Householders are getting switched onto the power of lighting. Lighting has evolved in some cases from a purely functional role in the home to a way of creating atmosphere and moods.
Stair treads, book shelves and wardrobes are among the areas being lit to stunning effect in contemporary homes, using a variety of new techniques.
Lighting is the presentation of space. “If used skilfully, it provides the final invisible touches to design,” says author Sally Storey. ” Artificial light thrown onto the surfaces of a room from different heights and angles will change its apparent dimensions. It can emphasise height, structure and materials, and become almost an architectural element itself,” she says in ‘Lighting: Recipes and Ideas’ (Quadrille.)
The key to a successful scheme is to design it at the earliest possible stages, at the same time as doing the plumbing, Storey believes. She urges home owners to allocate as much as possible of their budget to lighting. “Typically it can be as much as curtains or carpets,” says Storey. The market is now flooded with affordable lighting.
Look to layering
The main points to consider when planning a lighting scheme, according to Storey are: task lighting, such as for reading or for chopping in the kitchen; general ambient lighting; and finally feature lighting to create your main design interest and focus.
Design your scheme so that light comes from more than one source or direction. Layering is a key trend in modern schemes, treating lighting effects in the same way that interior designers layer fabrics and textures.
“Use a combination of lights, perhaps downlights with uplights, table lamps with downlights. Always fit dimmers so that you can change the mood of the room controlling each lighting effect separately to maximise mood,” she recommends.
- Powerful centralised dimming control systems, linked to other house systems such as security and entertainment, are facilitating the introduction of complex lighting systems. Computer-driven technology allows the householder to change the colour of a room’s lighting at the push of a button.
- Coloured light can add a different dimension, remarks Storey. “One can literally decorate with light,” she observes. “The simplest effect is the use of a coloured filter but more sophisticated use of a colour wheel into fibre optics can mean a variety of colours are possible.”
- Furniture has already featured lighting such as light-sensitive LED-cluster tables and now luminous design has moved into textiles. Changing technologies have led to use of ‘secondary sources’ – lighting in cabinets; lights accenting smaller architectural features such as curtains or special wall finishes. These add an extra layer of lighting and can bring smoothness and sophistication to a room.
- As the quantity of fixtures increases, there is increased demand for small aperture downlights – trimless designs that leave the ceiling plane undisturbed and are appropiate for modern spaces – and concealed cove lighting at intersections of wall, ceiling and floor planes.
- Developments of LEDs (light emitting diodes) and use of the three primary colours can offer endless alternatives with colour mixing, she maintains. “The best rooms to experiment with such ideas would be the playroom, the cinema room or even a swimming pool area. Often one can have normal white light and just add the colour at certain times for fun.”
- Many designers have been working with fibre optics and LEDs in recent years. Both offer the lighting designer minature light outputs, cool touch temperature and the option to colour change. “They are ideal for low level integrated lighting; lighting with glass and sculptures; washes of light; and fibreoptics are also ideal for water features,” says Storey. She stresses that each need careful design and at this stage are not the alternative to low voltage but another tool.
Author and lighting consultant Sally Storey gives her top tips in this room by room guide:
- Kitchens: Angle your downlights to focus on vertical surfaces. For instance, if your cupboard doors are attractive, light them. The reflected light will be softer than straight downlights and ideal to work by. Another source of general light in a kitchen, if a ceiling is high, is to use uplifters on top of the cupboards to provide reflected light.
- Living rooms: Usually in these areas the best general lighting is achieved from localized sources such as table lamps and wall lamps with feature lighting achieved using narrow beam low voltage sources, either to highlight the centre of a coffee table or focus on a favourite picture.
- Bathroom: At least two switches should be used, one for the general light that most commonly is provided by low voltage downlights that provide sparkle on ceramic surfaces and taps. Usually on the other switch would be task lighting to the face. Best effects are from a diffused light to either side of the mirror. If this is a tungsten source, you could combine it with a low level floor washer, a light at low level set in the wall to direct light towards the floor, a small downlight in a niche or a pair of uplighters set into the stone surround behind the bath.
- Bedroom: As this is the last room to be seen at night and first in the morning, you need lighting that will bring a calming atmosphere at night, with task lighting for reading and around a dressing table, as well as a refreshing wash of light when you waken. For a general wash of light, particularly if your bedroom has a fairly low ceiling, downlights can be effective if they reflect light to the walls and floor and are used in conjunction with table lamps. If bright light is unnecessary, table lamps strategically positioned around the bedroom can often be enough.
- Home Office: The most important requirement when lighting a work area is an effective task light. A successful balance must be achieved between this and the general light to avoid eyestrain. Task light could be provided by a desk lamp, or if there are shelves above the desk, by lighting fixed to, or underneath the shelving.
- Playroom: With children to consider, the best lighting would be wall-mounted tungsten halogen uplights. They provide a bright shadow-free light and when dimmed, produce a warm light to quieten children in the evening. In a basement playroom, you may well also want to use low voltage downlights to increase the sense of daylight. Freestanding lamps are best avoided with little people running around.