Because Your Builder Doesn’t Order Your Coffee {unless he happens to be your husband in which case you can ignore this entire post}

lampssources: scissor lamp, wood chandy (not always available)

Yesterday’s discussion on instagram (follow The Nester here to join in the fun) got me thinking even more about the importance of lighting in our homes; here’s what I said on one of yesterday’s posts:

Lamps, chandys & lighting serve us in two wonderful ways.

1. they help us see

2. they add style

Whether you shop yard sales, thrift shops or fancy stores, let’s stop letting the builder choose what lighting we live with.




From the instagram comments; my friend Stephanie is getting ready to start building a new house & here’s her struggle: …

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 9.01.59 AM

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 9.02.10 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 9.02.19 AM


Here’s the thing, lighting is one of the LAST things to go up in a home. (My parents’ renovated home will be done in two weeks–counters go in today–are the lights up yet? Nope.) In my own kitchen the lighting was just about the last thing we did. Same with the barn, it KILLED me to wait until everything was finished so we could finally put the ‘jewelry’ {the lighting} on the in the room–it’s pretty much the last thing before furniture goes in.


Do you need to decide on your lighting plan early? ABSOLUTELY–you’ll need to know what TYPE of lighting and how many and where they are going to go.

Surprisingly, with both the barn and our kitchen, creating the lighting plan and choosing the actual lights was the most difficult, time-consuming part for me–more than choosing cabinets, counters, appliances, more than paint colors. It’s always been worth it for me to think long and hard about how we’ll use lighting in our home.

barn lightssources: chandy, string lights, pendants, sconces

BUT, once you know you are going to need 2 chandeliers, 5 pendants, 3 flush mounts a fan and 4 sconces, you can then take your time to pick out exactly what you want–often times you have months in between coming up with your lighting plan and actually installing your lighting.

And you DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT have to shop at only one or two stores where your builder is sending you. Unless you have agreed to some set package (even then you should be able to pay the difference and get your own lighting) then pick out what you want, order it, and have it ready for them to install.



Maybe you are building, renovating, renting or living in the same house you have lived in for the past 30 years. My question to you–have you paid your lighting the attention it deserves?

We wouldn’t let our builder choose our outfit, sofa or breakfast, we wouldn’t trust him to naturally know our coffee order. So we shouldn’t expect for him to know our style and how we’ll use each room.

Usually, a builder really has no business picking out lighting that we have to live with as long as we are in a home. Builders are wonderful, talented people who are usually excellent at building, but when you buy a home–especially one you didn’t have built yourself, the lighting is usually an inexpensive suggestion–just enough of something to call the room done.


You are allowed (and encouraged!) to change out your lighting, it’s one of the most room altering choices you can make.

For more lighting inspiration, check out the Lighting Pinterest Board.



  1. Nester,
    My wife and I were in the planning stages of building our house (20 years ago) We picked up fixtures that we liked that were a good price and that we liked. the ceiling fans we had put up in the rental were coming with us too. The main reason the builder wanted the specific lighting store used is that when there was a part missing or broken they dropped everything to rush the part to the house so his electrician was not sitting idle. We hsd five ceiling fans and all parts to install them all assembled and placed in each room they belonged. We made using our dixtures trouble free. Work with your builder to find out the reason and solution.
    The electrical box put where you need it is the main thing, and expensive to change later. A cheap fixture is easy to change later.

  2. We built and were lucky enough to choose our own lighting – from wherever we wanted to purchase it. HOWEVER, I will say that of course we had a budget! While I never had any “builder grade” lighting, I did buy some cheaper options for some rooms (guest bedrooms for example) and later upgraded those lights.

  3. Christi {Jealous Hands} says

    My builder was my husband & we were never meant to live in the house, so we went with “mass appeal” lighting/fans. And now 8 years later we ARE living in the house and I H A T E the lighting – the whole dang lot of ’em. Fortunately, he’s also an electrician so I’m changing them out as time and money permit. xo

  4. Folks, I understand the beauty of lighting, but I also see the practicality of Nester’s suggestions. Sometimes there are more important things than lighting. I value education and chose to send my daughters to top schools. Yes, my house has builder grade lighting. No, I don’t particularly like it. I’m living with it and changing it as I can. Nester, thank you for seeing the Big Picture always!

  5. Just make sure there are lots of lights in the right places because we all get older. This past weekend we had a near disaster. It is funny now, but it sure was not funny on Sunday morning when I woke up.
    My dear husband needs hip replacement surgery. He is putting it off. He was out of his pain medication but knew I had some of the same medication as I take it for arthritis. Well, Goofy came in here, got into my medical supplies without good lighting (or his glasses I found out later) and took what he thought was Tramadol. He actually took 3 of the dog’s anxiety medication, (Alprazolam 2MG) I was scared out of my mind when I found him in his chair Sunday morning. Lucky for me our oldest son is a Nurse Practitioner. So I called him and he came over to help me deal with it. Because my his size etc. we did not have to take him to the hospital, but let me tell you it was an awful scary day for me.

  6. i am blessed being married to an electrical contractor with awesome taste who occasionally works in very high end vintage homes :) unbelievable what he comes home either new or vintage!

  7. Can you tell me where you purchased your kitchen bar stools ? I’ve been looking for some for years now and I love yours! Thank you.

  8. When we were considering building a new home, the idea of picking out all of the lighting at once was overwhelming. Luckily before we decided on the final plans we found an already built dream home but I knew eventually all the lighting would be changed. In every home I have ever had from renting to owning, I have had to be in the house for a bit to know what it wants. Its weird to say but my homes have always spoken to me, and I follow along. So far we have changed out lighting in 9 rooms and have about 11 more to go. One at a time its fun for me to decide what I like for each space. Whats funny about the whole thing is though that when we bought it, I told my husband I probably wouldn’t make any changes!! Not one room has gone untouched!!

  9. Our rental has a very nice ceiling medallion in the dining room…

    …with a standard ugly ceiling fan hung from it.

    I may have to do something about that.

  10. Lighting is so hard for me. I have horrible florescent lights in my kitchen and a chandelier in my dining room with only 3 of the 5 sockets working. But how do you choose what do instead? And how do you find something affordable??? Why can’t I have a money tree in my backyard? That would make these decision so much easier. On a better note, our hideous porch light literally bit the dust (as in fell off our house in a strong wind storm) and we were finally forced to replace it with something off the shelf, and I. LOVE. IT. No one else may notice, but I know my cute house thanks me for removing that wart. :)

  11. Around here, I call them “place holders”. Things that fill the immediate need inexpensively while I search and hunt for the right piece at the right price. We even had extra wiring installed in places that I know I want to add sconces etc down the road. The wiring is sitting idly in the walls waiting for me and when the perfect fixtures are found it will be an easy install. :)

  12. We just moved in to our new build house. We had a lighting allowance and were given two places to shop (the best places in our City!). I had a plan of the feeling I wanted for each room and I worked with a designer at that store to pick all the pieces. Some of the new lighting these days don’t have to look new. I have a very eclectic style and the designer got my vision and ordered in a lot of stuff that the store doesn’t normally carry. For me it was fun and lighting was something I didn’t want to compromise on – although I did end up with a couple place holders for my son’s room and guest room until we decided how they would be decorated!

  13. We are building, and, of course, our contractor has a contract with a specific lighting company. We got about half of our lights there, and the rest, we either had them cap or put in a single bulb (to pass code). We are going to go back and install most of our own lights. That way, we weren’t paying for something we hated.

  14. Can I say something that’s been building and building in my head that’s got me about ready to explode? (I hope you said yes!) Why oh why do we call basic budget items builder grade? Sheesh. I’m sick of people improving “builder grade” everything. I love a beautiful home and we were blessed to have been able to have had our first house built for us when we was all of 27. Maybe my experience is different, but there isn’t anything wrong with builder grade. The only thing is… builder grade varies from a 100K home to a 750K home… they are not always the same. And they vary from builder to builder. We could call them budget grade… but again… budgets vary. There is also a sense by these statements made across the net that builders build homes only with doors and cabinets from the builder grade showroom and they immediately need to be improved by the homeowner. Please know… I love making my home personally mine and beautiful. But, somewhere along the line… I’m feeling that “everyone” has lost sight of the fact that they are blessed to have a home that they own (or rent). A roof over their head and the means to be able to express their personal creativity in their home. Yay! I’m all for that. And Myquillyn, you do it better than just about anyone. You are a style genius. As I think back on our home building experience, I had this crazy idea that I wanted to have tin lighting. My builder simply said… you have X dollars to work with unless you want to add to the lighting account yourself. Bingo… I searched and searched for my lighting and got what was incredibly personal in style and I came in under budget. My hard work paid off. The doors for the project were not exactly what I wanted. I wanted raised panel interior doors. But… I couldn’t afford the upgrade. My builder knew that. And one day he was at the lumber yard and saw that raised panel doors were on sale. Yay me!!! Yes… he bought them for the entire house. And, BTW… they were a ton of work to prep and coat with paint three times to look beautiful… I know I did all the work. My kitchen cupboards were also limited to a price range. I went to the kitchen store the builder suggested and found that they were able to give me a poplar wood cabinet that looked like cherry. So much so that when my house was sold the second time… guess how the listing read? Gorgeous cherry kitchen cabinets. I wanted wood not vinyl windows… again… we got what we wanted after lots of research for the price we needed to meet. I was blessed with a wonderful builder who worked with me, within his budget. I also have friends who have purchased spec homes and were wildly happy to have their own home with new whatever. Others thrilled to have made their first home purchase and wanting to put their own personality stamp on their home. But… they didn’t complain that everything their home had was builder grade. Builder grade is not inferior. It’s not custom. It’s not personal. But, please, why does everyone have to complain about builder grade. I see too many people who cannot keep their homes, others in the world who live in grass or mud or tin huts. Somehow this has become a madness. We sound so terribly ungrateful for the blessing of what we have. I gave up my sweet saltbox to follow a calling. It was my forever home. But, not really, is it? That’s yet to come. ;) If I’m blessed to have my “own” home again, I’m going to personalize it for sure. But, believe me, there will be no builder grade improvements. Instead they will be personality stamps. I would be thrilled to have a builder grade home. It’s more than half the world has and I will be immensely grateful. And please, please, please, know I’m not trying to throw stones. I just think Pinterest or whatever has caused us to lose our perspectives. It’s time for a reality check. And a heart check. (I need both of those periodically for sure!)
    Thanks Nester for letting me rattle on. (Feel free to delete my comments, too. ) ;) And thanks for being real with your life right now… it’s a breath of fresh air… [[hugs]]

  15. Thanks Diane. I am thankful for my fixer-up. It is getting personality stamped!

  16. Well…. my husband IS my builder, so of course I HAD to read this! Ha! He’s a remodeling contractor actually. We just completely gutted and renovated a home built in the 1920s. And you are absolutely right! Lighting is SOOOOO important. When doing a whole house remodel or build, it can be so overwhelming. For us, there were a few “givens”. We knew exactly what we wanted and where to find them. For the rest, we installed cheap lighting that can be replaced when we come upon the perfect thing for the space, Building/remodeling should be fun, but unfortunately it inevitable gets stressful. This is a great way to eliminate the stress of choosing… just put off the choice!

    We spent 7 months renovating (and living with my father in law in the process). Your book was a Godsend in my period of “waiting”. Thank you for all of your beautiful, practical advice.

  17. I love these light fixtures that you picked out. I am all about natural lighting. It totally adds some freshness to the space.

    The Office Stylist

  18. Log/Tree Cakestand. I simply must know where you got it!!! Pretty sure my life will be unfulfilled and torturous without it…

  19. Ha ha – we bought our house 2 years ago and that was the FIRST thing we upgraded. They lived 10 years with cheap, cheap builders grade fixtures and they.were.ugly. Don’t know how some people can overlook/ live with that?!?

  20. My husband and I moved into our house last August. I am trying to figure out why, in the kitchen, they put up an overhead light, then a foot away, hung a small 3 shade chandelier. I want to take them both out and put up a totally different light

  21. We live in a sweet little post war house that had no closets and no real lighting to speak of when we moved in 13 years ago… I have loved finding second hand lighting and accessorising it to suit my style… playing with lighting is inexpensive and so much fun!

  22. Thank you so much for writing this! We are in the early stages of building a home (the lot is cleared and the basement is getting ready to be dug out!), and for some reason, since the VERY VERY beginning of this process, I have been THE MOST EXCITED about picking out the lighting. We didn’t switch out any lights in our last house and they were all very standard “builder grade”. I could never justify the expense for some reason since they were perfectly “fine”. We definitely should have replaced the boob light in the hallway and the terrible ceiling fan in the bedroom, at the very least. You’re right, lighting is so important.

  23. Teri from Indiana says

    I so understand this post. We had a fire last year that destroyed all the bedrooms upstairs. What a process!! I never, in my entire life, had to discuss with so many people the decisions that I made about lighting. If I heard the word upgrade one more time I would have screamed. But the lights are up and everyone is happy.

  24. I love your quote about not letting the builder choose your breakfast or your outfit. Unfortunately, we did just go with what the builder gave us. And I instantly hated it! So, very foolishly I rushed out to a big home improvement store and bought the first two things I liked ok. I so wish I would have lived in the house a while, gotten a feel for how the space was going to be used and THEN chosen some interesting and vintage lighting. Instead, I rushed and upgraded to something that really in the end, I realize is just a fancied up version of our builder grade lights. Boo for rushing! Someday, I want to replace those lights (again) but it is pretty far down on the list, since I’ve already done it once!

  25. Myquillyn, you are absolutely right! Builders are great at building but they aren’t your personal interior designer. Light fixtures can be the jewelry of a room, but to builders they are one more thing in their to-do list.
    We bought an inventory house from a local builder. The light fixtures were (and some still are) atrocious! The kitchen had seven can lights. Seven! I’m so lucky I’m short, the ceiling is high, and I don’t have to look at it.
    Changing two of those cans transformed my kitchen. It was actually very easy and economic. I bought two 1920s schoolhouse pendants and converted the cans on top of the island to pendants. The kitchen has tons of style now.
    Either if you can decide on lights while the house is being built, or if you switch them later, it will make a surprisingly big impact in the look of the room.
    And lights are one thing kids can’t wreck, so it’s a win-win for moms.

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