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Tips for great holiday party lighting.

I have a lot of friends who work in stage, film, and video entertainment. One has been a “lighting designer” for going on 40 years. What that means is that he works with the set designers and comes up with just the right type of lighting to set the mood of the story.

“Lighting is everything, and it’s nothing,” he says. “When I’ve done my job right, nobody notices that I’ve done it. It’s all about the mood, the actors, and the set. The lighting makes it all come together, without anyone thinking about it.”

So, imagine you’re the director of your own stage production of “The Holidays at My Home.” What are you going to do to set the mood for a great party? Nothing better than perfect lighting that nobody notices.

I love to use candles. Of course, everyone notices candles. The trick is making it all about your guests and the environment, not the actual candles themselves. The warm flickering light will look and feel glamorous. People seem softer, food tastes better, and wine in glasses – so much more delicious.

I went to a huge gathering in Italy in a castle near Trieste. They had tables lined up, and each one had tall tapers glittering amid the glasses and flatware. I close my eyes and imagine what a breathtaking scene that was and how much fun we had that night.

Tapered candles not your style? Try white votive candles in groupings to define party spaces. The elegance will be just as breathtaking, but maybe not so much in everyone’s faces. And when using candles, make sure you use the unscented ones! That way nothing interferes with the wonderful aromas coming from your carefully planned food.

Turn down overhead lighting; turn them all off as much as possible. Anyone who’s ever taken a selfie under ‘down light’ knows that overhead lighting creates terrible shadows. Downlight ages everyone, just ask anyone who works onstage.

Replace lamp bulbs with low wattage (25 watts), soft white (warm) if you can. This is the most flattering light, and they cast the most natural shadows. Use opaque lamp shades. These will throw light either up or down while not allowing bright light to pass straight through (direct light is never a great way to set a mood). Gold lined shades create the most glamorous glow.

If you have a fireplace and the weather is cold enough – light a fire! Your guests will want to gather around the fireplace and watch the fire.  Evening conversations around a fire tend to involve telling stories which is a great way to connect and make some fun memories.

Pre-light your powder room with the light set to a dim level. The one exception to my “no scented candle” rule is here. Place a small scented candle in the room. Your guests will thank you.

Use reflective pieces in your party décor.  Maybe bring in a mirrored bar cart or serving trays.  Candlelight does some beautiful things when you let it bounce off mirrors. It always adds instant glamour.

Now, for the holiday touch, how about an alternative to blinking decorative lights? Remember, the best lighting is the one we don’t notice. Instead of the strings of gaudy blinkers, add groupings of colorful glass objects to your tables. Bring in colored glass candle holders and tuck them in groups in the corners of the room. The glitter and sparkle of all those colorful gems will make a holiday statement in itself.

And now, the stage is ready. Make some lovely memories.

Check out my video and see examples of lighting ideas for this post.



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