It wasn’t that long ago when lighting your home meant installing one central light fixture per room, putting in a bulb and adding a lampshade. How times have moved on – thank goodness. Now there’s a whole host of looks you can go for and atmospheres you can create.
There are plenty of lighting designers and interior designers you can hire to create a lighting design plan for you and – for large, complicated spaces – they are well worth the money.
If your budget won’t stretch that far, there are still some simple guidelines you can follow to get the best lighting solution for your space. Here’s our low-down on lighting your home.
Think in layers
One common mistake that homeowners often make is that they use too much overhead lighting, which leads to a lack of atmosphere, warmth and drama.
Every lighting plan should take into account three layers of illumination: ambient or general lighting, accent lighting and task lighting. Our Residential Lighting Guide explains how to incorporate these into your plans.
Avoid shadows and glare
Overhead lights can cast downward shadows, so avoid these in kitchens and bathrooms in particular. You can create more of the appropriate light you need if you use under-cupboard lighting for food preparation areas in addition to overhead pendants (as in the image below).
Equally, in bathrooms, introduce a wall light either side and at the top of a vanity mirror to make it easier to see when shaving or applying make-up. The light at the top of the mirror should be directed into the mirror to bounce the light back out at your face.
When light comes from three directions, shadows are eliminated. That’s why the showbiz-style mirrors of bygone days tended to have lights running along the three edges for perfect illumination of the face.
For work spaces, position a desk lamp so that detailed work becomes easier to see. Avoid glare and eye strain by directing the light downwards onto the workspace and not towards your face or screen. It’s best to buy a desk light with a long stem and a moveable arm, so that you can direct the light to where you need it the most.
Use dimmer switches
They are the best-kept secret in residential lighting schemes. You can control the mood, intensity of light and energy use by installing dimmer switches where possible. Dimmer switches, in conjunction with layered lighting, help you to avoid ‘lighting fatigue’ – where there is just one light level and no shadows in the room.
Yes, really. The last thing you want is your lighting fixtures to look disproportionately small or large – easily done when you view items online or next to other items in a store.
You can avoid this mistake by taking measurements with you when shopping in stores. At home, use a tape measure to imagine the size of the light in its intended place or (if you find that difficult) cut out an approximate cardboard version of it.
The last thing you want is an incorrectly hung light for someone to walk into or one that’s so high up that it creates long shadows. As a general rule:
- the bottom of the shade for a table lamp should be at eye level when you’re seated next to it to avoid glare from the bulb;
- a chandelier should be 165cm from the dining-room floor;
- and the bottom of a pendant light over a kitchen island should be 75-90cm directly above the work surface.
Staircases tend to have awkward angles to them. Having just overhead lighting will create shadows and dark corners, which will make your staircase unsafe. Include wall sconces and floor-level spotlights directed along the treads of the stairs to make them safer and glamorous.
There’s a plethora of fun designs for children’s lighting, but don’t forget to choose ones that can be updated as your child grows older. For babies’ and toddlers’ bedrooms, a nightlight provides a soft glow that they’ll find comforting while they sleep and will allow you to see during visits in the night to feed, change or comfort them.