10 tips for beautiful lighting, in collaboration with Deborah Eveque-Moor
1 Prepare to prepare
Like epic battles, hot dates and bake-offs, lighting is all in the preparation.
It is crucial to have a good idea of how our furniture and equipment (e.g. worktops, TV, tables, sitting areas) is going to be arranged in order to create a lighting plan around these elements. This is why this phase has to be planned as upstream as possible in the process, with your architect or your interior designer if you employ one.
Lack of preparation often translates into the Square Grid of Despair: equally spaced rows of downlighters covering the ceiling. Great for a mail sorting room or an operating theatre. Not so conducive to a cosy home.
Think about the position of your sofas, your dining table, where your artwork will be positioned on the walls. Think of this artefact that would deserve a pencil light on a dark background. Direct light where you will need it or where you want to draw the eye to. Don’t be afraid of leaving some areas in (relative) darkness.
2 What’s the scenario?
The dynamics of a room change with the time of the day, mood and social occasions.
A bright open plan lounge is great in the early evening if the children are going to do their homework while you cook, but you may want something softer later in the evening.
Think of the most likely scenarios: how can your lighting adapt to all of them?
The solution is usually to have more light circuits so you can easily tailor the lighting to fit each scenario. Your humble dimmer switch is a powerful ally as it will allow you to model your lighting at will.
3 Lutron or not Lutron? That is the question
If you have a larger property and do not feel like fiddling about with scores of switches, you may consider using a system like Lutron, which creates preprogrammed lighting scenes at the flick of a button.
Good to know: there are now many cheaper alternatives such as Wise, which serve the same purpose of creating “lighting scenes” at the touch of a button. They may not all offer the bells and whistles, but experience shows that not everyone uses all the functions offered by top-end solutions.
4 Downlighters, yes, but also sidelighters and uplighters
Traditionally, downlighters provide the bulk of the overall lighting. Good news is, downlighters no longer need to be your simple straight down, round bezel affair.
- We love trimless downlighters: with these recessed, plastered-in fittings, light comes out of a light well in the ceiling and many fittings now have directional beams. They are definitely a step forward from the classic type. They must, however, be fitted before plastering
- Some downlighters should be called “sidelighters” as you can direct the beam away from the vertical to light up a wall sideways. This is a good solution if you have artwork to illuminate
- Equally, placing these sidelighters, say, one metre from a wall will create a dramatic ‘bridge arches’ effect.
- Uplighters are also great to add drama by underlining some features (e.g. a fireplace)
5 Play light architect
Of course, the primary goal is to light your interior. However, lighting is rarely about getting a perfectly homogenous flow in all the areas. The idea is to take the best features of the room (in architectural terms) and to enhance them. In turn, this means resisting the urge to install too many downlighters in the centre of a room – unless you have a good reason to. More often than not, they are not needed and they actually kill any lighting effect by creating a homogenous light flow in all locations. It is perfectly OK to leave some areas of a room in relative darkness.
You can use directional spots to emphasise, say, a nice ceiling beam structure or a feature wall – and use standalone floorlights to illuminate areas that you use less often.
Equally, do not hesitate to add interest to an expanse of wall by adding e.g. “sidelighters” placed at regular intervals (every metre, for instance), with the beams directed towards the top of the wall: you will end up with a series of arches that will inject drama in your scheme. A small spotlight outlining the angle of a staircase is another option, or a series of small recessed light revealing the stair threads are also good classic examples.
6 The room-by-room basic rules
Kitchen: good overhead task lights above the worktops and cooking area is important, under unit lighting provides the rest of the base lighting. Dimmers are indispensable. Again, nothing prevents you from leaving an area a bit darker and to use a pencil (narrow beam) downlighter to accentuate an interesting kitchen utensil (say you happen to own a display set of Japanese Takayuki knives you are particularly proud of or the most green-with-envy inducing bean-to-cup coffee maker anywhere North of Milan).
Living room: Add light in 2 or 3 corners, possibly using pencil downlights on the artefacts, plants or interesting pieces of furniture. Mix downlighters with local lighting, e.g. using a floorlamp or a reading lamp next to siting areas.
Dining room: light your table with a chandelier or a pendant light to direct the eyes toward the table, but don’t do a Versailles (i.e. a debauchery of Watts). Lighting like LED strips in shadow gaps of above cornices is a great to provide the ambient light.
Bedroom: no downlighters above the bed! Use wall lights and reading lights, do not hesitate to have several soft light sources. This is your sanctuary, not a gaming arcade.
Bathroom: downlighters work well (check their IP rating, that is, if they are safe to install near potential water splashes), we would suggest you use a dimmer so you can turn the light right down when you want to enjoy a relaxing bath. Make sure that you have a diffused source of lighting around your mirror: think of an artist make-up table, with all the bulbs around the mirror. You can mimic this using side lighting
7 The Strip: not only in Vegas
LED recessed strips are a killer trick for lighting designers: with them, you can create fabulous light shapes. The LED strip itself is actually encased in an aluminium shallow profile that is recessed in the ceiling plasterboard. You can create lines that act as e.g. a lead-in into your house, or that are long runs that can emphasise the size of a room.
The same LED strips can be used to light upward when installed on the recess of a cornice, providing a halo of diffuse light. In the same way, you can fit them in shadow gaps at the junction between ceilings and the wall. They then create an almost magical effect of light coming from no apparent source.
While you can use them as accent lighting, the most powerful strips are now capable of providing effective light flow. Best of all, these strips can be dimmable: turn them down, and enjoy a brilliant post-dinner atmosphere reminiscent of candlelight.
8 Tecchie bit 1: hello, Lumens
We love LEDs! They run cool, look cool, save you money and quite possibly the planet. But let’s admit it: most of us have no idea how much light this new-fangled 5W LED bulb is going to throw.
Lumens are your friend! This is a measurement of light flow that you will always find on the bulb or fitting package. A classic 50 W halogen bulb gave a light flow of approximately 500 Lumens, so this is a good comparison point.
When choosing LEDs, we find Lumens more useful than Watt, as the actual light output of an LED for a given consumption
- Areas in the house that do only require ambient lighting can do with 100 to 150 Lumens per square metre.
- Your kitchen worktop may be happier with 250 to 500 Lumens per square metre.
Again, it is better to install a few more circuits and beef up your lighting power: dimmers or lighting system will allow you to turn the intensity down – but you can never crank up an under-dimensioned system.
9 Tecchie bit 2: turn the heat on
Do you remember the first LED lights, which gave a horrid, harsh and blue light? This is no longer the case. Choose the warmth of your LED lights using their temperature in Kelvin:
- a light of 2,700K will be very soft and yellow – think candle light hue.
- 3,000 to 3,500K is normally still classed as warm, but less perceptibly yellow.
- above 4,000K, the light will start being moving to a cooler tinge (yes, the hotter the Kelvin, the cooler the hue!)
- 5,000K and above will look blue and clinical. Typically, this is the kind of light your security LED light would give.
10 techie bit 3: from wide beam to laser-like
You can also specify the beam angle for your LED bulbs (usually, these will be ‘GU 10’ type for mains powered bulbs), with is great for recessed downlighter.
- If you would like to illuminate an artefact on a plinth, a narrow spot (around 15 ˚) will inject a lot of drama by creating a pencil light.
- Around 30 to 40 ˚ will create an average cone of light that will create a fairly defined spot: good for general lighting or task lighting when you install a few of them in an overlapping pattern.
- Anything at or above 40 ˚ is good to create a diffuse light to light up a volume.