide the necessary illumination without sacrificing aesthetics. Statement chandeliers or pendant lights can become a focal point, adding visual interest and grandeur.

The Compromise

The Big Light Debate: Choosing Between Overhead Lighting and Lamps.

Before you replace all your big lights or secondary lights, there is still a choice where you don’t have to pick a side anymore. 

Layered lighting is a marriage of practicality and ambiance that might put an end to the big light debate. This concept makes a harmonious blend of different lighting types that creates a space as functional as it is inviting.

Base Layer: Big Lights

The big overhead lights can serve as the base layer, providing the backbone for general activities. It’s important to note the size of your space when considering the type and placement of big lights. For ample spaces with tall ceilings, you can opt for a statement drop pendant or flush-mounted fixtures to balance the height proportions. But for limited interiors with lower ceilings, it’s best to stick with recessed big lights to avoid overwhelming the space. 

Big lights don’t necessarily have to be in the center of the ceiling. To add a dynamic composition, you can place them above furniture or a statement piece you have. 

Supporting Layer: Ambient and Task Lights

Ambient and task lighting can be the supporting layers to give your space dimension and a sense of intimacy. Wire lamp sconces and recessed fixtures for reading nooks and workspaces to draw a different attention and mood. These also bring variations in brightness so your eyes won’t get tired of a single, constant light color flooding the room.

Decorative Layer: Accent Lights

For additional character and drama, accent lighting reduces the harshness of big lights. String lights, spotlights, and table lamps complete the lighting setup since they dictate the scene and mood you want to achieve. And because they are relatively smaller than overhead lights, they provide versatility to further personalize your home’s atmosphere. 

Curating the ambiance of your home should always be according to your personal choice. The big light debate shouldn’t force you to an all-or-nothing position in choosing what to keep between big lights or lamp-based lights. Rather than letting a heated discussion influence your decision, try to weigh the merits of both. Maybe you’ll find a more harmonious way for them to meet halfway.

Read more: Empty Spaces to Fill: Why Filipinos Love Maximalist Houses

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