Lighting is one of the most important yet most frequently overlooked aspects of interior design. It can completely transform how a space both appears and feels, and provides the opportunity to effectively create two main looks (and moods): daylight and artificial light. And of course, most people these days are perfectly well aware how vital lighting is in creating that upmarket “look and feel” to any home – after all, we are all constantly exposed to glossy magazines and television programmes that showcase designer home decor.
So how do you go about getting the same look in your own home?
Lighting is one of the most important yet most frequently overlooked aspects of interior design. It can completely transform how a space both appears and feels, and provides the opportunity to effectively create two main looks (and moods): daylight and artificial light.
And of course, most people these days are perfectly well aware how vital lighting is in creating that upmarket “look and feel” to any home – after all, we are all constantly exposed to glossy magazines and television programmes that showcase designer home decor.
So how do you go about getting the same look in your own home? - The answer, interestingly, is that you don’t and for two very good reasons.
- First, what you see on screen and in print is a carefully crafted confection that in most cases uses extra stage lighting that you never see (not unlike how photographic models are made to look “perfect” – makeup, lighting, touch-up).
- Second, what these professional designers are usually doing is “dressing a set” – deliberately picking out and accenting interesting features. No question that it’s gorgeous to look at but could you really read a book or even sit to watch TV comfortably in there?
So then, nobody is suggesting you turn your home into some kind of stage set, but nevertheless consider how set designers are able to create myriad effects and really bring a scene to life using little more than lighting. When only the utility lighting is on most stage sets are in reality quite drab and unappealing, and that is just how a poorly lit home will seem also.
The key to creating stunning home lighting that you can also actually live with is to understand the main elements of lighting and how to combine them to produce effects that not only look good but are also effective in terms of your own real world day to day use of the space. Simply trying to copy what you see in magazines and on TV won’t actually work.
The Basic Concepts of Home Lighting
So what are the main elements of home lighting?- There are 4 basic types – decorative, accent, and task and ambient – which can also be grouped into categories such as style vs. function or contrast vs. diffuse. So let’s look at what this all means.
Decorative lighting is lighting for its own sake; it deliberately draws attention to itself. Tiffany lamps are a good example.
- Ambient lighting is at the other end of the spectrum; it provides overall light that doesn’t appear to come from anywhere specific. Wall wash lights and many main ceiling fixtures fit this description – the light just generally fills the room and you don’t generally notice the source.
- Accent lighting is similar to decorative lighting except that it is the thing being lit rather than the light source itself that is the focus of attention. Any type of light that picks out features in the room counts as accent lighting.
- Task lighting is what it sounds like – usually quite bright and focused light that allows you to carry out particular tasks such as reading or preparing food.
- Decorative and accent lighting naturally pair up into the “style” category while ambient and task lighting are clearly more related to “function” – essentially the difference between looking cute and being useful. Contrast lighting encompasses task and accent light both of which aim to bring specific items into sharp focus, albeit for different reasons, and diffuse lighting covers both ambient and decorative lighting that is much softer and visually relaxing.
Thinking back to the interior decor “life style” magazine shots we mentioned at the beginning of this article. These are invariably heavily unbalanced in favour of “style” – decorative and particularly accent lights – but to work well in a normal domestic setting, lighting needs to be a balance of the various forms.
Clearly an area such as the kitchen is likely to be weighted most towards task lighting with little to none in the way of decorative lights. By contrast the lounge will look and feel best if the accent (excuse the pun) is on accent and decorative lighting.
Putting It All Together
So how do you combine all these elements to produce a successful home lighting design? - With a bit of common sense really. Put main ambient lights on their own circuit, preferably controlled by a dimmer switch. Task lighting should go where the task is likely to be performed, so under cabinet strip lights that shine onto the worktops make sense in the kitchen, and a reading lamp behind where you might want to sit to read for example. It should also be separately switchable so you can eliminate it when not required.
Lighting effects do different things from uplighting to downlighting, from shadowing to mirroring. Our downloadable pdf gives you all the information you need to know.
The first digit of an IP rating describes its protection from solid objects such as gravel, insects and other dust. The second digit relates to its protection from moisture, which is directly relevant to the bathroom. The higher the number, the more protection it has.
Diagram and explanation of bathroom lighting zones: