The way we illuminate the spaces in which we live, work, and play can have an important impact on the quality of our lives. As anyone who has ever worked or studied in a poorly lit space and wound up with a headache will know, improper lighting can affect your mood and even your health. Getting a handle on the basics of good lighting design will help you create a warm, inviting, and efficient home.
The five types of lighting
When designing a lighting plan, there are five types of lighting to consider. A great lighting scheme is flexible and adapts to the time, purpose, and occasion; for example, in the living room, you may want task lights to read by, an ambient light for socializing with friends, and some atmospheric lights for parties. Most design schemes will probably want to include all or a number of these five types:
1. Task lighting
Task lighting is the light that we work by – whether that be writing, drawing, cooking, etc. It includes desk lamps, under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen, and any other type of lighting that casts directed light on a specific task. A good desk lamp should be flexible (with an adjustable or bendable arm) and even movable (think clip-on lamps) for ease of use, like this example:
2. Ambient lighting
Ambient lighting supplies your base level of indirect illumination in a room, generally in the form of a central pendant fixture, as in the photo below. It can be a little bland alone, but works very well alongside accent and task lights:
3. Accent lighting
Accent lighting complements ambient lighting. It is used to add depth and texture to a room, and also to highlight specific elements, such as paintings and architectural details. Up- and down-lighters, angled spots, and track lights are all good at providing accent light, and can be seen at work in this example:
4. Atmospheric lighting
This is for creating specific moods – think twinkle lights, candles, colored bulbs, and even fiber optics. Have fun playing with these lights to create atmosphere – use candles to make an intimate or romantic dinner table the focal point of a room, or hang twinkle lights around door frames or indoor tree branches for special occasions.
5. Decorative lighting
Here, the light fixture is an important feature of the interior design in its own right. A typical example is an elegant or ornate chandelier:
Planning a lighting scheme
Ready to start purchasing and planning where to hang those lamps? Don’t forget these essentials:
- Tailor lighting to use
Sit down in your space and think about how it is used at various times of the day. List all the activities that will be taking place in the room, and note beside each one what type of lighting would be most appropriate – task lighting for studying, dimmers for dining, or under-cupboard lighting for cooking.
- Use light to pick out important items
Do you have any features that you want to highlight? These could be anything from a beautiful column to a specially framed photo or painting, and are perfect places to apply accent lighting.
- Position sockets according to furnishings and features
Certain elements in your room are fixed (built-in closets, chimney breasts, radiators, etc.) and others are moveable (free-standing furniture, artwork, rugs, etc.). When deciding where to install electrical plugs, it’s good to plan ahead in order to work around these elements and make the room work effectively as a whole.
- Put light switches in logical locations
No one wants to have to feel around in the dark for an awkwardly placed light switch (especially in entry halls), so make sure to put them where they can be easily found.
- Have adequate mains switches and plug sockets
Some of your lights will run off main switches (central pendants for example) and others will simply be plugged into wall sockets (table and task lamps), so in the planning stage you should make sure you have an adequate supply of both.
- Aim for continuity in light levels
Good lighting design should function well for each individual room, but try to avoid dramatic changes in light level from one space to another. Instead, aim for continuity by walking between rooms and checking for over- or under-lit areas.
- Choose your temperature
There are many types of light bulbs available on the market, and three basic light “temperatures” – “warm” gives a yellow toned light and is great for living rooms, hallways, and bedrooms, “white” gives off a neutral white light and is perfect for kitchens and studies, and “daylight” gives off a cool white light and is most suitable for commercial or studio use.
- Keep the environment in mind
Choose energy-efficient bulbs every time. Not only do they last longer, they are a cost saving in the long run and help to reduce unnecessary waste of electricity – all in all, an easy, smart way to be green.