HELPFUL TIPS BEFORE YOU GET STARTED...
You might not realise you've got bad lighting but you'll recognise the symptoms: headaches and sore eyes, frustration in the kitchen at not being able to see what you're doing and arguments in the bedroom over whose turn it is to get up to switch out the light. Good lighting will make your home feel spacious, clean and welcoming.
The key is to create a flexible scheme that takes you right through the day and all the different uses of your room. At the flick of a switch, you should be able to transform it from a bright, vibrant living space to the setting for a romantic dinner for two.
It's a fantastic asset to any home, but the quality of the light depends on the aspect of the room.
- South facing: cold and harsh rather than direct sunlight. Artists choose south-facing studios because the light gives truer colour rendition.
- East facing: bright first thing in the morning followed by long shadows and no sun later in the day. Use artificial lighting to control glare and maximise the available natural light in north- and east-facing rooms.
- North facing: warm light all day, although it changes throughout the day and year. The midday sun is usually so bright it flattens everything out. Choose north-facing rooms for the kitchen, main living areas and other rooms you spend a lot of time in.
- West facing: sunlight at the hottest part of the day, which can cause glare. In the late afternoon, you'll get long shadows and softer light.
Starting your plan
Begin by going round the house with a notepad and pen. In each room, ask yourself...
- What do I use this space for? Think about all its possible uses - your lounge might have to double up as a study, the children might need to do their homework or music practice in there, you might knit or sew or use part of the room as a studio. Do you tend to eat in the kitchen or on your lap in front of the television?
- What's on display in each room? Do you have a specific picture or plant you want to make a feature of? Note it all down, because this will determine your accent lighting.
- Who uses this room? A 60 year old uses 15 times more light for reading than a ten year old.
- At what times of day will people be in this room?
- Where does the natural light come in?
Making your plan
Now take a piece of graph paper and draw a plan of your room to help you work out the best places to put your lights. It's better if it's to scale but it doesn't have to be.
- Mark immovable fixtures, such as fireplaces, alcoves, doors and windows
- Next, mark with arrows which way people are likely to be facing - towards the television, for example, at a desk for working or towards the window if they like reading in a particular chair.
- Mark the existing sockets. In many houses there aren't enough, which can result in dangerously overloaded plugs
- To determine your circuits, mark where the light switches should be. Work logically round the entry and exit points in your home - it's frustrating when you have to feel around in the dark for a switch that is either on the wrong side of the door or non-existent.
- Mark out where you'll place large pieces of furniture, such as sofas and beds.
- Think about practicalities such as how you're going to change the bulb. What if you live in a room with extra-high ceilings or in a loft-style apartment and the spotlights are 20ft high in the air?
Although you're treating each room as an individual space, you should also take the overall feel of your home into account. For example, it's dangerous to go straight from one brightly lit room into one that's completely the opposite. Use light to link rooms together.
Beware of making your plan too complicated. You can use a single light for several purposes by angling the beam in different directions.
Take this lighting plan with you when you go shopping for fixtures and fittings.
Do you want to turn all your lights on with a single switch or do you want to operate them individually? What about dimmers?
Ideally you should fit several circuits in each room, each with a dimmer switch and no more than two lights, which are controlled from a wall-mounted panel. Try not to place more than three switches on a panel or you'll never remember what they're all for. Ambient or background lighting, plays the part of daylight and is usually provided by a central pendant light, a hangover from the days of gas lamps. It can be the source of most lighting problems as it creates a bland, flat effect.
However, if you supplement general lighting with some or all of the other types, you'll end up with a great, flexible scheme. Staples include ceiling-mounted pendants, wall lights, downlighters, uplighters and standard lamps.
This gives texture, focus and shape to general lighting, adding depth and shade, with shadows in some corners and pools of light in others. It's formed by a mixture of downlighters, uplighters and table lamps. With the latter, use opaque shades that direct light down and prevent it spilling out.
Once the basics are in place, decide which possessions to highlight, whether it's glass, a favourite picture or a table decoration.
- Glass: light from below or behind. From below, place a row of low-voltage halogen spotlights beneath the shelf or a fluorescent strip hidden from view in a casing. From behind, use fluorescent strips not halogen, which doesn't give the right effect.
- Books: clip a spotlight on the underside of the shelf or put wall washers into the ceiling.
- Pictures and paintings: it's tricky to light paintings well - and if they're behind glass you have the additional problem of glare. To avoid glare and give an even distribution of light, use an 'eyeball' light that can swivel, and set it to 'flood' (a broad beam). You could also mount an adjustable spotlight on a ceiling track and point it at a focal point in the painting.
- Plants: read the care instructions to check whether the plant loves sunlight or needs to be kept out of it. For a large pot, put an uplighter or a spotlight recessed into the floor behind it. The light bounces off the floor and the ceiling and diffuses back into the foliage of the plant to create unusual shadows. You can also buy tiny light 'spikes' that fit into the pot.
This is what you need to do a specific job, whether it's reading, working at a computer, cooking, drawing or sewing. It needs to be focused on the area you're using.
If light seeps out, you're likely to get glare from other surfaces, especially computer screens. Task lights for example the Architect type lamp being the best example.
What to look for in a task light
- Go for a fully adjustable Architect-style lamp, especially a cantilevered one, that can be angled and lowered.
- Don't skimp on the price of your angled lamp. If the stem is too short it will be hard to get it high enough over your work, which will cause shadows. The more maneuverability the better.
Working with task lights
Place the lamp opposite your writing hand or you'll be working in your own shadow. The beam of the light should fall on your working area and not reflect onto your computer screen. If there's no space on your desk for a lamp, fit a strip light above it
You can never light a room as efficiently as the sun so think of electric light as atmospheric background - it can create a cosy environment or a really dramatic one.
- Choose something more versatile than a single bulb hanging from the centre of the ceiling.
- Layer the lighting throughout the room so you have the right kind for your different needs, such as ceiling lights and table lamps and uplighters.
- Put a floor socket in the middle of the room, so you don't have trailing leads across the floor.
- Highlight architectural features, such as ceiling coving, with uplighters.
- Each lighting type should be controlled separately to prevent the room from looking like Blackpool illuminations.
The lounge is where accent lighting really comes into its own: use it to highlight collections of books, glass, pictures, plants, ornaments or just one cherished piece to make a real statement.
Choose Edison Bulbs for a rosy, welcoming glow. Don't restrict yourself by making your lighting plan too fixed. For example, don't position recessed downlighters at either end of the sofa or above other items of furniture, as you may want to move it all around at a later date.
With so many products on the market, you can choose your fittings to blend in with your overall scheme, whether you go for the period look, such as our Retro style.
- Use table lamps dotted around the outside edges of the room on shelves and tables. They'll radiate light inwards, making the room feel spacious yet cosy.
- Adapt your central overhead light so that it doesn't cast unflattering shadows. Either extend its flex - a simple job - and screw a cup hook into the ceiling so you can clip it out of the way, or put in low-voltage light to detract attention from it.
- If your house already has a ceiling rose, it might look a bit strange without a light. Make a feature of it by hanging a spectacular decorative light and boost light levels elsewhere.
- Position a freestanding uplighter or standard lamp behind the sofa.
- Mount wall lights beside features that won't be moving - in alcoves, for example, or on either side of a fireplace.
- For romance or entertaining, use a real fire and candlelight supplemented by wall lights dimmed to their lowest setting.
- Commission a lighting designer to install a digital lighting display, which changes colour in timed sequences or in response to music.
- Install a voice-activated system so you can command your lights to switch on and off.
Reading and watching television
- If you want to read in an armchair, place the light to one side, behind and above your chair.
- Fit a floor plug to make your lighting more flexible.
- Watching television in total darkness is not a good idea - your eye constantly has to shift focus to follow the images, and the contrast between the bright screen and the dark room may cause eye strain.
- If too much natural daylight is coming in, you'll barely see the screen at all. Place the light either behind or beside the television.
- A central pendant light gives a good general lighting, but if that's all you have you'll be forever working in your own shadow and cooking will be a headache - literally. Whatever the shape or size of your kitchen, the light should come from behind or to the side of where you're working - not in front. You also need a high level of task lighting at the sink, the stove, the fridge and worktops, especially for chopping vegetables.
Kitchen light should be a similar to true daylight so you can see when food is cooked or off. Don't plug lights into sockets that are overloaded with appliances such as toasters and food processors. And don't put lights in places where they could dazzle you while you're carrying boiling water or sharp implements.
- If you have a central pendant light but want to illuminate a different area, put it on a longer cord then put a small hook into the ceiling above where you need the light and clip it over. This works particularly well over tables.
- Replacing your central pendant light with two (or more) ceiling-mounted fittings set wide apart will allow the light to flow much more evenly to either side.
- Paint the kitchen ceiling matt white and keep the walls above the units a pale colour.
- Choose a light coloured kitchen.
The right light will help you wind down and get a good night's sleep. But you also need strong lighting so you can get dressed in the morning - you don't want to leave the house wearing one brown sock and one blue.
The most important bedroom light is the one beside your bed - useful for when one of you wants to read or watch TV and the other wants to sleep. You can mount bedside lights on the wall, hotel-style, or fix them behind or into the bedhead, or use simple table lamps beside the bed.
Lights that are built into the bedhead don't cater for extremes of height, and you might also find you have to lie at a certain angle to be comfortable. If you do use them and you have a double bed, put them on separate switches. An inexpensive table lamp on a bedside cabinet or chair is a great solution - make sure it's high enough to read by and shaded so it doesn't shine right in your face.
- Fit a dimmer switch on the main central light or wall light to create instant atmosphere.
- Place a switch by the door to use when you come in and out. Make it controllable from the bed, too, so you don't have to get up to turn it off.
- Dressing tables need to be horizontally lit from both sides otherwise you'll see shadows across your face.
- Don't use candles in the bedroom unless you're absolutely sure you won't fall asleep while they're burning.
- Choose shades that are white on the inside and a warm colour outside, and fit them with a clear bulb to give off warm tones of light.
- If you stand between your central pendant light and your blinds or curtains, your neighbours will be able to see you in silhouette - whatever you're doing.
Kids have slightly different lighting needs from adults. Safety takes centre stage. Next, the most important thing to remember is that the scheme should change as they get older. There are all sorts of fun, decorative lights aimed at childrens rooms.
For babies, you need low-level lighting so you can see during those frequent trips in the night to feed, change and comfort. Try a plug-in nightlight or small lamp with a shade and low-wattage bulb - no more than 12V.
- Ensure prying fingers can't open the fitting or get at the hot bulb or electrical wiring.
- Use wall-mounted lights rather than freestanding lamps that can be knocked over easily.
- Dimmers work wonders - they help to prepare a child mentally for bedtime.
Hall and stairs
- To make your house both welcoming and safe, you need to extend the principles of good lighting into the hall and up the stairs.
- The treads and risers of the stairs need to be clearly visible and there should be no dark corners. If you have several landings or turning points, make sure they have adequate light.
- Simple bowl uplighters placed at intervals along the wall and up the stairs will cast light up onto the ceiling.
- Put the main overhead light at the top rather than the bottom of the stairs to reduce the risk of accidents.
- Try lighting the stairs themselves using recrecessed spotlights. This probably works better in more modern houses.
Follow our simple guide to which bulbs should be used for which purpose, and you won't go wrong.
Remember: never to put a higher wattage bulb than the fitting instructions suggest; and buy the highest wattage allowed then control it with a dimmer.
The everyday household bulb.
- Light: warm, yellowish.
- Available in: clear, pearl, silver reflector or coloured versions with bayonet cap (BC), small bayonet cap (SBC), Edison screw (ES or E27) and small Edison screw (SES or E14). The clear type is best when the bulb is visible, in a chandelier for example, whereas the silver reflector is perfect for spotlights.
- Ideal for: creating warmth, cosiness, intimacy.
- Advantages: cheap and easy to find. They use mains electricity and don't need transformers or additional equipment.
- Disadvantages: if you use a wattage that's too high your paper shade might get scorched, which could be dangerous. Constantly switching them on and off will shorten the lifespan. They tend to blow suddenly.
Known simply as halogen bulbs, they burn at a much higher heat than tungsten and the case has to be made from quartz rather than glass to withstand the temperature.
- Light: whiter and purer than tungsten.
- Available: in low voltage (low-voltage tungsten halogen or LVTH) and mains voltage. For the former, you'll need a transformer, fitted or inbuilt, to keep the wattage down to 12 volts.
- Ideal for: uplighters.
- Advantages: energy-efficient. With low-voltage bulbs, the design can be slim and compact. The mains-voltage type can be used in conventional fittings without a transformer, but ask your electrician or manufacturer to be sure.
- Disadvantage: expensive to replace.
They're associated with the harsh, buzzing strips of factories and offices, but they're now available in lots of new varieties.
- Light: flat (curved and circular tubes are better).
- Available in: compact fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent bulbs (known as compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs) that look like ordinary ones.
- Ideal for: mini strip lights in kitchens.
- Advantages: energy efficient and economic. Can be used with mains-voltage fittings.
- Disadvantages: can't be fitted with dimmers.
There are two types of glare - direct and indirect.
Direct glare occurs when you look at a bare bulb - you'll get spots before your eyes and maybe see a lasting image, especially if you're in a darkened room.
Indirect glare is caused by a reflection of light, perhaps in a television or computer screen or even a polished surface. Avoid it by positioning lights so you can't see the bulbs directly. Pendants hanging at eye level are especially uncomfortable for dinner guests.
These usually hang from the centre of the room. Used alone, they're the main cause of the 'interrogation cell' look. Although they're a good starter for general lighting, they need a boost from other sources.
They tend to flatten shadows and cast a dim light. It helps to fit a dimmer or hang them on an adjustable flex so you can change the height or clip them out of the way. They come in a myriad of styles, from the ubiquitous paper lantern to chandeliers.
We suggest you consult a qualified electrician if wiring is required.
As for Table Lamps you should be able to manage this on your own.
A tall, freestanding light with a heavy base, which moves up, down and sideways.
They throw light onto the ceiling, which then bounces off, creating a soft look. They work best in rooms with light-coloured ceilings, particularly in studies as the fact that the light is directed upwards prevents glare.
Use them behind sofas or large pieces of living room furniture. The light they create matters more than the lamp, so they're usually tall and slender with minimal decoration. Put them in corners or in pairs and fix them at eye level or higher. A clip-on spotlight angled upwards creates the same effect.
Any fitting mounted on the wall, from shades to frosted fittings. They diffuse light gently into the room and are perfect for adding general lighting. Ceramic bowls diffuse light towards the ceiling; translucent ones give a softer light. They're perfect for hallways and living rooms.
We hope some of these tips will help you with your decisions.