A room by room guide to getting the light right in your home
Let there be light: There are four key ways to light a home, our expert advises
In the kitchen, you should light the work spaces (eg island and counter tops) and light the dining table tool. Pendants over a dining table or island work well. Photograph: iStock
So many homes are poorly lit. Older homes tend to be under lit and newer homes over lit. Getting the balance right can be a challenge; get it right and the space will be a pleasure to be in, get it wrong and you’ll never feel comfortable in the room.
There are four key ways to light your home: ambient, task, accent and decorative and each one provides a completely different effect. You first need to decide what the area is going to be used for, then select the best option to achieve the optimum lighting for that room’s function.
Here is a room by room guide to help you get the lighting in your home absolutely right.
“This is where you can afford to do something a bit wild,” says lighting designer Rocky Wall of Wink lighting. A hallway is a transient space that people pass through rather than hang out in, so it’s the perfect space to be a little bit brave with your light choice. Make a real statement with an unusual or decorative pendant light for example. This kind of fitting not only illuminates the space but is also a feature in its own right.
Your choice of bulb is very important too as the colour of the lighting in your home can completely affect the look and feeling of your décor – so choosing the right bulbs is key. “You want to avoid cool colour temperature bulbs in hallways, this will make you and your guests look pasty and pale, always go for a warm colour temp instead,” says Wall. Colour temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin, any bulb between 2,400-2,700K will be warm, 2,700-3,500K will be lukewarm and anything over 3,500-4,000K will be cool. Most good bulb brands will display these ratings on the box.
If you have a long or narrow hallway a good tip is to place your downlights off centre. By placing the lights closer to the wall you will create a lovely scalloped effect where the light washes the wall.
This is an area that is very often over lit with far too many downlights. You should light the work spaces (eg island and counter tops) and light the dining table tool. Pendants over a dining table or island work well, put them on separate circuits to the rest of the lights in the room so you can control the atmosphere in the space. Getting the height of a pendant light over a dining table right can be tricky. Wall suggests positioning it so that “when sitting it is over your head and when standing it is under your head”.
Open plan spaces
When it comes to open plan keep the location of your furniture in mind rather than simply focusing on the ceiling. By doing this you can light the different zones more effectively. Don’t rely solely on ambient and overhead lighting – this kind of lighting is purely functional and gives an overall illumination for a space. It is generally achieved either by overhead pendants or spotlights. Make sure to include some secondary lighting such as floor and table lamps. Not only will they help to dress a room but they will also create atmosphere.
Avoid the temptation to over light a room with too many fixed downlights. Instead, position directional fittings so they light the walls to reflect light back into the room.
Have separate circuits to control the mood of the space and ensure you can dim the lights. “If you are going to go for automated lighting control this is where to go for it,” says Wall. By opting for an automated system multiple light switches around the space would be replaced with one switch plate on which each setting is programmed to allow you create the perfect atmosphere whatever the occasion.
Sitting room or den
“If you have a separate sitting room or den it’s nice to try to have a completely different kind of lighting treatment in that space,” says Wall. For example, it is nice to keep the ceilings completely clean so why not consider a mix of wall lights and either lamps or if you have built-in joinery in the room you could include some cabinet lighting to create ambience.
Home office or study
Here you need good task lighting. A desk lamp and a secondary floor or table lamp would be adequate. You could consider putting these on a 5 amp circuit to operate them off the main light switch.
Kids rooms are a bit of a movable feast says Wall “since their furniture tends to move around as they get bigger”. One central light source usually provides the most flexibility. Never try to light a bedroom with down-lights says Rocky. For a master bedroom simply lighting the room with lamps on a 5amp socket or alternatively wall lights or two even-hanging pendants either side of the bed is sufficient.
Wall advises picking something outside and lighting it really well. It creates a focal point that connects the house to the outside. “Be very conscious of your viewing points from inside the house,” says Wall. “You’ll spend more time looking out onto the garden than you will spend in your garden at night so your lighting scheme should work to highlight parts of the garden rather than light it functionally.”