…Without Sacrificing Functionality
A successful lighting decor theme that meets practical needs and creates atmosphere plays an important part in establishing the style and character of your home.
There’s more to home lighting than a central ceiling fixture backed up by a couple of wall or table lamps. A well-planned lighting scheme should be both practical and decorative.
On the practical side, the right sort of lighting provides illumination for cooking, cleaning, sewing, reading, and many other day-to-day tasks. Decorative lighting helps to create a relaxed atmosphere, and should complement your color scheme and furnishings.
A successful home lighting scheme is made up of several different elements. Most rooms will need a carefully thought-out mixture of these effects to work well.
General lighting provides overall or background light and should be used in every room.
A hanging ceiling light is a common type of light fitting, offering a variety of shade styles in materials as diverse as fabric, paper, or metal. A ceiling pendant that is the sole source of light in a room is a limiting choice; it provides a bright central space with shadowy edges.
Recessed or semi-recessed low voltage down lights spaced across the ceiling will give a good level of clear light. Depending on the type of bulb used, and the housing, a recessed down light can spread light over a wide area or in a narrow beam. Semi-recessed down lights (sometimes called eyeballs) can be swiveled.
Controlling down lights with a dimmer system is a good idea because you can then have some of the lights off while others are on, and can vary brightness.
Task lighting is designed to give concentrated, directional light over a small area and may be used in conjunction with general and accent fixtures. The type of task lighting you choose depends on the activity you have in mind.
A desk light with a flexible arm is the perfect example, as it can be adjusted to provide light exactly where it is needed.
A reading lamp should be tall enough to shine onto the pages of the book, but not into your eyes. A floor lamp positioned behind the reader is ideal.
Light for writing, sewing, or any other hobby should be positioned so that it shines down onto the work. Rise and fall pendants are useful for this, especially if you work at the dining table. Recessed strip lighting is useful for providing countertop light in a kitchen. Accent lighting is used to show off plants, pictures, collections, and interesting architectural features. There are many different types, which can be used to light objects from above, below or behind, or at an angle.
A narrow beam halogen down light may be used to light a single vase or piece of china. The lower part of the object remains in shade, so this gives a dramatic floating effect.
Pictures are often lit from above. An adjustable eyeball or ceiling spotlight focused on the picture, or a special framing spotlight, which will flood the painting with light but leave the walls around it in shadow, are worth considering, as well as the traditional brass picture light.
A table lamp with a wide based shade will throw a pool of light onto the surface below it and is an attractive way to light a small collection or some framed photographs.
Floor standing drum torchiere can be positioned below large plants to create dramatic leaf patterns on the walls and ceiling. You can light objects on glass shelves very effectively by positioning a row of small halogen spotlights below the bottom shelf. Wall-mounted sconces, wall washers, or tall floor lamp-style designs will illuminate the detail on an interesting cornice or ceiling.
Small floor lamps positioned behind a sofa or armchair will wash the walls with light and make the room seem larger.
A Lighting Checklist
In order to analyze the lighting requirements for a particular room, first draw up a checklist.
Does the room have several functions? Many rooms have to be multi-functional; clever lighting can make one room seem like several, illuminating dining, working, reading, and sitting areas in different ways, and allowing one area to be lit separately from the rest.
What mood do you want to create? In the living room you’ll want a different mood from that in the kitchen or bathroom – make sure you define your needs clearly when you set about your planning.
Are there special lighting needs? Children may need somewhere to do their homework, in which case you will need to provide a good desk light. If you have an elderly member of the family, you’ll want an armchair with a cord-switched reading lamp within easy reach.
Will young children use the room? Always use safety plugs, make sure hot bulbs are out of reach and table or floor lamps are stable, and avoid trailing light cords.
Are there practical limitations? The extent to which you can rearrange the lighting in a room depends on how flexible the existing electrical supply is. Are you prepared for the expense and disruption of putting in new wiring and outlets? Complete rewiring will almost certainly mean a great deal of redecoration.
What is your budget? If you decide exactly what you are prepared to spend before you start, you won’t find the costs running away with you. Even if the ideal solution is beyond your means, with a little ingenuity you can probably find a less expensive alternative.
If you live in an area where burglary is a risk, install security lighting. An outside light operated by a sensor will switch on when anyone approaches the house – useful both as a deterrent, and to help you find your keys, or park in the garage after dark.
You can buy security bulbs and timers for use inside the house too. A simple security bulb will switch on when darkness falls and off again at dawn. More sophisticated versions switch on and off several times during the night. Timer switches can be set to switch lights on and off at varying times in different rooms. Wiring work must be carried out by a qualified electrician.
Trailing extension cords can be dangerous. If necessary, install floor outlets so that table lamps can be plugged in without trailing cords across the floor. Never run cord under a carpet. It can overheat and cause a fire. Always check that the power is off before you change a light bulb.
Specialist lighting stores offer the best range of fittings and advice. Some have a design service, which is well worth considering if you want to fit a sophisticated low-voltage system.
Before you buy a lamp or other fixture, ask to see it lit so you can judge the effect. Remember that shade colors change when the light is on.
Make sure that the shade you intend to use is suitable for the bulb. Some paper and fabric shades can be scorched by powerful bulbs.
Is the lamp or fixture the right size? Measure the diameter of the table or cabinet before you buy table lamps and check that pendant lights won’t be an obstruction for the taller members of your family.
Make sure you know how the fixture works and how to replace the bulb before you leave the store.