Bright strategy for lighting planners

By Morwenna Brett, August 1, 2008
Dramatic and practical uplighters, from a large selection at John Lewis

Dramatic and practical uplighters, from a large selection at John Lewis

With all the disturbance to walls, floors and ceiling, installing a perfect lighting system should be considered very early on in a decorating project. But we don’t live in an ideal world — so here are ways to give your lighting a lift without too much trouble and expense.

Seen in a bad light?
Good lighting should not draw attention to itself. Whether traditional or contemporary, it should enhance a space without being obvious. It’s usually when lighting is bad that we pay attention — when it is too bright, too gloomy, glaring in your eyes, or pointing up the wrong areas in a room.

Glaring mistakes
Good lighting is about flexibility — the ability to change from a functional working kitchen, for example, to an intimate dining space at the touch of a button. A flood of flat bright light may be effective for a workspace, but it’s not pleasant for a long period of time.

Reflected light — from wallwashers or uplighters — gives good ambient lighting that is still soft. Adding accent lighting then creates the drama by spotlighting objects such as window treatments, works or art, or architecture. Don’t overdo it – the focus should be on the object, not the source of light.

A large room does not have to be evenly lit. It can be made to feel more cosy with a few pools of softer light — table lamps are good for this, as are picture lights. This focuses attention on specific areas. You can vary the light quite significantly with a clever choice of shade on table and standard lamps — opaque shades throw the light up and down, translucent ones diffuse it.

Suspended animation
The central pendant light is often the main source of light in a room. Unexciting with little focus or direction on its own, it can be brought to life with the addition of other lighting, from table lamps to uplighters. The advantage of pendant lighting is that it allows the light source to be somewhere else than the walls, floor or ceiling — it can hover over a table or counter top.

In older properties with rough, patchy plaster you should keep light off the ceiling surface by using downlighters, or pendant fittings that don’t cast light upwards. By creating a bit of shadow at ceiling height, you don’t draw attention to any imperfections.

Rear window
A simple, uncluttered interior décor often means that the windows are left relatively uncovered. However these windows can form dark holes at night, and reflections in the glass may be unsettling. The answer is to bring the light outside the window to a similar level to that inside, by designing a simple lighting system for the garden. This does not have to be elaborate — garden lighting is not an imitation of daylight but a way of focusing on different things at night, such as the shape of trees, the movement of leaves, foliage, or the sculptural effect of walls and steps.

Clean lines
For fuss-free lighting, plan in the maintenance and cleaning. Kitchen fitments attract grease and dirt, so enclosed fitments are best here. Make provision for dusting and cleaning decorative lighting, and changing bulbs. This is where LED-based lighting is beginning to make an impact as an alternative to conventional lamps. LEDs have a very long lifespan (up to 50,000 hours) which makes them virtually maintenance-free, so good for awkward applications such as at the top of a flight of stairs.

In the mood
Mood lighting that can be changed at the touch of a button usually involves the installation of electronic control panels and a deal of rewiring and redecorating. Recognising the awkwardness and expense of this, several manufacturers are now producing wireless control systems, with wall panels that communicate to dimmers via radio frequency. These can be retro-fitted to properties using the existing wiring set-up. The dimmers are small enough to be hidden, and they can also be added to any table lamps and uplighters that are plugged into a standard 13-amp socket.

    Last updated: 11:38am, April 22 2009