Choosing the right lights for your home isn't as easy as you might first think. Here are a few tips to help you get the right mood for each space.
I ask you – do you have feelings about how and when the “big light” is turned on? Do you like to sit with all the lights on in the evening or do you select a specific few to switch on? Because if so, you’re already layering the lighting of your home.
Getting the lighting right in your home seems like a simple job. You just light it, right? But that’s exactly where so many people go wrong. Creating a comfortable and inviting ambience is tricky to achieve, it requires a thoughtful look at exactly how you use each room and choosing the right lights for each area.
Whether you’re building or have already settled into your home, there are lots of ways you can use lighting to create a vibe in a space that also works for how you use it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Natural light is the best light
The first rule of thumb when it comes to lighting your home is maximising the natural light that flows through it. Reflective surfaces and pale walls with a slight sheen will really help to move daylight around a room.
Does your home still need a little help even in the height of the sunshine? Spotlights on a dimmer will brighten a room, while the subtlety of the dimmer means you can keep lighting low enough that it doesn’t really feel like the lights are on. A good electrician can install spotlights in an afternoon and they also mean that you don’t have to decide what kind of ceiling pendant you need to diffuse that bare bulb.
2. Types of lighting
There are three mains types of lighting: ambient, task and accent. Ambient lighting is an eye-level, diffused light that should light the space based on how it is mostly used, and eliminate shadows. Spotlights, a tall floor lamp in a hallway, and a table lamp beside a sofa are all examples of ambient lighting.
Task lighting is more functional, it should be brighter and focus in on areas where light is required, like the dining table, kitchen countertops and low-lighting on staircases and hallways to guide people through.
Finally, accent lighting is all about drawing attention. A spotlight directed at artwork or around mirrors are types of accent lighting.
3. Layer it up
Now that you know the different types of lighting, you need to figure out how to use them. The key is layering one over another and ensuring a balance. Start with your ambient lighting, varying it on different levels between the ceiling and the floor.
Consider where you need your task lighting and then incorporate it in a way that doesn’t overpower your ambient lights. Finally, accent lighting will help to highlight any areas you want to draw the eye.
It’s always best to vary the heights of your lighting. Not only does this give the appearance of space, but it’s also great for subtly dividing up an open-plan room – a low light by a chair in one corner makes for a perfect spot to relax, while an arching floor lamp over a sofa corner is ideal for reading.
4. Tune into your movements
Blue light in the bedroom is a major mistake. Our bodies are naturally aware of the movements of the sun and blue light is associated with dawn and waking up. Yellowy-toned lighting is much more lulling for bedtime.
Much like the sun, come dusk, the light is very low in the sky and your evening lighting should replicate that.
Your bedroom lighting should be low, indirect and yellow in tone. Meanwhile, at your coffee machine, a bright white or blue-tinted light will help to wake you up (though probably not as much as the caffeine).
5. Proportion is everything
Generally, small lights can be hung lower, while large pieces should be higher. If you do opt for low-slung lights in your living room or bedroom, keep in mind that you need to be able to see and move around them. Equally, a monster pendant light over the dining table needs to be high enough for guests to see each other under it, and not worry about knocking their heads off when they stand up from the table – especially after a few glasses of wine.
Generally, the higher the ceiling, the bigger a light fixture it can take, a large piece in a small space will just look cluttered.
6. Don’t forget functional lighting
Sometimes we’re so obsessed with setting “a mood” we forget that we actually need to live and function well in the space. Areas like bathrooms, kitchen countertops and staircases need to be visible. This doesn’t have to mean shadow-inducing down-lighting either, in fact, up-lighting can be ideal for these highly functional spaces. Consider installing lights on your stair treads, in the back of shelves and around the edges of mirrors. This will all help to light the space, without distracting from it.
7. Consider your bulb selection
When LED bulbs were first launched a few years ago, they gave off a horribly sharp light that resembled truck headlights. It understandably put people off. But the technology has come along so quickly and now not only are LED far more environmental and economical, they come in a variety of hues and brightness levels.
If you are looking for dimmer options, make sure you read the box in the shop as not all LEDs (or regular bulbs for that matter) are dimmable.
This article was originally published in November 2021.