Chapter Four: Lighting Design

Learn how to illuminate your home's interior with chapter four of the Houseology Design School - your complete guide to interior design.


Design School

Nothing can make or break a scheme the way that lighting can. Good lighting design should be an integral element of the interior design scheme of every room as it is critical for creating the right mood and ambience as well as offering practical solutions to help you go about your daily life.

Designer lighting can come in many forms – think of architectural uplighting that highlights the room’s features to the more common forms of wall lights, table lamps and ceiling pendants.

This chapter is all about the practical things you need to know to create a well-considered lighting scheme and make it a success. We’re sharing the methods the professionals use to transform rooms into interesting, warm spaces full of character and what you need to know to transfer this expertise to your own home.

01.Understanding the different types of lighting

The most important rule to creating a good lighting plan for the home is to use different types of lighting to create your overall look. You don’t need to spend a fortune to make your rooms feel light and lively. Instead, it’s all about using a combination of different lighting styles that will vary in intensity and accommodate all the different activities that occur in your space during the day and night.

The biggest mistake people make is expecting one type of lighting to do it all. Each lighting type meets a particular need, and by layering these you can create atmosphere and mood in your space and highlight key aspects of your room’s design. There are three main layers of lighting to think about:

Ambient or mood lighting is the base layer of lighting that provides the overall illumination to your space and sets the ambience with warm pools of light. Done properly, it should add a comfortable level of brightness without creating glare.

Accent or directional lighting highlights key features in your room design, such as artwork or architectural elements. This type of lighting acts almost like a spotlight to help bring forward key features in your space. This shouldn’t cast a harsh light and instead works without drawing too much attention.

Task lighting adds brightness to areas of a room where daily activities are performed. Task lighting should be bright enough to prevent eye strain but not so powerful that it creates shadows or glare.

Consider each of these elements when designing your space – kitchens and workspaces tend to need more task lighting, while a combination of ambient and accent lighting in a living room will help make your space feel cosy and relaxed.

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02.Designing your own lighting scheme

The best time to plan a new lighting scheme is during a home renovation at the same time as the plumbing. This is the easiest time to install new fittings as it won’t interfere with any finishes or require repainting as a result of the process.

To begin, take a notepad and paper and walk around your home or to any spaces where you want to work on your lighting scheme. Ask yourself:

01. What do I use this space for? Take a note of all the activities this room usually accommodates, whether it’s cooking, reading, watching television, sleeping, playing or socialising.
02. What is on display in each room? Is there anything in this space you want to make a feature of, for example a painting, plant or fireplace? This will be useful to know when you begin thinking about your accent lighting.
03. How much natural light does this room get and where is it coming from? Is it a south-facing room where sunlight comes in directly through the windows or is it north-facing and tends to only receive indirect light?
04. What time of day do you use this space most? Does your family use this room strictly in the mornings or evenings or is it used throughout the day?

The answers to these questions will all help you determine what kind of light you need and where. Next, use a drawing of your room to help mark out where your lighting should go. Include fixtures such as doors, windows and fireplaces as well as the direction people will be most often facing. It’s also important to mark existing power sources and outlets and where large pieces of furniture and artwork will go.

Take into consideration how you’ll manage your lighting as well – recessed ceiling lights might seem practical, but if your ceilings are high and you struggle to change the bulbs, they won’t be a great solution for your lifestyle. If young children or pets will use this space, this will also impact on the lighting scheme; table lamps with wires don’t work well in children’s bedrooms because of the safety hazard they present.

Though you may be working on each room in your home individually, it’s also worth thinking about your lighting as a whole – how does your lighting scheme transition from room to room; is one room dark while the adjacent is very bright? Consider what the main light sources are and how easy they are to turn on and off to ensure your house flows effortlessly from room to room.

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03.The practical elements

Taking into account the practicalities will make sure your lighting scheme not only looks great but is easy and effortless as well. During planning consider the following:

Fit several circuits in each room and if possible have no more than two lights controlled from each wall-mounted panel, that way you can adjust the different lighting elements individually to create the right lighting for the activity and time of day.

Putting your lights on dimmers is the fastest, most affordable way to transform a lighting scheme – it makes it easy to adjust light levels and can help tailor your ambient and accent lights to the occasion without the hassle of installing new fittings.

It may make more sense to replace the ceiling than to patch up sections depending on the scheme you choose – how old your home is and the room you wish to install new lighting in will all have an impact on how advanced the process needs to be.

04.Decorative lighting

Lighting is one of the finishing touches that brings a design scheme to life and the fixtures themselves will be an important aspect of your room’s overall style. Consider how your lighting can add a creative edge to your space and how you can pull a scheme together with the style of fixtures you choose. Repeating shapes and colours throughout a room will help to create a complete composition in your space and synergy in your design.

Types of decorative lighting include:

Suspended from the ceiling, chandeliers direct ambient light upward and are typically placed over a table or in the centre of the room to add drama.

Ceiling lights
Ceiling lights are mounted directly to the ceiling and use a glass or plastic shade to conceal the light bulb. They have been the most common ambient lighting fixture in the home for nearly a century.

Wall sconces
Wall sconces can direct light up or down and will create ambient and accent lighting in a space. These are also ideal for rooms with young children.

Desk, floor and table lamps
Lamps are perfect for both task and ambient light and can be customised by choosing different bases and lampshades.

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05.Understanding the different light sources

The fittings you choose will have a big impact on how light is distributed around your room – think about where you’ll put them and whether you want to conceal the light source or use them as a design element in your room.

Use your lighting plan to guide you and consider the architecture of your home; it’s perfectly possible to have modern track lighting alongside period features as long as both are blended carefully. Always consider the different light sources in the context of the room itself. Some common fittings include:

Cove, soffit and valance fittings are integrated into the structure of the room and cleverly concealed behind architectural fixtures. Light is bounced towards the ceiling, floor or wall to create ambient lighting that’s indirect and doesn’t have any shadows or glare.

Recessed lighting sits flush with the ceiling and sends a narrow band of light downwards in one direction. It’s versatile enough to be used as task or accent lighting, or to provide ambient lighting by installing several fittings around the room.

Track lighting is mounted from the ceiling and consists of a line of spotlights or heads that can be positioned in any direction along the track. Used for task and accent lighting, this is a great choice if you need direct lighting in a few different areas around the same room, for example in the kitchen.

Under-cabinet lights are a popular form of task lights, most commonly installed in the kitchen under cabinets to illuminate the countertop. It can be linear or a single round-shaped fixture.

Pendant lighting is suspended from the ceiling and directs light downwards. You can use them to create ambient or task lighting in your space, for example by hanging a decorative chandelier over a table or kitchen island.

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06.Finding the right bulb

Your fittings and fixtures are only part of the story; the light bulb you choose can have just as big an impact on your overall lighting scheme. Think about your light source and what purpose it serves when choosing your bulb as different bulbs are suited to different tasks.

Bulbs have changed a lot in the last few years as laws and methods changed. Low energy fittings typically offer a much cooler type of light than traditional filament bulbs, so pay close attention to the type of light the bulb gives off and how much brightness. Types of bulb include:

This is the traditional bulb that’s has recently been phased out by British and EU government regulations. These bulbs are only available for special-purpose, like cooker hoods and fridges. They give off an instant warm light and a clear finish, are fully dimmable and last approximately 1,000 hours.

Halogen bulbs are the closest replacement to tungsten bulbs, but are more energy efficient and have a longer lifetime. They give off an instant bright, white light and come in a clear finish. They are fully dimmable and perfect for chandeliers, glass shades, touch lamps, dimmers and spotlights.

Compact fluorescent bulbs
Also refereed to as energy-saving bulbs, CFL bulbs have a lifetime of up to 10,000 hours. They give off a warm, white light and come in an opaque finish. These light bulbs are perfect for rooms that need ambient, soft light and work well with table and floor lamps and bathroom lamps with fabric, glass or acrylic shades. CFL bulbs can take up to 60 seconds to warm up and are not dimmable, so be aware of that when using these bulbs.

LED or Light Emitting Diode bulbs are the most energy-efficient available, with a lifetime of up to 25,000 hours. They give off an instant, warm white light and come in a clear, opal or frosted finish, making them very versatile. LED lights work best for spotlights, children’s lights and night lights as the bulbs stay cool even after hours of use. There are dimmable versions available, but in general LED lights are not suitable for touch lamps.

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07.Next steps

Next we’ll look at how colour and texture can impact your space and bring together your room design, and how to create a colour scheme that suits your style and enhances your space.

Colour and texture interior design