A good lighting scheme can really define a house and its interior design. Getting it right is all about planning at the early stages of a project — not leaving it as an afterthought.
Lighting is a versatile and important design tool often overlooked, yet it is an essential part of interior design and can be used in many ways to enhance your home. It is not an aspect that can be left as an afterthought, something you get to eventually when you come to decorating. All too often some home builders and renovators make rushed and therefore poor decisions because the electrician is due on site the next day. Inevitably, they end up with regimented rows of recessed ceiling spots and pendants in the center of every room with little or no thought to accenting, highlighting or controlling of the lighting ambience.
The installation of low-energy light sources in new build homes is now a must have – and with the rapid development of LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting, you can enjoy energy efficient lighting that is functional, durable and stylish.
Coming Up With a Scheme
You should ideally begin planning and making provision for your lighting scheme at the same time as the plumbing. Make a start by ‘walking through’ your plans, or house in the case of a renovation and in each room, ask yourself the following questions:
• What is the space going to be used for? Consider all possible uses of each room. Will the kitchen double up as a dining or homework space? Will a spare room also be used as a study?
• Will there be pieces of furniture, architectural features or artwork that you want to highlight in any of these rooms? This will determine your accent lighting.
• Who will be using this room? It is interesting to note that someone of 60+ years generally needs 15 times more light than a ten-year-old.
• At what time of day will the room be used the most?
• Where does natural light enter the room and from what direction?
Once you have the answers to these questions, draw a plan of the room to help you determine the best points for lights to be situated. On your plan you should mark down permanent fixtures, such as windows and doors, alcoves, fireplaces and other heat sources, like radiators. Next, indicate the direction in which occupants of the rooms are likely to spend most time facing, for example the television, cooker or a desk. Mark where the light switches will be best placed, concentrating around doorways and at the top and bottom of stairs. Finally, have a think about where you plan to site major items of furniture, such as beds and sofas.
Lighting the way - ‘Room by Room’
This is where a really flexible design is required, to fit in with the multiple ways in which this room is used — socialising, relaxing and entertaining. Although it was once common for almost every living room’s background lighting to be provided by a central pendant, this is no longer the case. Increasingly, people are choosing to provide background lighting through a combination of downlights and table or floor lamps, which tend to provide a cosy ambience, although for others, the room will not feel complete without a central focus, such as a striking chandelier, even if it is rarely used for anything other than decoration. In terms of accent lighting, consider uplights beneath fireplaces, downlights in alcoves, picture lights and then use concealed lighting behind cabinets. Finally, if you plan on reading in the living room, don’t forget a few sources of task lighting.
The main requirements of the bedroom are that it can be bright in the morning and restful at night. In addition to a soft background light, best achieved by table and floor lamps, the bedroom can really benefit from accent lighting that draws attention to a stylish headboard. It is also useful and practical to have light switches not only at the entrance to the room, but also either side of the bed.
Bathrooms respond well to light because the materials used in there are usually reflective and quite exciting. Good lighting can make a tiny bathroom appear bigger and a large bathroom more intimate. You will need to pay some attention to the various zones when it comes to bathroom lighting and to the IP rating of fittings. Zone 0 is the area inside the bath or shower, for example. The IP rating denotes a fitting’s resistance to water and what is needed will depend on which zone the light is to be fitted in.
Recessed downlights work well in bathrooms as background lighting. Task lighting, above mirrors for example, can be provided through an illuminated mirror or by lights than run the width of the mirror, or that sit either side of it. It is best to avoid a single downlight above the mirror, as this will be unflattering.
Halls, corridors and landings are generally last to be considered and consequently often are left with a bare bulb or bleak looking lampshade. They are tricky to tackle as their proportions are often compromised, but on the plus side, they are actually a great area to play around with lighting.
A row of central recessed spotlights is best avoided and as with other larger spaces, variety is all important. Use a mix of low level floor washer, wall lights, table lamps and perhaps the odd spot to access an object. Of course in an existing house, in-wall or in-floor lights will be very expensive due to the building works required to accommodate them, so will only really be an option in a new build.
You can also create a focal point with a large pendant or chandelier with a dimmer, but combine this with other sources of light. In hallways that are more akin to corridors, spotlights may be an alternative to a central pendant, which could easily look clumsy. Work with the shape of the space.
Arguably the most important room in which to get the balance right. It’s a hardworking room that needs to function efficiently throughout the day – and night – as well as accommodate all the activities that happen there. To operate well, you need at least three circuits; background lighting, task lighting and feature pendant/accent lighting.
Of these three types, background is key to providing all day general light, best achieved with recessed downlighting spots. Try not to fall into the trap of arranging these without thought, in a grid where all the light is cast on walkways. Use the spotlights more thoughtfully in dark pockets, over your workspaces, in entrances. Look at your kitchen plan and relate the lighting to this. Try not to place spots where they shine uncomfortably on or behind heads, right at the edge of a work surface, creating a shadow.
Move the spots where they cast light on the work surface and wash wall hung units with light. A directional recessed spot directed towards a feature bank of units can also be very effective. Have all the recessed spotlights on a dimmer switch to help control the light when you don’t need it quite so bright.
Turning to task lighting, the main area for this is under wall cabinets using rope lighting or a variety of warmer fluorescent bulbs. Over a central island is also a good area to mix downlighting task lighting with feature pendants.
Feature pendant lighting in a kitchen helps draw attention to the main design element and focal points, from over your dining table to above an island. With this in place, you can add additional dimensions with accent lighting inside cabinets, plinth lighting, lighting on top of units and illuminated shelving. As kitchens are now very often inclusive of a living and dining area, comfortable evening lighting helps to create a relaxed atmosphere.
Regardless of fashion trends the most successful lighting is discreet and enhances a rooms best features, whereas poorly designed lighting is glaringly obvious. A successful, innovative lighting design scheme can bring a house to life - make it appear bigger, fresher and chic.