How to Approach Your Lighting Design
There’s no escaping it — lighting matters. Getting it wrong can drastically impact on the look and function of a space. To get the most from your lighting design, you need to understand the planning process and the different types of lighting.
Where to begin with your lighting design
It’s important to shape your lighting scheme in the initial stages of your design plan. Rewiring and moving power points is a messy and disruptive business that needs to happen before you decorate and dress your room.
Here’s a step-by-step approach to making those critical lighting plan decisions:
Decide on your furniture layout first. The location of your sofas, tables, display cabinets and kitchen fixtures will determine where you need sources of light.
Know where you want to display artwork and other focal features. Draw up elevations of each wall to determine where to place lighting to complement and highlight these pieces.
If you are drawing the scheme up yourself, photocopy floor plans and elevations. You can then use highlighter pens to show the location of beams of light, their direction and breadth. Use different colour pens for each type of lighting. It will help you to keep track of your intentions.
Work out where you need washes of light and where sharper, more directional beams are appropriate. Mark it all on the plan.
Remember that your lighting scheme is part of your entire design. Consider it in relation to the textures, layers, look and feel of the space.
Types of lighting
We use our homes for a range of purposes throughout the day. Each activity brings its own mood and functional needs in terms of light. It’s essential to understand types of light and what they can achieve before settling on your scheme. Knowing how to harness both light and shadow will open up a myriad of ideas and opportunities to make your space shine.
People tend to gravitate towards positioning the main source of light in the centre of the room. This will actually throw you into shadow. The trick is to use indirect light to create comfortable light where it is needed. Direct, downward light is unflattering and hard on the eyes, so try to avoid it.
You can harness indirect light in so many ways, but here are a few ideas:
Strategically place wall and floor washers around the room. Aim for arcs of light, softened with sand-blasted diffusers.
Add LED shadow-gap lighting to the skirting on stairs to gently lead the way.
Use hidden architectural tubes to softly light the space between tall pieces of furniture, such as bookcases and armoires. Not being able to see where the light is coming from adds an air of intrigue.
A well-designed home is lit so that each room is as functional as it is beautiful. You might want to work at the dining table, read cookbooks in the kitchen or apply make-up in your bedroom. Whatever the task, you will want to put light on the situation. Position spotlights where you need them. When you’re not using the light for a task, you can dim it to add drama to the room.
Layering is as important in your lighting scheme as it is in the physical design of your room. It’s impossible to relax and unwind under the glare of harsh, bright unchangeable light. Building layers of mood lighting invites relaxation. A conversation around the dinner table is so much easier in soft light. It’s the gentle glow of the lamps in your living room that help you to sink into your sofa and indulge in a film.
One of the easiest ways to achieve mood lighting is to incorporate a 5-amp circuit within your room. This gives you control of your lamps from one switch, allowing you to dim them to suit the occasion. Choose soft lines and tactile or natural linen shades for a warm, cosy feel. Add structural elements with traditional, tall standing table lamps or floor lamps.
Don’t forget that you can add non-electrical sources of light to enhance mood too. Think candles, oil lamps and the dancing light of a fire.
Your carefully juxtaposed surfaces will take on a new dimension when accented with light. LED uplighters will turn black matt floorboards into a bottomless chasm against textured metallic gold plaster walls. Cabinet spotlights will enhance the textures of your display objects. The best lighting will highlight every detail and enliven the senses. Cast tight beams onto small objects and artwork. Bathe walls and large pictures in wide swathes of light.
The shining star
Every room needs a bit of ‘wow’, and that applies to lighting as well as that star piece of furniture or artwork. The focus of decorative lighting is its beauty as an object, not the lighting itself.
Imagine the glory of:
- A chandelier above your spiral staircase
- An installation of hand-blown glass baubles above your dining table
- A sculptural white bronze standing lamp with a sumptuous silk shade
The light may not come from the piece itself, but from other sources of light washing over its form.
Pulling it all together
Incorporating multiple circuits into your lighting scheme will give you flexibility and controllability.
You might want to have separate circuits for:
- Task lights
- Wall and pendant lights
- Low-level lighting
- Highlighting artwork and other star pieces
A space is so much more dynamic when you can use light in different combinations and at varying intensities. Consider budgeting for a pre-set system that fades circuits in and out to suit various moods and times of the day.
Take inspiration from the places that you visit. Bars, hotels and restaurants all manipulate light to enhance your sense of calm, relaxation and wellbeing. Notice what makes you feel good in these spaces and apply the concepts to your home lighting design.