The way your home is lit can dictate the way it feels and functions. The right lighting will make your home inviting, and provide safety and security. The wrong lighting can do the opposite, and worse. Bad lighting can cause health problems like headaches and impaired vision. So why do we often leave lighting until last when we’re planning a room?
We asked some experts for their advice on getting lighting right in your home.
It all starts with light
According to Coco Republic interior designer Jodie Kingman, lighting is a vital element in any room. “It sets the mood and tone of a space,” says Jodie. “Bad lighting can alienate the furniture and people in the space, creating a tense or uncomfortable environment.”
Interior designer Bronwyn Poole runs Touch Interiors in Sydney; Bronwyn agrees and says lighting is crucial to making the space come to life, “Many designers would go so far as to say it is the most important factor in interior design.”
“Lighting is integral to the dynamics of space within a room as it can alter your mood and change the colour of your walls and furnishings,” Bronwyn adds.
Know your lighting possibilities
So how do you get the right lighting for your home?
Firstly, you should know your lighting options. Generally lighting can be broken down into three main types:
- Ambient or general lighting, which provides overall illumination for the room. It’s the cornerstone of lighting a room, and usually consists of ceiling, wall or recessed lights.
- Task lighting, which is used for specific jobs like cooking, reading, putting on makeup or doing homework.
- Accent lighting, which brings drama and depth to a room by illuminating key features like artwork, books, or architectural features.
“A great room will have all three”, says Bronwyn.
Create a lighting plan
Given how integral lighting is to our experience of a building, most experts agree that you should plan it, just like you plan any other part of a build or renovation. Bronwyn advises, “Many lighting shops offer free advice but for larger projects consider engaging a lighting expert”. A well-considered lighting plan can help create continuity, build inviting spaces and solve problem areas. Work out your needs, but don’t overcomplicate it.
Jodie Kingman says considering all the different ways to light a room will give the best result, “Lamps can create intimacy and mood at different heights within the room. Consider the wattage, don’t use a high wattage throughout, different task areas require different levels of light. For example, a softer light near the sofa and a stronger light in the kitchen. There are some really innovate designs on the market at the moment that are mixing different materials – try a timber, copper or gold, even corrugated cardboard light fittings”.
Each room has different lighting needs
Bathroom: Combine strong task lighting with ambient lighting. Light mirrors from each side or above. Avoid shadowy corners in showers or baths by adding some light. Under cabinet or floor lighting can help for night time trips to the loo.
Bedroom: Think about mood lighting, dimmer switches, wardrobe lighting, dressing table and bedside table lamps. You might want to invest in remote control options you can use from bed. Kids and babies might need safe nightlights.
Lounge: Feature lights can add a decorative splash. Make sure you can adjust the lighting or dim it for watching TV. Accent lighting works well in a lounge – and don’t forget about the cosy warmth of fire light in winter! Bronwyn Poole says focus more on up-lighting (floor lamp or wall lights) which offers a purer quality of light through refracting off the ceiling. Or use side table lamps which offer a softer more ambient light.
Kitchen: Your kitchen cabinets can showcase your treasures and collectibles with feature lighting. Recessed downlights and task lighting are also great in kitchens. Bronwyn Poole suggests you consider practical applications such as a sensor to turn your light on when you open your pantry door.
Dining: Candlelight can be a great additional light source and dining tables lend themselves to feature pendants or chandeliers, but bear in mind experts say the light should be narrower than the table. Wall sconces above sideboards and track lighting above tables are also options.
Hallways: Hallways are rooms too, and need to be safely lit. Light stairs from above if there’s one central light and make sure there are no dark shadows or corners. Using accent lighting on paintings or treasures can turn a thoroughfare into a gallery. Bronwyn Poole suggests thinking about designing the switching of your lights, for example on a two way switch or in zones.
Bronwyn advises that planning the little things in each room will affect the way you use your space on a daily basis.
Work with existing natural light
The best (and cheapest) light is natural light. But the quality of your natural light depends on the aspect of your room. East facing rooms are sunny in the mornings, while west facing rooms suffer afternoon glare. If it faces north you might be trying to tone it down, but if it faces south you’ll be trying to amp it up.
You can maximise natural light by hanging mirrors opposite windows, using light, sheer window coverings, reflective surfaces, and a lighter colour palate.
Conversely you can reduce harsh light with filtering blinds, darker softer fabrics and textures.
You can maximise natural light by hanging mirrors opposite windows.
Get the right light bulbs
It’s not just where or what to light, you’ve also got to consider the minefield that is light bulbs or globes. Energy efficient, halogen, LED, fluorescent, incandescent – the list goes on. The Australian Government is working with states and territories to gradually phase out inefficient incandescent light bulbs.
Jodie says the right light globe depends on the shade, “Is the globe visible or hidden? There are some fantastic bulb shapes around right now. My favourite is an oversized style with attention to the filaments.”
We all know light bulbs come in a variety of wattages, but they also come in a variety of shades – from warm to cool light tones, or bright white, to blueish, to yellowish. This is the ‘colour temperature’ of light measured in degrees Kelvin. The lower the Kelvin the more yellow the light and the higher the Kelvin the bluer the light. White light is generally 3500K to 4100K. A warmer globe is generally preferable in a residential setting but a cooler globe may be more suitable for applications such as strip lighting in bulkheads.
“There are also many decorative globes on the market now that are equally the feature along with the light,” Bronwyn says.
Not all bulbs are good for all lights, and not all work with dimmers. It pays to do some research.
The right lighting tricks can make a small room feel bigger, or a big room feel cosy. Here’s a few basic tips:
- Use up-lights or washes to make a small room feel bigger
- Vertical lights to make a room feel taller
- Table lamps reduce the light going towards the ceiling, which makes the room feel cosier
“The absence of lighting is probably the most common mistake I come across, or using just the one type of lighting,” says Jodie. “Make sure the light is flattering and give some thought to what you want to highlight, it might be lighting a dark corner, highlighting the texture of a brick or rendered wall or maybe it’s the fitting itself that will introduce warmth, colour and another surface.”
For an open plan space Bronwyn Poole recommends considering the lounge, kitchen and dining area as three separate spaces and having individual lighting solutions for all three. She also says to make sure you have all spaces covered and that no corner is left unlit.
But getting the right balance is key, “I always go by the rule less is more, as over lighting is far less forgiving than under lighting,” Bronwyn concludes.
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