Selecting the correct lighting for your home is a vitally important facet in defining and setting the tone for your space, writes Rin Simpson.
Bright and beautiful
If your idea of lighting your home is flicking a switch on the wall and waiting for the ceiling pendant to spring into action, you’re missing out. Lighting is an incredibly useful tool that can change the mood, the style and even the size of your room, highlighting features and brightening workspaces, giving your home depth, texture and subtle styling.
In terms of functionality, lighting divides into three main areas: ambient, task and accent. These can – and should – be combined in different ways to create different overall looks, depending on who is using the room and for what purpose.
Ambient lighting is background lighting that helps to create atmosphere. It is diffuse, mimicking daylight, and shouldn’t look as if it comes from a particular spot, instead lighting the whole room gently. Task lighting helps brighten the areas where you work. One example is the under-unit spotlights in a kitchen that help you see what you’re preparing, or bedside lamps that shine onto the book that you read before you fall asleep. Accent lighting is useful if there’s a particular area or object that you want to draw attention to. It’s often directional, such as a spotlight, and helps to create a focal point in the room.
As with any aspect of interior design, it’s worth starting off your lighting scheme with a well-thought-out plan. To begin with, take a tour through your house, noting down the existing lighting and asking yourself lots of questions: What is the space used for? What is the natural lighting like? What aspects of the room do you want to highlight?
Choosing your lights
Once you understand the needs and existing resources of your room, it’s time to start choosing the lighting that will best serve these. There are so many types around, each of which has a different purpose. Using a variety will help you create more visual texture.
The first place that most people think of putting a light is on the ceiling, giving the room its main source of ambient light. There are many types on offer – decorative pendants, ceiling-mounted bowls, directional spots, luxury chandeliers – so you can choose one that suits your style and purpose.
But don’t stop there. Sometimes an overhead light is too harsh, and even with a dimmer switch, a single ceiling fixture can lack interest. In this case, wall sconces are a good choice, as are floor-standing uplighters, secreted away to give a diffuse glow from a lower level.
Then there’s the huge range of lamps on offer. Lamps are incredibly useful because of their mobility and flexibility. Both floor-standing and smaller table lamps can help brighten a dull corner, as well as providing necessary task light – for example, at a desk or over a reading armchair.
Some rooms will need specialist task lighting, such as the kitchen, where recessed spots located on the underside of any wall cupboards will highlight the work surface and ensure that you can see exactly what you’re doing. You can also buy clip-on and magnetic lights that can be moved around depending on your immediate needs.
You’re nearing the end of your plan now, and it’s time to think about any areas that you would like to draw specific attention to, which haven’t already been covered. For example, artwork might already be highlighted by a main multi-spot ceiling light, but if you’ve chosen a chandelier or pendant, you can brighten your paintings with dedicated picture lighting mounted above the frames. As another example, recessed LED lights can be cleverly used with shelving to create a display unit for your books or ornaments.
Finally, you might want to add a finishing touch with some decorative lighting. This includes everything from candles to fairy lights to lanterns – they may not help you see what you’re doing, but they’ll give your room a cosy atmosphere, especially if you choose a live flame option that flickers and sends light moving around the room.
Making it work
So, you’ve figured out what each room needs and which lights will fulfil these, but there are a few more things to think about. These tips and tricks will help you finalise your lighting scheme with a professional touch:
• Consider having different lights on different circuits so that you don’t end up with an “all or nothing” situation. For example, you might have wall and ceiling lights wired up separately, so they can be switched on and off independently of each other.
• It’s worth brushing up on the technical aspects – voltage, wattage, energy efficiency and so on – so that you can choose the right brightness for each aspect of your lighting scheme, and be as eco-friendly as possible, saving money in the process.
• A dimmer switch is an incredibly useful tool, especially for overhead lighting, allowing you to control the level of light in the room, changing it from a bright, functional space to a cosy, intimate one with no fuss at all.
• Try not to place all your lighting at the same level. Vary ceiling lights with wall sconces, standing and surface-level lamps, and even floor washers, which are particularly useful for stairways and corridors.
• Task lighting such as reading and desk lamps need to be positioned between your eye level and your book or work – too low and you’ll cause harsh shadowing; too high and you’ll get glare in your eyes. Ideally, choose a light with flexible directionality, in other words, an adjustable neck that means you can focus the light exactly where you need it.
• Don’t forget to use natural light wherever you can. Maximise this by keeping your windows clear (use tie-backs on heavy curtains, for example) and by using plenty of mirrored surfaces in the room.
Once you’ve finished your planning, it’s time to start shopping; this is where your personal tastes come into play. Because as much as your lighting scheme should be balanced and well thought out, it should also reflect your personality and style. When it comes to the final choices, that’s up to you.
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