An often forgotten truth: good lighting can make or break the ambience of a space, so it’s worth investing to get it right. As lighting can be such a complex area, I’ve compiled some simple lighting tips, to be considered when designing your home.
START WITH YOUR WISH LIST
Always think about your lighting scheme before you start decorating a room. When redesigning the room, plan in advance and consider the key elements your lighting should address:
– How brightly lit does the room really need to be? For instance a country kitchen or bathroom needs far more general lighting than a bedroom would
– What activities will take place (reading, working, cleaning your teeth etc)?
– What features in the room do you wish to highlight?
– Do you wish your lighting to take centre stage in the decorative scheme of the room?
At the same time, consider the layout of the room. Will there be table lamps by sofas, for instance, requiring floor plugs on a 5amp circuit? These decisions need to be made early, before new flooring goes down, to avoid issues down the line.
LAYER YOUR LIGHTING IN FOUR WAYS
Take a layered approach to lighting. If you have considered the wish list above, you should end up with four types of lighting:
General lighting – the substance of your lighting. Downlights normally provide this type of light. But plan these carefully! The typical mistake people make is to have a grid of downlights which can totally overwhelm the room with cold blue lighting, whilst bleaching out your paint colours
Task – task lighting helps you with tasks such as reading, chopping vegetables or brushing your teeth. In kitchens, these fittings are typically downlights/LEDs under kitchen cupboards
Accent – to enhance important features. This type of lighting can really add a sophisticated and luxurious feeling to a room. It’s an area that tends to be neglected and needs to be planned before any building work commences. Features may include stairs, fireplaces, artwork, bookcases or even beautifully made curtains
Decorative – feature lighting that adds decorative interest. I love ceiling lamps and wall lights in country homes. Decorative lights can also provide the general lighting in period homes, where downlights aren’t always suitable.
This bathroom by Todhunter Earle demonstrates each of these types of lighting perfectly:
CONSIDER HOW YOU CONTROL YOUR LIGHTING
As a general rule you should control each layer separately, so you can create different kinds of moods. Dimmers are essential, providing an effective way to quickly change the atmosphere and warmth of a room. Despite the wave of technology in the last decade, traditional dimmer switches have made a come back. One of the reasons for this is the number of amazing switches on the market and the desire to return to more simple controls.
Do check if your light fittings are dimmable before you buy. Not all fittings are dimmable, particularly bathroom lights.
INCORPORATE LIGHTING AT DIFFERENT LEVELS
Remember lighting needs to be present at different levels to provide different moods: low, middle and high.
Low level lighting can add such atmosphere in a room. One example is to have small directional lights in the floor to vertically highlight a fireplace surround. Or lights in a corner to draw the eye to the end of a hall. These add a really lovely glow in a room.
At middle height, table lamps and wall lights come in. Navigating the worlds of lamps and lampshades is a tricky area. As a general guide the height of the lampshade should be a third of the total height of the lamp with the lampshade. Aim for the bottom of the shade on a lamp or reading light to be at shoulder height.
Lighting in bookcases can look great too. You can light up objects in a bookcase by incorporating LED strip lights into a carved out track in each shelf. This provides hidden light that casts downwards, lighting the display and creating real atmosphere. Look at John Cullen’s website for some good examples
THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT THE SIZE OF YOUR CHANDELIER
It sounds like such an obvious point but selecting the wrong size is such a common mistake. The most typical mistake is to go for a too small chandelier because of the fear of getting it wrong. In a dining room, aim for it to hang low over the table – with a gap of around 80cm from the table to the bottom of the chandelier. In a living room with a tall ceiling aim for it to be between a quarter and third of the ceiling height, at least 7ft from the floor. Don’t go for hanging ceiling lights in rooms with lower ceilings, as you’ll end up with a small fitting with no impact. Invest in your wall lights instead.
Where you can, go for larger scale in halls or rooms with very high ceilings. They can make a huge impact and be the centerpiece of your scheme. In this Cotswold project I worked on for Justin Van Breda we chose a larger scale lantern to add atmosphere in the space.
CHECK THE COLOUR TEMPERATURE OF YOUR LED FITTINGS AND BULBS
The materials used in light fittings and bulbs will dramatically affect the distribution of light, and the atmosphere they create in a room. You may have noticed that some lights emit a warm yellow light whilst others omit an almost blue light.
Without getting into the science of this there are three main types: soft white (yellowish), bright/cool white (white/blue) and daylight. Make sure you know which type you are selecting for LED fittings and bulbs, as it makes a huge impact on the room.
If the colour temperature is too warm (the yellow end of the scale), you might not be able to see well enough for task lighting. It’s better for more ambient lighting in a living room or bedroom. A cooler temperature is better for task lighting, such as under kitchen cupboards. Daylight bulbs are normally used in very functional spaces like garages or workshops. Watch out for the trendy filament type bulbs. They look great but omit a very dim orange light.
It is often a point an electrician fails to check with you. Ask if they can show you the different options in situ, by wiring up one fitting and turning it on for you.
I hope these lighting tips have been useful and provided you with some useful points. If you would like to discuss further, do get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. I have also written articles on choosing colour schemes and paint colours for a modern country home which you may also find useful.