The Art of Good Lighting
Peter Stutchbury Architects Lighthouse. Photo Michael Nicholson
Just as poor lighting can really drag a room down, good lighting can make a room GREAT. Walking into a room with the perfect lighting is total joy to the senses but if it is doing its job correctly then you probably won't even know why the room feels so good, it just does.
I'll never forget being told about a family friend who has a beautiful home in England who would disappear for 10 minutes upon returning home to turn on all the lights throughout the house and the result was stunning - no recessed down-lights here, we're talking a house full of beautiful wall sconces, floor and table lamps, pendants and chandeliers. The sort of house where once the lights came on then you'd imagine accompanying jazz music, wine and lots of laughter would soon follow.
Okay, so taking 10 minutes to switch on all the lights might be a slight exaggeration and we might not all have a beautiful house in the English countryside but fortunately these days we do have access to many great lighting options sold by lighting experts who can help produce well-thought out lighting plans that will enhance your space. You don't need to feel overwhelmed by the choice, use experts to help give you direction - your role could be as simple as providing information about the rooms and their function and letting your designer or lighting experts do the rest.
If you do want to be more involved then a little bit of consideration and planning can make all the difference. Aside from that here's a few tips to consider:
What happens in the room? Plan lighting based on what will happen in the room. For example a guest powder room works well with soft, warm lighting whereas a high-use bathroom will need some task lighting near mirrors in additional to ambient lighting. A bedroom will need some task lighting for reading just as a dining room will need ambient lighting for socialising. You might have a beautiful piece of art that disappears at night-time or during certain parts of the day - this is where accent lighting will make the artwork come alive. I love the well considered lighting in this London apartment by Studio Ashby below.
Think about light colour - bulbs can give cool or warm light. Generally I prefer a warm glow where possible however some cooler tones that mimic daylight are more suitable for study desk areas or work areas in the kitchen.
Dimmers wherever possible - overhead lights always benefit from dimmers. The ability to control the level of light for time of day, mood, or activity should not be underestimated. Dimmers are well worth the investment in my book.
Combine & blend - think about a mixture of lamps, wall lights and overhead lighting. Lighting strategic areas in a room means light can blend well together to create the best effect. Combining different light sources is most important for living, reception and family areas.
Below Helen Green Design has cleverly used a combination of lighting to great effect.
Overhead is not always best - think about lighting from different directions, often a combination of both works best. For example overhead lights on their own in a bathroom can cast annoying shadows and wall lights that direct light from the side can help perfect the lighting here. Lights under shelves and cupboards in the kitchen can make all the difference. Avoid the temptation to fill the place with recessed down-lights resulting in harsh, bright rooms and 'swiss cheese' ceilings - a common mistake in modern homes and renovations.
Don't be afraid to use lights with personality - In rooms that can take it such as hallways, foyers, living rooms and powder rooms make sure lighting is part of the decoration. I'm a sucker for quirky lamps, statement pendants and oversized chandeliers.