Skip to main content

The Enchanting World of Atmosphere

By 04/08/2010January 26th, 201757 Comments

It’s the reason you are reading this blog (or any other design blog) right now. Because you are looking for atmosphere.

Atmosphere is the feeling that gets created when you finally get the right colour on the walls. It’s what you get when you install a lamp in a minimum of 3 but preferably 4 corners of your living room or Master Bedroom.

It’s also why a designer should pay for professional photography if they want to get clients to hire them based on their portfolio. It’s rare (unless you are a photographer yourself) that you can convey atmosphere in an image without the right angles and professional lighting!

This morning I was reading Seth Godin’s blog and he was talking about the luxury market and how it was first created in France to improve their balance of trade. I usually agree with Seth–he is a master of marketing after all and I get the point he was making which is different from mine–but he said:

Four Seasons

“In every city there are expensive hotels that are noisy, with $56 breakfasts, no parking, blinds that don’t make the room dark and rooms that don’t have enough closets. But the very waste of paying extra to stay there ensures that you’ll be surrounded by others just as wealthy and just as interested in proving it.” S. Godin

Viceroy Hotel lobby designed by Kelly Wearstler

That I totally disagree with. The reason why people stay in luxury hotels is because of the atmosphere that gets created first of all by the grandeur of the lobby and then by the luxurious fabrics, beautiful furniture, soft lighting, and wonderful colour in the guest rooms.

Viceroy Hotel lobby designed by Kelly Wearstler

It’s also the reason why a new design trend generally begins in a luxury hotel because they have the money to do it. That is what started a sleeker more contemporary look in residential interiors, hotels started that trend first.

Ever notice how many lamps hotel rooms have? Usually they have a minimum of five! And it’s also the reason why the real estate agent will turn on every single light in the house when they are showing it.

Lamps create atmosphere faster than anything else in your space. It’s also the reason why–when I decorate my clients homes—one of the first items on the list is lighting!

What do you think? Would you stay in an expensive hotel to be around other wealthy people or because you want to experience the look and feel of luxury?

If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.

Related posts:

Atmosphere; The one Thing you cannot Buy

10 Ways to save money Now by Creating a Focal Point

How to choose the right Beige

New to this Blog? Click here ; Subscribe to my Monthly Newsletter.

While you’re here, subscribe to this feed so you don’t miss out!

5 pins


  • Charlotte's Color Specialist says:

    I would stay at hotel to enjoy the ambiance of the decor of course! Everything else would be a plus.

  • Karla @ KERRISDALE DESIGN blog says:

    Lighting absolutely is important, and professional photography for designers is worth the price! In my experience, hotel rooms have so many lamps because there is often nothing in the way of ceiling fixtures (pot lights or hanging)!



    I am not a designer, but I totally "get" atomosphere and love creating it in my little corner of the world.

    These pictures are so lovely ~ and I would pay extra money to stay in sucn an enchanted room.

    But I did think Seth's quote was funny – because I have paid for rooms that had no atmosphere at all – which is disappointing.

    I think almost all people are wonderful, no matter if they stay in a fancy or an inexpensive room.

  • ashlina says:

    SUCH gorgeous photos. i love the word atmosphere…
    great post.

  • Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

    This is so coincidental, Maria! A client I just met with recently kept referring to hotels they've stayed in and mentioning elements they liked in each {this is for bathrooms they want to redo}. I also agree because think about all the "hotel" linens that are sold now.

    I'm with you on the lighting ~ lamps always come up because most people that I meet with have inadequate overhead lighting {which, personally I rarely use at home unless I'm looking for something and need "the big light" on}. Great topic!

  • Melissa Rakowski says:

    Maria, please come over to my current post. A store that I think you would like plus a great colorful giveaway.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Glenda,
    I paid a huge amount for a room in New York last December because the city was full. I don't think that counts, it was far from a luxury hotel and I was very disappointed. I would never use to book a room ever again!!
    Thanks for your comment!

  • Eva says:

    Hi Maria,
    Atmosphere is absolutely what draws me – I will go back to a hotel with a great ambiance whether there are rich people or not. You can always meet up with those "rich" friends at restaurants, you don't have to stay in the same hotel. That's the only reason I went back to the Iberostar Hacienda in Bayahibe, Dominican. The lobby and grounds are sooo beautiful, clean and cheerful. Our rooms were average, but everything else was great. They got our money that's for sure.
    Thanks Maria for the lovely images.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Karla,
    Personally I don't think recessed lighting adds enough atmosphere to a room. It's one way to light it up but I really think layered lighting is still the best way to go and that isn't achieved until the lamps are installed. Plus they are a huge decor item in a room too. A sofa table, buffet, or end table (or empty corner) just doesn't look as cute without the right lamp.

    And you make a good point in hotel rooms as they certainly don't have recessed lighting for the most part!
    Thanks for your comment!

  • Ann says:

    My husband is a special events decorator and he constantly emphasizes to his clients that lighting is the key element. Sure, the decor is important, but if the proper lighting isn't there, the guests either can't see it or don't "get" it.

    Great topic! And beautiful post, as always.


  • Twenty Two Flamboyant Street says:

    Lighting = mood = atmosphere. Very good point indeed.

  • Marlo says:

    I find that I enjoy my vacation so much more if I stay at a luxury hotel vs. a budget hotel. Some say that we only need the room to sleep in so it's a waste to pay extra for a nice hotel. I spent one of my vacations in a budget hotel and every night when I returned to my room I didn't feel good in it. It wasn't a welcoming room to retreat to; it was a terrible, terrible feeling and that feeling tainted my vacation.

    That was 15 years ago and it was the last time I stayed at a budget hotel.

    I want ambience and I will choose the nicest hotel I can afford.

  • Rachel says:

    it so hard to imagine going someplace simply to be surrounded by other fancy types. well, unless I am stalking a celebrity or something 😉

    atmosphere- i couldn't agree with you more. now i need to locate an amazing interiors photographer in my neck of the woods who doesn't charge an arm and a leg…

  • traci zeller designs says:

    Luxury, definitely luxury! I'd be sorely disappointed to pay for a luxury hotel without luxury atmosphere, decor and service.

    And I'm with Rachel — I just wish I could afford to have more projects professionally photographed!

  • pve design says:

    I believe it is Albert Hadley who says "I try to avoid all ceiling lights and recessed as they are a tragedy." – so it is true, a room really needs interesting lighting or candles for "ambiance."
    Luxury is something to admire as well as to embrace.

  • Karena says:

    Luxury hotels are a treat beyond, and must have the atmosphere & the ambiance. The popele… they may be beutiful, in this casual world you could see anyone though!

  • Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP says:

    Interesting thoughts. I stay in a luxury hotel when someone else is paying for it.

    When I travel, I spend very little time in my hotel room, so would rather stay somewhere cheaper, and spend the money on other travel experiences, than somewhere where I spend the majority of my time with my eyes closed.

  • Acanthus and Acorn says:

    Even though a traveler typically spends little time in their hotel room, I do think luxury accommodations can be key to the feeling and reflections that later get stored as memorable moments.

  • "Yeah, that works..!" says:

    Atmosphere is So where its at in any setting and I totally agree that lighting is the factor that is foremost in creating it. Mother Nature is a great teacher – sunrises, sunsets, moon light, bright sun, cloudy days….all tend to affect our moods…etc.

    I wish I traveled more, but when I do and need to book a room somewhere, I am always lured in (or not) by the pictures of the hotel's lobby. Then I decide if I want to look further into whether I may want to stay there or not.

  • I think Seth has it wrong. People (including me) stay in luxury hotels because of the level of comfort and ambience. Is our society so insecure that we will stay in luxury hotels just to prove we can afford it? I think not.

  • Sally@DivineDistractions says:

    I don't think Seth is 100% right, but I do think he has a point for those of us who design and sell to the luxury market. They want ambiance, but they also want exclusivity…something no one else has….which is why we sell custom made goods and provide over the top service. That's what luxury hotels provide in addition to ambiance. We want the service that goes with that beautiful decor.
    Yes, lighting is paramount in creating the mood of the room.

  • Developing Designs says:

    You NEVER disappoint in your posts!

    Luxury hotels, staying in them (especially if someone else is paying :)) is all about the atmosphere! I recently had the pleasure of staying at the Trump in Chicago, and it had a great vibe.

    I also find that many want to duplicate that feeling they experience after a stay . They evoke something positive from that ambiance they want in their home(if only they could figure out how to have room service in their home too). That is a compliment to the industry and why people will continue to go back, again and again.
    Hopefully they will continue to have fabulous designers such as Kelly Wearstler, Vicente Wolfe and others to create that wonderful mood. 🙂

  • Kelly says:

    Of course I stay at luxery hotels because of the comfort and luxury! Sorry-but one of my pet peeves are those that say that they do not spend much time in room so why pay more? Hmmm.. I will pay more because I am away from home in a strange place. I feel much safer and comfortable in a luxury hotel. Plus, life is short- I believe I should spoil myself as much as possible!
    Maria, great blog, beautiful pics as always. Love that first bedroom picture- wow.
    And thanks to you, I am meeting with a professional photographer this weekend. The only issue I am having is that he is a professional outdoor photographer. He has done some interior work, looks good. Do you have any suggestions on what to ask photographer before hire? I want yours- she seems great! Thanks!

  • Jeannine 520 says:

    Actually, I stay in $$$$ hotels for neither of those reasons. I find that the more costly a hotel is, the less likely I am to have kids whoping, hollering and bouncing down the hallways on their way to the elevators in the a.m. or drunken collage students at night. I also like very good room service and buckwheat hull pillows.

  • Mona Thompson says:

    I'm all about atmosphere and these images are packed with it. I love, love lamp light and cannot live without dimmer switches for overhead lighting. I really enjoy your posts. Thanks.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Kelly,
    My photographer did mostly portraits before I hired her to do my interiors (she is also a friend so at the time gave me a great deal so that's why I went with her) and I was very glad that I did, it has made a huge difference in my business. So not sure what to ask, I might be a bit concerned about outdoor vs. indoor though.

    Make sure you style your rooms to the hilt though–that's part of the atmosphere (I'm sure you know this 🙂

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    The beds are more comfortable at the luxury hotels too! I'm turning into one of those that say the room doesn't make a difference because I'm not at the hotel or the rooms much anyway . . but, today I'm changing my mind. Luxury hotels are so wonderful to stay in. The ambiance, the comfy beds, the service . . . it all adds up to an incredible experience that is usually worth the few extra dollars.

  • Tara says:

    Somebody I know wants a bright overhead light on at all times in every room, yuck, it ruins all atmosphere Thankfully I'm here to teach him how to have a luxurious home life. Ha CCakeFactory is too dark for him to eat in, haha, some people just don't place atmosphere on the list of necessities like we do.

  • FrenchGardenHouse says:

    I thought the same thing about Seth's statement as you did when I read it, no one I know would pay for an ugly hotel room and bad service just because it was the "it" place to stay.{sorry Seth, 1st time ever I disagree}

    I have been in small, humble homes with a ton of atmosphere, and huge, "designed" homes with none. Lighting certainly plays a huge part in making a space warm and inviting.

  • Scoti Springfield Domeij says:

    Definitely, luxury. It's like one of Julia Cameron's artist dates. The atmosphere, decor and every nick nack fills my artistic well. That's why I subscribed to your blog. It's my visual artist date that inspires my day.

  • Svetlana says:

    'Atmosphere ' has different meaning to different people. You can have 'atmosphere of luxury' in the hotel and this is what I would definitely expect from the luxury expensive hotels. But is this the only one? For me hotel with atmosphere has something unique about it, something which makes you remember it among other places. Last year we were on vacation in Puerto Rico. The most expensive hotel we stayed there did not impress me with atmosphere. It had a nice neutral decor with luxurious surfaces like marble but it was not special. It could have been anywhere in the world. Then we stayed in a small hotel (not chain) in old San Juan. It was less expensive and less luxurious but brimming with atmosphere and uniqueness! Waking up in the morning in that room made me realize that we are in the old colonial city in the tropics and was a prelude for discoveries of the day. Its atmosphere was much memorable for me than the faceless luxury of the other hotel.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Thank you so much for your comment. I think the point of what I'm saying here is that we pay more because we want atmosphere (not because we want to hang around with other wealthy people necessarily) and we have all been disappointed with money we've spent in hotels in search of that!

    I am just loving everyone's comments, they are so thoughtful and really make a great argument for paying more on a vacation because it does add a lot to the feeling and memories of the trip!!

    I love my readers!!

  • Sarah says:

    I love reading your blog – there are so many tips that I've already picked up that I'd never have got otherwise. I've been thinking of doing some redecorating, and a lot of the things you talk about are so helpful. Thanks!

    I completely disagree with Seth Godin. I don't think that people are willing to pay for crap. They do have certain expectations of what they'll get for what they pay for. I mean, if I check into a cheap hotel, I don't expect much in terms of atmosphere – all I expect is somewhere to sleep! If I pay more money, than it's going to be for a place that I think is gonna give me more for my money, in terms of atmosphere, and usually luxury, too.

  • Anonymous says:

    You and Seth are talking about different kinds of hotels (and different types of people who visit those different kinds of hotels), so you are both correct.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Dear Anonymous,
    I know and his context was different from mine, it just made this post more interesting that's why I added it!
    Thanks for your comment!

  • Donna says:

    Maria..this is a super fabulous post and I wrote all about it on my blog. Thank you for letting share about you and your work! Drop by if you would like to see it. I worked it into my own efforts to improve a very ho-hum home. Someday, we will have some funds and more importantly time to improve things. But for now your decorating tips have made my home so much better than it would have been!

    I have always 'wished' I could live in a hotel room and wondered what was that 'magical' element that they said it all today!


  • Marija says:

    I get Seth's point for sure….there are hotels in the luxury category that aren't that luxurious anymore and some people will still stay there irrespective of the bad ambience. Your point is a good one for those of us who would never stay somewhere simply because it is heralded as a "luxury hotel." I'll decide that for myself based on whether or not it does have great ambience.

  • Kelly, Arte Styling says:

    It's funny, but when I go on vacation (which hasn't been often lately) I don't gravitate towards "luxury". For me, sometimes luxury equates to stuffiness. This isn't always the case, but, and maybe it's the Californian in me, I tend to seek out very laid back places to stay while on vacation. The kind of places where you can walk around barefoot without getting funny looks. Where you can order a beer for $4 (instead of $8) and drink it straight from the bottle. And, although lighting is always important, at home or away from home, I wouldn't say it's the first thing I notice in a hotel room. (Although, when there's not ENOUGH lighting that can be a big problem.)
    Interesting points here. Guess it all comes down to personal preference and experiences.

  • Alina says:

    Lovely photos as usual!

  • Anonymous says:

    Gah. When I go on vacation, I don't want to have anything to do with other people. Besides, I have found that the wealthier people are, the less class they seem to have.

    Luxury rooms (and view) all the way. Please, no people.


  • Jackie Von Tobel says:

    I have to agree with you and not Seth. People stay mostly for the luxurious surroundings quality bedding and accommodations as well as the high level of service. I think that these things attract like minded individuals who you would enjoy hanging out with but that's a by product. I think as far as hotels go you do get what you pay for.


    I'm so honored that you stopped by my blog again ~ glad you liked my "peeps."

  • Lyn says:

    Dead on girl!
    I have just posted about my beige to black powder room and boy has it created atmosphere! Must admit your 'light colours never come to life in a dark room' spurred my decision Maria, thank you xxx LYN (LINI)

  • aneyefordetail says:

    I actually DO agree with Seth!! I never, ever stay in a "luxury" hotel! I simply cannot find it in me to pay the price. Yes, I could afford it, but no, I won't do it. I think so many people who stay in those hotels are only there to be seen, and only there because the hotel IS expensive. It takes more work to find an excellent and less expensive alternative, but I rather enjoy the search!

  • Kimberly Grigg at "It's So Fabulous!" says:

    Well, Maria, as always, you are fabulously "right on"! I agree! Atmosphere is everything! And yes, typically, expensive hotels do a great job of conveying that. However, I think that there are also atmospheres that can be found at less expensive venues – charming Bed and Breakfasts, for instance – that create just as wonderful an atmosphere, albeit different from the expensive hotels. I actually think it has a great deal to do with the "attention to detail" given during the designing and decorating process. 🙂

  • Lauren says:

    totally agree with LIGHTING!!! (It's one of the areas I encourage "splurging" when working on a tight budget.

    I'm so frustrated with my LR at home because we have our chandelier waiting to be hardwired hanging in the corner so until it's actually hardwired (i.e. we pay to have someone do it) we have dark corner that drives me NUTTY!!!

    anyway, i'm about to take the jump with photographyy- eeeeeeek


  • La Dolfina says:

    OMG you are so speaking my language. It's atmosphere all the way and number 1 is definitely LIGHTING!!
    I don't think people realize how important good lighting is. Just imagine if a hotel lobby was not lit up to perfection but rather lit like most homes. No matter what you have going on lighting enhances it in ways nothing else can. It's pure drama and make even the ordinary, extraordinary.
    Just discovered your blog and I'm here to stay!!!
    I can't wait to learn all about color… it's truly an art. I must admit I hired a color consultant to help me in our home because I didn't really understand color.
    But color and lighting are everything and that I do know!!!

  • Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    I have found many posh hotels to be lacking in atmosphere, trading sense of place for bland, expensive poshness – if you can't tell what country and city you are in without examining the staff's name tags, you might as well stay home.

    Korea, for example, has an ancient and amazing ceramics tradition … why was I eating off imported French china?

  • Laura Casey Interiors, LLC says:

    Love your discussion on atmosphere. It makes it all, and location.

  • Susan says:


    This is such a great post and the comments and feedback so interesting to read.

    Atmosphere, yes… you have to create the mood. Great rooms have it.

    Lighting, yes, yes, yes … I so totally agree with this. I love beautiful lighting. Lamps and lighting fixtures, in my mind, can make or break the room. Goes back to where you spend your money.


  • mydivabydesign says:

    Lighting really does make a difference! I know so man people who just use their overhead light. Even when watching tv. It is so harsh. I never use mine unless I just can't find something I dropped.

  • Sophia says:

    I love light, and would want nothing more than 10 lamps in a room, but what about the electricity bill? Sometimes, money just trumps atmosphere. What are your thoughts on the financial effects of so many lamps? Do you have low-cost lighting solutions?

  • Maria Killam says:

    You bring up an excellent point. And you don't have to have every single light on in the house, just the one you are in.

    Sitting in the living room at night, if you just had 2 lamps on (the one you might be reading with) and another one in the corner would make a world of difference!

    Great question, thanks for posting it!

  • Bhavana says:

    Two years too late, but Sophia asked what I’d been meaning to ask all along! Here, in India, electricity is expensive, so many of us use just enough light, to get by with. I would love to have that many lamps, but sadly, may not light them up much.

    Additionally, when you have little active kids running around….how do the lamps stay in place without getting toppled over??

  • Farha Syed says:

    Hi Maria

    Great topic, I totally agree about layered lighting. It definitely, creates that mood you want in a room at different times.


  • Gina says:

    I think Seth’s comment points out that one’s ego may draw them to luxurious surroundings so that others will think that’s their real life story. Design inspired people like us are simply drawn to what we visually love. I’d stay in a tent in the middle of a redwood forest for free and feel marvelous!

Leave a Reply